Pathological Liar vs. Compulsive Liar

Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2020

Pathological liar vs a compulsive liar

Pathological liar: A liar lies incessantly to get their way
Pathological liar: A liar lies incessantly to get their way

Below are the differences or symptoms between compulsive and pathological liars.

  • Pathological liar: A liar lies incessantly to get their way and does so with little awareness.
    • It is viewed as a coping mechanism developed in early childhood and is often associated with some other type of mental health disorder like an antisocial personality disorder. It could be that they lie to avoid something traumatic that happened in their lives, such as abuse, or the condition may be genetic.
    • When it comes to pathological liars, it is observed that people who have an antisocial personality disorder (APD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) indulge in lying.
    • A pathological liar is often goal-oriented (i.e., focused, one tells lies to get their way).
    • They have very little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others.
    • They are often considered manipulative and cunning.
    • They create extravagant stories that may be maintained or tweaked over time, and they often believe their own lies or have a weak grip on reality.
    • Unlike the compulsive liar, pathological liars are near impossible to catch in the act. These people are excellent liars because they lie constantly and make stories up unnecessarily, and often, it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish the truth from false statements.
    • Pathological liars know how to be confident while lying and use their pathological lying trait as a defense mechanism (e.g. they fix their gaze upon you rather than looking away).
    • Some of the symptoms of a pathological liar are: they lie to gain something, they exaggerate things, they keep on changing their stories, and they live in a false sense of ‘reality.’ If confronted, they act defensive and never admit that they are liars. Lastly, they hold no value for truth.
  • Compulsive liar: A liar who lies out of habit.
    • Compulsive liars bend the truth about everything, large or small. For a compulsive liar, telling the truth is very awkward and uncomfortable, while lying feels right.
    • Compulsive lying is usually thought to develop in early childhood, due to being placed in an environment where lying was necessary and routine.
    • A lot of them find it easy to avoid confrontations with truth, hence they stick to lying.
    • Compulsive liars may or may not experience a mental disorder. Usually, it is observed that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder resort to lying compulsively.
    • Compulsive liars are not overly manipulative and cunning (see, Pathological Liar), rather they simply lie out of habit, which is an automatic response that is hard to break and one that takes its toll on a relationship.
    • Compulsive liars lie because of several reasons. However, it may always be easy to find out if they are lying because their stories usually do not add up.
    • They are also obvious and display the classic lying behaviors, such as avoiding eye contact, breaking out into a sweat, and tripping over their words or rambling.
    • They often lie for no clear reason, and sometimes, for no real benefit, they make lies up more spontaneously, don’t do much thinking, and prefer to tell the sorts of lies that they think people want to hear.
    • They know the difference between reality and lies.
    • They are more likely to admit to lying when confronted, though this might not stop them from continuing to lie.

The success of the treatment depends upon whether the person actually agrees that they are a ‘compulsive liar’ or a ‘pathological liar.’ The treatment options may include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Repeated counseling
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Family support goes a long way in overcoming this habit too, along with the treatment.

The treatment options may sometimes be used in combination, depending on the underlying psychiatric condition.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2020
References
Sullivan M. Compulsive Liars: The Truth About Lying. PsychAlive. https://www.psychalive.org/compulsive-liars/

Health Research Funding. Difference between Pathological and Compulsive Liar. https://healthresearchfunding.org/difference-pathological-compulsive-liar/