What Does It Mean to Be a Pathological Liar?

Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2020

What does it mean to be a pathological liar?

Pathological liars lie to manipulate others.
Pathological liars lie to manipulate others.

Pathological lying is often a warning sign of antisocial personality disorder (commonly known as a psychopath). A pathological liar is usually considered manipulative, selfish and cunning. They lie incessantly to get their way and do so with little awareness or guilt. It could be that they lie to avoid something traumatic that happened in their lives, such as abuse. The condition may often be genetic in origin. They use lies to protect themselves when a situation goes bad. Below are a few common features of a pathological liar

  • Pathological liars lie as a response to any stimuli. These people are excellent liars because they lie constantly and make up stories so unnecessarily and often that it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish the truth from false statements. They are nearly impossible to catch in the act.
  • Their lie is usually goal oriented (i.e., focused, one tells lies to get their way). 
  • Pathological liars have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others.
  • They often have no conscience or guilt.
  • Pathological liars base their lives around deceit and may deeply hurt their victims.

Reasons

  • Studies show that pathological liars have more white matter in the prefrontal area of their brains. In general, white matter is linked to faster connections, greater verbal fluidity, and faster thought processing. People with more white matter also have problems with empathy and little activity in the areas of the brain related to emotion.
  • They often lie as a coping mechanism developed in early childhood and it is often associated with some other type of mental health disorder, which may include abuse, antisocial personality disorder (APD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Common traits of pathological liar include

  • Pathological liars are driven by definite, typically identifiable motives, such as bolstering their ego or self-esteem, seeking sympathy, justifying feelings of guilt or living out a fantasy.
  • All pathological liars have a purpose, such as to bolster their own personality or to tell something interesting and an ego motive is always present. They all lie about something they wish to possess or be.
  • 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).
  • Their stories are fantastically outlandish.
  • They are always the hero or the victim.
  • They really believe it.
  • They don’t need a reason to lie.
  • Their stories may change.
  • They don’t like to be doubted.

Common signs and symptoms include

  • They lie to gain something and exaggerate things.
  • They keep on changing their stories.
  • They live in a false sense of reality.
  • If confronted, they act defensive and never admit that they are liars and they hold no value for truth.

Treatment

The success of the treatment depends upon whether the person agrees that they are 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
Medscape Medical Reference

Psychiatric Times