Written By Salina Jivani of “The Great Word Nerd” Blog
From the time we’re wee young, we’re taught to never, ever, ever tell a lie. But let’s just be truthful (yes, pun intended), shall we? We all lie. It’s human nature. We’re preprogrammed that way. You lie when you swear to your sixty-year old aunt that no, she’s doesn’t look a day older than forty-three and yes, her meatloaf’s the absolute best, even better than your mom’s. We lie to our moms saying that no, Aunt Bertha didn’t ask a single question about her looks and never claimed her meatloaf stood a flying chance against hers. We lie to our kids when we tell them Santa exists and that the tooth fairy waits hand and foot for their cavity-laden teeth to fall out. And we even lie to ourselves, saying that the little fib we told our best friend was really in innocence. Catching yourself or someone else in a fib every once in a while is expected and, to a certain degree, okay. But when those once-in-a-blue-moon lies turn into something more habitual, there’s something to be concerned about. Weighty lies can tear relationships apart and do a lot more damage than good. And when lying becomes a part of someone’s character, it doesn’t take long for loved ones or friends to begin questioning them. More importantly, it may indicate that that person may be exhibiting signs of a pathological liar.
What is a pathological liar?
A pathological liar, also known as a compulsive liar, is someone who constantly lies out of habit. They focus on even the smallest, most insignificant incidents and turn them into lies. In fact, they’re so used to lying on a regular basis that telling the truth becomes a discomfort, while lying feels natural. (Pathological liars are not to be mistaken with sociopaths, who are calculated liars who hope to benefit something from their lies.)
Personality traits of a pathological liar
When confronted about a lie, pathological liars may lash out. Usually they lie so skillfully that you may even begin to question the truth, but don’t be fooled. As stated earlier, sometimes these individuals don’t even realize they’re lying and often they start to believe their own lies to be the truth. The lashing out can also be a defense mechanism. Here are some other common attributes of pathological liars:
- Obsessive, compulsive behaviors
- Uncomfortable, isolated or awkward in social settings
- Low self esteem
- Disregard for how their lies affect other people’s feelings
Why should this be taken seriously?
Though it’s not classified as a mental disorder, pathological lying may often clue in to a much larger, more serious underlying mental issue, including obsessive compulsive disorder, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder. Some pathological liars are aware they have an issue, and others don’t believe it until someone points it out to them, often on more than a solitary instance. It’s common for those who realize they have a problem to feel ashamed of themselves, but even then compulsive or pathological liars don’t know how to put an end to this habit. To them, lying is as natural as it for other people to speak the truth.
How to deal with a pathological liar
Unfortunately many pathological liars aren’t able to maintain strong or fruitful relationships. Eventually, their lies are detected, they are confronted and many times they lose out on great partners.
If you’re in a new relationship with someone who you think might be a pathological liar, consider ending the relationship before you’re too heavily involved.
If you’re already in a serious relationship, the first step is to decide whether you’re willing to endure the frustrations and sacrifice the time and effort that’s required in maintaining relationships with a pathological liar. If the answer is no, be strong and break it off. You’ll thank yourself later.
If you’re in too deep, have been in the relationship too long or have kids together and choose to stay, prepare yourself for what’s sure to be a long, arduous journey. The lying will not vanish overnight, if ever.
Second, you must help the individual realize that they have an issue. Sometimes pathological liars don’t know they’re lying. Or they lie so convincingly, that they themselves believe the lie to be the truth. Providing evidence of such lies, talking calmly with the person and helping them realize you’re there to help are a few of the things you can do to unveil the issue and show your support.
Once the person accepts they have an issue, he or she should consult a therapist, either alone or with you.
There’s no evidence that this condition can ever be cured, even after the person seeks professional help. Living with someone who has these tendencies is not easy and requires a lot of patience and even self-sacrifice; however, if remaining in the relationship is the only option for you, continue to offer help, do a web search to find local support groups, and be there the best you can. But in the process of being supportive, don’t lose sight of yourself and your needs. Because to successfully care for someone else, you must care for yourself first.