The Pathological Liar: What is it and How to Deal with It

Published January 15th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera
Updated Date: Jun 14th, 2022

Pathological lying 101 | Causes | Signs and Symptoms | Identification | Diagnosis | Treatment

Pathological lying, also called mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, is a mental disorder in which someone lies about nearly everything, even when the person knows that what they are saying is not true.

Pathological liars are prone to compulsive lying even when they know full well that chances are very high that they will be caught in the act of telling an untruth.

This can cause many problems for pathological liars and those around them.

In this article, we'll take a look at pathological lying, its causes and symptoms, how it differs from other types of lies, how you can identify pathological liars in your life, and what treatments may exist for pathological lie syndrome.

What is a pathological liar?

Pathological lying is a mental disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive lying.

Pathological liars compulsively and intentionally tell lies, regardless of the consequences.

They often have an inflated sense of self-worth and are unable to empathize with others.

It was first described in medical literature in 1895 by German physician Anton Delbrück, and despite being known for over 125 years, there is still no universal definition for it.

The lies told by pathological liars can be minor or significant, and can cause serious harm to others.

What causes pathological lying?

There is no one answer to this question as pathological lying can possibly be caused by a variety of factors including psychiatric conditions, although there is no known cause.

There is a debate whether pathological lying is a disorder itself or whether it is a symptom of other mental health conditions.

Some common possible causes include:

Neurological disorders

Pathological lying is sometimes associated with neurological disorders, such as brain damage or lesions.

Pathological liars are often found to have an enlarged ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), which deals with emotional regulation and decision making.

Damage to this area can lead to pathological lying. People suffering from frontotemporal dementia also exhibit the type of behavior associated with pathological liars.

Personality disorders

Pathological lying is often seen in people with personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

These psychiatric disorders can cause a person to have unstable moods and lie to get attention or sympathy.

Self-esteem issues

These habitual liars may like to make themselves look better or to get the approval of others.

They often have an inflated sense of self-worth and are unable to empathize with others.

Factitious disorder

Factitious disorder is a medical condition in which a person fakes or exaggerates medical symptoms for personal gain.

People with factitious disorder may also lie about their own personal history or background. It is also called Munchausen's syndrome.

What are the signs and symptoms of a pathological liar?

Pathological liars often exhibit certain compulsive behaviors and signs that can help you identify them. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Inability to tell the truth, even when it would be beneficial to do so
  • Habitual lying, even about small things
  • Telling lies often have no reward
  • Inflated sense of self-worth or importance
  • Poor impulse control
  • Manipulative and controlling behavior
  • Difficulty with empathy
  • Feels no remorse or guilt for their lies

These are some of the signs but not all of them. They may manifest themselves in people in different ways.

Due to there being controversy over what constitutes a pathological liar, signs and symptoms may vary according to different standards for the controversial topic.

How does pathological lying differ from other lies?

Pathological liars are compulsive liars, while other people may resort to nonpathological lying occasionally or when it benefits them.

Pathological liars are pathological because they tell even pointless lies that have no benefit.

How can you identify a pathological liar?

It is possible to spot pathological lying by paying attention to someone's behavior, but it can be difficult and there is no formal diagnosis.

However, a family member, doctor, or therapist may notice certain aspects of pathological lying in a patient or loved one.

If someone has a history of lying, fabricating stories, or cheating, they are more likely to be pathological.

If the person often has elaborate stories with changing details and appears to embellish stories whether they are the hero or victim, then they may be a pathological liar.

Please see the list of signs and symptoms above for more identifying traits.

From around the web: pathological liar, pathological liar test

Reddit - I am a diagnosed pathological liar
Reddit - Have you ever called out a pathological liar?

How do you deal with a pathological liar in your life?

If you have a pathological liar in your life, it can be difficult to know what to do. The first step is to try not to get angry and understand why the person lies.

This can be difficult as the person has lied to you and there also may not be any noticeable cause for it. Pathological liars often lie to make themselves look good or to get attention.

They may also have a feeling of entitlement and be manipulative and controlling.

Once you understand why the person lies, you can try to address that issue. If the person is lying to get attention, give them more positive attention in other areas of their lives and remind them that they don't have to lie to you.

If they feel entitled and manipulative, try to help them manage their feelings without engaging their lies.

It is also important to understand pathological lying so you can avoid being manipulated by the person.

If you confront a pathological liar about their lies you can expect them to deny it. If possible, also suggest getting a clinical evaluation and help from a doctor or therapist.

How do doctors diagnose a pathological liar?

The term "pathological liar" can also be used as a label to describe people who lie frequently for no apparent reason at all; however, no official medical diagnosis of pathological lying exists.

However, symptoms often overlap with other disorders that cause pathological behavior such as antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, pathological narcissism, and even sociopathy.

It is very difficult for a doctor or medical professional to diagnose it as there are no psychological or physical tests to confirm it, although some professionals may rely on a polygraph, or lie detector test to help.

Are there any treatments for pathological liars?

There are no specific treatments for pathological liars as it is not a recognized disorder.

However, doctors and therapists may treat the underlying issues that cause pathological lying in order to help them stop telling lies.

The person must want treatment or therapy on their own accord before any progress can be made though.

Summary

Pathological liars suffer from a mental condition where they compulsively lie and even tell even pointless lies that have no benefit.

There is no known cause, although there are certain neurological and personality disorders that could help explain it.

It is possible to spot pathological lying by paying attention to someone's behavior, but it can be difficult and there is no formal diagnosis and the traits can overlap with other disorders.

If someone has a history of lying, fabricating stories, or cheating, they are more likely to be pathological.

If the person often has elaborate stories with changing details and appears to embellish stories whether they are the hero or victim, then they may be a pathological liar.

There is no known cure for pathological lying, but doctors and therapists may treat any possible underlying conditions that cause pathological lying in order to help them stop telling lies.

If you are close to someone who you think might be a pathological liar, it is important to understand what it is and how to deal with it.

Should you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor, medical care provider, or therapist for possible treatment options.

References and Sources:

Wikipedia - Pathological Liar

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