At one point or another, we all have told a lie. Most of us lie at least once a day, without even realizing it. Perhaps we told a white lie to a friend to make her feel better about her appearance, or we pretended we were sick because we just wanted to leave work. While everyone has indulged in falsehoods from time to time, there is a difference between occasional lying and compulsive lying. What is compulsive lying, why does it happen, and how can it be stopped? Here is what the experts say.
What is Compulsive or Pathological Lying?
Pathological lying refers to the behavior of someone who compulsively lies. These individuals tend to lie about small things that would be easier, to tell the truth about. Just like any other addiction, lying has become a very difficult habit for these people to break.
Most of the time, pathological liars remain cognitively dissonant about their lying. It’s too painful to confront, or they are just so used to lying that they don’t even know that they are doing it. It is very uncomfortable for them to tell the truth.
Many of the falsehoods these individuals tell have elements of truth to them. In many cases, stories are exaggerated to make the person appear smarter, more attractive, and more certain of themselves. It’s very difficult for pathological liars to make true friendships or have long-lasting relationships because their loved ones tend to notice their lying after some time.
What Causes Compulsive Lying?
Fear is at the root of every lie. When our friend asks us how she looks and we don’t like her outfit, we are afraid to hurt her feelings. So instead, we lie. When our significant others ask what we did at work today, we don’t disclose that we spoke to an attractive coworker because we know he wouldn’t understand. After all, the conversation was innocuous, but then why do we lie? Fear. Fear is at the root of each lie.
Compulsive liars have deeply rooted issues that stem from childhood. They may have been forced to lie because they did not feel safe at home, or because they came from a dysfunctional environment where love was conditional. These individuals began lying early on in life and developed a bad habit that took over their personalities. As a result of their condition, they tend to be lonely, self-hating, isolated from others, and unfulfilled.
Sociopaths are also compulsive liars, but for different reasons than the prior types of individuals. While all lies are used to manipulate, sociopaths lie to gain an advantage over someone and to hurt them. They lie to gain power and control, whereas other compulsive liars lie to avoid pain. Regardless of the cause, lying repeatedly is very damaging to the liar and to the receiver of the lie.
How Can We Cope with a Pathological Liar?
It’s best to avoid close friendships or relationships with a pathological liar unless they have received therapy. Even then, compulsive lying is a very difficult habit to break and can take years of dedication and practice to succeed. However, if there is already a pathological liar in your life, here are the best practices for handling their deceptiveness –
Take a Breath – As frustrating as their lying is, getting angry will only cause the person to become defensive. They will feel caged in and panicked, which will increase their lying and only add to your frustration. If needed, take a break before speaking with the individual so you can calm yourself down.
Expect Them to Deny Everything – Pathological liars are terrified of being “found out.” Even if all the evidence points to the fact that they told a falsehood, they will continue to deny it to the end because telling the truth is so uncomfortable. Don’t be surprised if they continue to lie regardless of how much evidence there is.
Don’t Take it personally – While it’s certainly unfair for you to handle regular falsehoods, it’s important to remember that the person is not lying because of anything you did. The person is lying because he/she lies to everyone. It is a habit. You are just another victim of their falsehoods.
Suggest Help – Suggest the individual receives help before continuing a relationship with him/her. It’s important to set boundaries with compulsive liars to protect yourself.
Do you struggle with compulsive lying? Have you encountered a compulsive liar? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. one of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.