We have all lied at some point in our lives. Most of these lies, called white lies, however, have been small fibs that are harmless and without any maliciousness in it. Some, however, lie compulsively and most of these lies are continuous, often dramatic, and usually told to make the person appear heroic. It is such a person who is prone to constant lying who is said to be a compulsive liar.
Being in a relationship with a compulsive liar
A compulsive liar’s lies are constant and tough to catch. Being in a relationship with such a man can feel quite frustrating. It can also make one feel that there is no reward in being in such a relationship which, in turn, leads to depression and a feeling of worthlessness.
When a person lies all the time, trust becomes a sore issue in the relationship as well. When trust falters in a relationship you are likely to feel sad and hurt
Confronting chronic liars doesn’t quite work all the time either and even if they are caught, they can turn a story around in such a manner that you might start to feel that you are the one who is at fault. With time, this might make you hesitant to even approach him and also make you feel nervous and scared.
It is possible that being with a chronic liar will strain your relationship. However, you must remember that with some effort you can still deal with this and also be able to cure it with the right therapy and medication.
What are the signs of a compulsive liar?
Compulsive lying is also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica. Signs that a person is a compulsive liar are given below.
1. Lies don’t benefit them
Compulsive liars often lie to get out of uncomfortable and embarrassing situations. However, these lies don’t have an objective benefit associated with them.
2. Lies are dramatic
Such liars make up stories that are not only extremely detailed but also quite dramatic. When such lies are heard it is quite easy to understand that they are untrue and over-the-top tales.
3. Try to portray themselves as a hero or a victim
Compulsive liars tell their lies in such a manner that they appear to become either the hero or the villain in the entire tale. This is done because in their minds they are always trying to either gain the admiration or the sympathy of others.
4. They get delusional
Such liars tell untrue stories so often that there are times when they begin to believe their lies. Experts believe that this kind of delusion in the compulsive liar comes from the fact that he is not conscious of lying himself.
5. They are eloquent and creative
Compulsive liars don’t only speak well but also come with a creative bent of mind. They can talk eloquently such that they can engage others present in the group and draw their attention to themselves. Also, he can think on the spot and also come with a lot of originality.
6. It is tough to catch their lies
Compulsive liars have perfected the art and so don’t get caught. So, if you find that your spouse is a compulsive liar you might not find him demonstrating any of the basic behaviours of lying like not maintaining eye contact, stammering, avoiding conversations, or appearing to be fidgety.
7. They beat around the bush
If a compulsive liar is stopped in between and asked questions, he will not reply with any specific answers and might, ultimately, not even answer the question(s).
8. The same story has different versions
Compulsive liars get so caught up in making their tales colourful that at times they forget the details. Hence the same story tends to have different versions.
9. They will have the last word
If one argues with a compulsive liar while they are telling their tale, they will keep arguing with till they can have the last word. This feels like a moral victory to them and it encourages them to continue with their story.
What makes someone a compulsive liar?
Compulsive lying is not due to a single cause, but rather is a mix of both genetic and environmental factors. Some of the common causes why pathological liars lie are:
1. Different brain structure
Compulsive lying happens due to the differences in the brain matter of such people. It has been seen that the white matter in the three prefrontal sub-regions of the brain in compulsive liars is more than others. It has also been seen that head injuries can lead to an abnormality in the hormone-cortisol ratio, which, in turn, leads to pathological lying.
2. Dysfunction of the central nervous system
It has been found that compulsive liars have dysfunctions in their central nervous system. Such people are prone to not only infections of the central nervous system but also epilepsy.
3. Childhood trauma
Sometimes compulsive lying has been associated with childhood trauma. To block this thought out of their minds, they learn the art of lying and then become habituated to it.
4. Substance abuse
Substance abuse like alcoholism or drug use can lead to compulsive lying. This is not only because they want to hide their acts but also because of the neurological triggers that cause changes within the body.
It has been found that depression causes changes in the brain. Hence this mental health issue also does lead to compulsive lying at times. Often this stems from the feeling of shame that one associated with this issue.
How do you deal with a pathological liar?
The lies of pathological liars are so pointless that having to maintain a relationship with a compulsive liar can be extremely frustrating and annoying.
Dealing with a compulsive liar can be done in the following ways:
1. Stay calm
You know that the person is lying to you because he does so almost all the time. Yet you should not let anger get the better of you. Instead, be kind but stay firm and don’t start believing his lies.
2. Don’t accuse
Someone who is habituated to lying will not own up if you accuse him. Instead, he might just get angry and tell you a lot about how shocked he feels with the accusation. So, if your spouse is a compulsive liar then confronting him would not quite help. Rather tell them that are already important to you and that they don’t need to say anything to impress you.
3. Don’t take it personally
When it comes to dealing with a compulsive liar, don’t take it personally. It is not that he is lying because he is with you. Rather, the flaw lies with him and he is unable to control his tales.
4. Don’t encourage them
When you understand that the person is lying to you don’t ask him leading questions which would make him add more drama to his untrue story. Rather ask questions whose answers would be tough to give as this might make him stop telling his story.
5. Sometimes trust is needed
If you know of a person who is a pathological liar, you might be tempted not to trust them at all. However, this would be a mistake in your art. You would know the times and subjects on which he lies. At other times, you could trust him. By showing a little trust in them you create an environment that is a positive one. This might make them want to tell the truth to you more often.
6. Ask them to get medical help
If you know of a compulsive liar, you could even suggest that they seek medical help. For this, do your background research first. Then approach them with all the information and make your suggestion. Be prepared, however, that this might take some time since they might not agree or even accept that they have an issue.
Can a compulsive liar change?
Why not? The process is hard but it begins with the acceptance that a person has a problem. If this step is achieved then it could be easier from this point.
1. A compulsive liar should want to change
If such a person is forced into therapy, it is unlikely that he would want to cooperate. For example, he could be lying to the therapist which, at times, is tough for even experts to catch. Hence efforts should first be made wherein he admits to the problem and be ready to seek help.
2. Medical Intervention
Diagnosing a pathological liar can be a challenge and just speaking with such a person usually isn’t enough. For this, experts use a polygraph, not to see if they are lying but to see how well he can beat the test.
Sometimes even those who have a relationship with a compulsive liar are interviewed to diagnose a pathological liar.Â Treatment usually includes both psychotherapy and also medication.
Medication is to treat issues that cause him to lie like, for example, depression whereas psychotherapy involves group or individual sessions and even couple sessions.
Dealing with a pathological liar can be quite frustrating but one must remember that it is an issue that can be dealt with. So, if you know of any such people then do reach out to them and help them deal with their issue today.
Our thanks to Dr Shefali Batra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Cognitive Therapist, Founder of MINDFRAMES and Co-Founder of Innerhour, for her inputs.