How to Cope with a Pathological Liar – Part Two
Welcome to part two of my series on “How to cope with a pathological liar”!
In the first segment, I described what pathological lying, or PL, behavior is in psychological terms, as well as the difference between a white lie and chronic lying.
I also shared some typical signs of this behavior, including:
1. They don’t always derive a clear benefit from their lie.
2. Their stories tend to be unusually complicated, dramatic and detailed.
3. They like to portray themselves as a hero or a victim, depending on the emotional reaction they are looking to get from you.
4. They appear to believe the lies they tell.
In this segment, we’ll take it to the next step and answer three more questions.
First, I’ll share some insight as to why we let PL behaviors go for so long before we finally acknowledge something’s just isn’t right.
Second, I’ll share why it’s so difficult to clinically diagnose a PL or get them to accept treatment.
Third, I’ll give you some tips to help you cope if you suspect you’ve got a PL in your life.
So, first question is: why do so many of us take so long to identify these types of behaviors in people we know and love?
Pathological liars tend to think quickly on their feet. They are always at the ready with an answer, even before most of us have formulated the question.
They are usually outgoing and charismatic when they want to be. They are an artful entertainer and know how to captivate an audience and keep them guessing.
They are consummate storytellers, with the ability to conjure fantastic or fascinating stories in a New York second.
The problem is, they consciously look for people who are used to communicating truthfully and tend to take things people say at face value. Their target are people who aren’t usually suspicious of information they receive from people, especially if it’s from within their own intimate circle.
That puts those who are unaware of the PL preference for lying at a bit of disadvantage when they are left to figure it all out on their own. It can take quite a bit of time before a person starts to see the crack in the façade of a PL.
Red flags start popping up like crazy. Initially, you might ignore it because the PL is so good at deflecting. It’s not uncommon for a conversation to be turned on its head in a mind bending and disconcerting flash.
Suddenly, the person who is trying to hold the PL accountable becomes the one with “the problem”. They are accused of being “over emotional”, “picky”, “suspicious” or “paranoid” and are then faced with being told a new story to cover the old lie.
Often it takes time to dig in and nail down the “facts” of the story to determine what’s real. This can not only be frustrating, but exhausting! Over time, many people just give up because they feel they are running in circles or they buy into the PL’s suggestion that they’re just being paranoid.
That leads to question #2. Why is it so hard to diagnose a person with this illness?
For the same reasons that I’ve just described, a pathological liar will always fight to desperately hold on to their delusional world because it’s where they feel safe and where they think they can exert control.
They are ill equipped to deal with the reality and vulnerability that acknowledgement and accountability of their behavior would require. Therefore, it’s very difficult to get a PL to accept they have an issue at all.
Psychiatric sources say that the most important part of diagnosing a PL is to identify whether they recognize that they are lying or if they believe their own lies.
That’s not an easy task because PL’s automatically tend to deflect any attempt toward getting to the truth.
So, what can you do to protect yourself, and act proactively, if you are in a relationship with one or are forced to interact with a pathological liar, such as in a work setting?
Here are five ways to cope with PL behavior:
1) Whatever you do, don’t get emotional when you are communicating with them, especially to the level of anger or extreme frustration.
It won’t get you anywhere and you’ll only give them a reason to shift blame back to you.
2) Expect denial.
As I mentioned in part one, they will usually respond, with what looks like, sincere surprise that you would be questioning their authenticity.
Another typical response is to provide vague or off-topic responses in their answers to direct questions. In worst case scenarios, they may be the type to use anger, or be confrontational, to deflect and/or intimidate you into backing off.
3) Stay focused on their behavior.
Often, when attempting to talk with PL personalities, we try to approach them by letting them know how their behavior is hurting us or others, in an effort to appeal to their sense of empathy. It’s also hard to not take their treatment of you personally. But, don’t. Remember, they don’t equate their behavior with doing anything wrong, so the argument that they are being hurtful just isn’t something they understand. It’s about them and maintaining their sense of control, not about you and the pain they are creating for you.
4) Don’t engage them.
If you know you’re heading down a dead-end lane in conversation where it’s clear they are deflecting and won’t admit to their behavior, don’t allow them to engage you in a new story. They may create different versions of a story, especially if they have forgotten any of the details they’ve given in previous lies.
They may even try to counterattack and blame you for questioning them in the first place. Simply let them know, in a calm and non-confrontational way, that you aren’t interested in continuing the conversation if they aren’t going to be honest.
5) Suggest therapy or medical help.
This can be done with a great deal of compassion and without judgment, but be prepared for pushback. You are most likely not a mental health professional, but you can always have that information at the ready to provide them if they show any interest in it.
Coping with PL behavior, especially when it’s from someone you love, is difficult and heart-wrenching. What’s important is that you actively protect yourself by setting boundaries and letting them know that you expect honesty in your relationship.
You can’t fix their problem, but you can stay consistent in making sure they aren’t continuing to manipulate or control you.
So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!