Pathological lying might seem as if it’s a concept only for the movies.
However, pathological lying is a very real condition that can impact the lives of loved ones with a family member that continues to lie for seemingly unknown reasons.
It’s important to understand that pathological lying can be a sign of a serious mental health illness that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
In addition, pathological lying can also be associated with personality disorders.
If someone is a pathological liar, they might be struggling with a personality disorder including histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.
Other conditions like borderline personality disorder and even substance abuse disorder can also lead to pathological lying, although these are not necessarily personality disorders.
What is Pathological Lying?
Most people will tell little white lies throughout their lifetime.
You might even inflate your job experience in order to make yourself appear more suitable for a job for a new employer.
Although many people might find themselves lying to others in order to get ahead in life, or simply to avoid problems or confrontation, some people lie compulsively and for no apparent reason.
These people suffer from a condition known formerly as “Pseudologia Phantastica,” or pathological lying. People that engage in pathological lying:
- Do so compulsively, meaning there’s really no thinking or logic behind it, it’s just done out of habit
- Usually start off with a small lie that quickly grows into a bigger lie over time
- Do find themselves distressed from it to the point where it does cause them psychological harm
- Tell lies that can be extensive and complicated
- Manifest pathological lying over a period of years
Perhaps more importantly, people who are pathological liars are not feeble-minded or insane.
This means they know very well that they are lying, unlike someone with dementia who might truly believe that their family members are still alive, or people undergoing psychosis who truly believe they might be the President of the United States.
Knowing that people who are pathological liars are fully aware of their lies might be unsettling to some, but it provides clues into the types of people that consider themselves pathological liars.
More importantly, it gives insights into protecting oneself from these types of people.
What is a Personality Disorder?
Now that you know what a pathological liar is, it’s time to find out what someone with a personality disorder has and what it exactly means.
A personality disorder is any type of disorder that causes any sort of deviation in a person’s:
- Thinking patterns, including how they think of themselves and others
- Behaviors, including the behaviors that they deem appropriate despite cultural norms and moral values
- Emotions and feelings, specifically their ability to feel emotional responses appropriately
- How they relate to others
In short, people with personality disorders view themselves as quite different from the rest of the crowd, and their personalities do not conform to social norms.
They might display certain hostile characteristics due to the type of personality disorder they have, such as people with an antisocial personality disorder.
This type of personality disorder is characterized by:
- Consistently violating boundaries
- Agitation and anger
- Disregard for authority
- Manipulative behavior (hence the pathological lying)
- Inability to maintain long-term relationships
- Inability to feel guilt or remorse
- Breaking the laws
Where Do Personality Disorders Come From?
It’s important to understand that people with personality disorders are more than simply jerks.
There are several factors that contribute to personality disorders, which are deep-rooted in accordance with a person’s past, genetics, trauma, and even social influences.
As such, it isn’t enough to label someone with a personality disorder as “evil,” or even “mean” because they lie.
People with personality disorders have a truly different way of thinking and feeling caused by these factors, so it’s important to keep this in mind when confronting someone with a personality disorder who has lied to you.
As much as you would like to get closure or even answers for why they lie, the simple truth might be because that’s just the way they can cope or are wired.
It isn’t your fault or even the fault of someone with a personality disorder.
Why Do People with Personality Disorders Lie?
There are various personality disorders that can lead to pathological lying. Below are some of the personality disorders most closely associated with pathological lying.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
As we mentioned earlier, antisocial personality disorder is perhaps the one most associated with pathological lying.
People with antisocial personality disorder cannot feel guilt and do whatever it is they want to fulfill their desires.
This includes disrespecting boundaries, breaking laws, potentially hurting others, and of course, lying excessively.
Antisocial personality disorders can be difficult to treat, even with medication.
In addition, people with antisocial personality disorder do not feel any sort of guilt when it comes to lying to or hurting others.
