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  • Deborah Moyer

How to Cope with a Pathological Liar – Part One

We’ve all had them in our lives at one time or the other. That person that seems to lie incessantly, often for no reason, except to confuse or mislead those that have the misfortune of dealing with them.

They’re called Pathological Liars or PL’s for short. It’s such a huge topic that I’m making this a two-part segment.

Maybe you have someone like that in your life right now? You want to believe them. Have given them every possible opportunity to “come clean” and communicate the truth, but the problem continues.

If you bust them on one or more lies, they deny it even if they are caught red handed. Their defense is often to present an even more complicated and nonsensical explanation (aka lie) to throw you off course.

They might even show what appears to be genuine emotion like acting surprised or crying in tearful torrents. The worst try to intimidate or stop the conversation in its tracks using intense anger or aggressiveness tactics.

If you have a PL in your life, you probably feel frustrated, disrespected, confused or even angry or fearful.

Chronic lying has been a bit of a conundrum for the medical and psychological communities. In medical terms, pathological lying is called Mythomania.

But, it’s also associated symptomatically with certain behavioral conditions, like anti-social personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder or Munchausen syndrome. Researchers have been unable to find a broader definitive explanation or cause for it though.

Many in the mental health research field point to the problem starting early in life, in the mid-teens, where the person starts with smaller deceptive behaviors, then slowing develops into higher levels of misconduct over time. Some may even cross over into more serious illegal acts like fraud or theft. But, not every PL takes their lying to the level of breaking a law.

If you’re wondering if you are dealing with a pathological or chronic liar in your life, it’s helpful to identify the most common aspects of this behavior.

First, determine whether the person occasionally lies or are they compulsive and frequently lying?

What are the differences between the two?

White lies are defined as occasional and harmless. Though, I found it a bit shocking to see research data that showed that, here in the US, each of us are supposed to average 1.65 white lies every single day! Yikes!

White lies are typically told to spare another person’s feelings or to get a person out of an uncomfortable or troublesome situation. Most importantly, they are not malicious or manipulative in intent.

Pathological lies, on the other hand, are told frequently and without reason. These types of liars are not affected by feelings of guilt or even the fear of getting caught.

They often create a “false history” for themselves, making it appear that they are heroic, special or achieved things they didn’t. Some have even taken it to the level of creating a story of life threatening or terminal illness when they were healthy and just wanted to get attention or sympathy.

In a 2016 study published in Nature Neuroscience, called “The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty”, researchers found that the higher the frequency of lies a person tells, the easier and even more frequent the lying becomes.

Over time, the person that might have initially experienced some level of guilt or hesitancy while lying as they grew up, will ultimately become completely detached or unaffected by it as inappropriate behavior.

Here are four of the most scientifically recognized traits or characteristics that a pathological or chronic liar exhibits.

1. They don’t always derive a clear benefit from their lie.

This one is the hardest and most frustrating aspects of this behavior for people to understand, because if there’s no personal benefit to the act, then what is it that drives them to such a destructive behavior? Perhaps it’s an indirect way of being able to control others and by doing so, they feel more empowered and in control of their lives.

2. The stories are unusually complicated, dramatic or highly detailed.

This one always throws people, because for those on the receiving end, it’s hard to wrap your mind around a person who would put so much thought and effort into deceiving someone that they’re supposed to care for! One would think that the more detail that’s offered, the higher the probability of getting caught, or at the very least, making the lie more difficult to manage long term by remembering what’s been represented.

3. They usually portray themselves as a hero or a victim.

As with many mental disorders, there always seems to be a low self- image or self-esteem factor lurking behind a negative behavior. By promoting themselves as a hero, they seek appreciation and acceptance. If they appear the victim, they are seeking attention and sympathy.

Either way, they are looking for a reaction that’s been obtained on a false basis. If you are dealing with a person that uses these tactics, just know that it’s based from a place of manipulation.

4. They seem to believe the lies they tell.

A pathological liar’s world is based on active denial that they are doing anything wrong. They will look at you with dismay and surprise when being called out and make every effort to quickly turn your effort to hold them accountable on its ear.

Often, they have highly tuned skills in turning the responsibility away from themselves and back towards the person who has finally started to question them.

In a Psychiatric Times article titled Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease, researchers statedIt has been observed that pathological liars believe their lies to the extent that the belief may be delusional. As a result, PL has been referred to as a "wish psychosis."

They live in an alternative reality where their sole priority is focused on protecting themselves physically and emotionally, all while juggling and manipulating the outside world to ensure it.

For this reason, it’s difficult to get them into treatment. As with any mental illness, one has to acknowledge they have the illness before healing treatment can be applied successfully.

In part two of this series, I’ll share ways to identify pathological lying. Despite the behavior bordering on delusion, it’s not always easy to pin it down, primarily because their stories aren’t always extreme and it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, in what’s reasonable or realistic and what isn’t.

I’ll also share some tips on how to cope with this type of personality, so you can protect yourself from their manipulative behavior.

So, my friend, until then….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!