Therefore, they can continue to lie and manipulate people without any sense of wrongdoing.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
People with narcissistic personality disorder, commonly called narcissists, are known to be pathological liars as well. NPD is characterized by a variety of signs, including:
- Need to be grandiose
- Needing constant praise and validation
- Being seen as superior
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Belittling others to make themselves look or feel better
- Needing to control others to also feel superior
These are just some of the many, many signs that someone who is a narcissist might have.
If you’re wondering what would drive someone with NPD to lie, consider that these people need to constantly be seen as superior, even if what they’ve done in life doesn’t necessarily correlate with their superiority.
People with NPD might lie to inflate themselves in the eyes of others, giving them an ego boost and much-needed validation.
A lie about how many men or women someone has had, or about their physical abilities, is just one example of how people with NPD might lie.
Sadly, the lying doesn’t end there. Both people with NPD and antisocial personality disorder will also manipulate others in order to get what they want.
For people in relationships with someone with NPD or antisocial personality disorder, this can manifest as a condition known as gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of abuse that is commonly used by abusive partners (such as those with NPD or who have antisocial personalities) to confuse their partners and even drive them to insanity.
This type of lying includes statements such as, “I never said that.” or “You’re being sensitive.” which are meant to invalidate a person’s feelings, drive them to confusion, and harm them emotionally.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
This is another type of personality disorder that is characterized by people’s need to be validated by others due to a lack of self-esteem.
However, unlike people with narcissistic personality disorder, people with HPD need validation because they can find no other way to feel good about themselves.
On the contrary, people with NPD “know” that they are above others and strive to get others to pay attention to them, continue to inflate their egos, and manipulate others to get what they want.
People with HPD might be flamboyant, and often dramatic, in order to get the attention they desperately need.
This can come in the form of pathologically lying, crying and throwing fits and overreacting to an issue to appear victimized, and being uncomfortable when they are not the center of attention among other symptoms.
For people with HPD, lying about anything, such as making up stories or scenarios, is just one way to attract attention to themselves so they can get the validation they need.
HPD is caused by similar factors to NPD, such as genetics, childhood trauma, and social interactions.
Other Types of Disorders That Lead to Pathological Lying
It’s also important to highlight other types of disorders that can lead to pathological lying that aren’t necessarily personality disorders, but that can greatly impact someone’s quality of life. These include:
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Also known as BPD, this is a condition in which people fear abandonment and feeling alone. They will get involved in relationships that they deem necessary in order to not feel alone. However, people with BPD can also be impulsive, leading to dangerous risk-taking behaviors such as unprotected sex and drug use. Impulsivity along with the inability to regulate emotions can lead to lying, which makes it difficult for people with BPD to maintain steady relationships with others.
- Substance or Alcohol Use Disorder: SUD or AUD can be developed by anyone at any time. However, people with personality disorders and other mental illnesses might be more at risk of developing AUD or SUD. In fact, one study found that addiction might stem from NPD due to lowered levels of self-esteem. People with substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder can lie in order to continue to use the substances that make them feel good, such as drugs and alcohol. They might also continue to lie in order to steal money and fuel their addiction.
How Do I Know I’m Being Lied To?
This is a difficult task to do, to understand and recognize the signs you are behind lied to. However, there are certain signs including:
- Having a gut feeling
- Constantly questioning yourself or the other person
- Catching someone in the act of doing something harmful yet having them deny it outright
- Other forms of abuse like manipulation and belittling
- Conflicting stories
How to Deal with Pathological Liars
There is little you can do to help someone with a personality disorder heal on your own.
It’s important to get this person help from a mental health professional, who will be able to provide them with the appropriate treatment options for their personality disorder.
This can include medication, but oftentimes also includes therapy in order to get to the root cause of a person’s trauma or personality disorder.
If you feel you or a loved one might benefit from seeing a therapist to help resolve issues of pathological lying, don’t hesitate to reach out for help as soon as possible.
In addition, it’s important to understand that you are under no obligation to stay with someone who is abusive and a pathological liar.
While you might want to help this person recover, you must also put your needs first.
Pathological lying consists of compulsive and constant lying, and it’s a telltale sign of people with a wide range of personality disorders.
Know that there is help available to break free from relationships with people with personality disorders, and these people need help to resolve their lying issues.