There are many reasons why people lie. Sometimes it is to avoid a negative consequence. Sometimes it is out of shame or fear. Lying can serve a purpose; however, for some, lying becomes a way of life.
What Is Lying?
Telling a lie is best defined as when a person is not truthful in a statement. This can be conducted through a blatant untruth, omission of facts, or over- or under-exaggerating. Lies are often used to spare someone from discomfort, emotional pain, or shame.
Lying can have a major impact on another person. A person who is lied to may feel hurt or betrayed, often more so than if they heard the unpleasant truth initially. Those who lie often feel trapped and out of control. The lies have damaging consequences that a compulsive liar may not be able to avoid.
What Other Disorders Coexist With Lying?
It is not uncommon for a compulsive liar to have other impulse disorders such as addiction, substance abuse, kleptomania, and other impulse disorders. Lying may be caused by problems in childhood, cerebral dysfunction such as dyslexia, or a feeling of lack of control. Those who are chronic liars also tend to have self-esteem issues. They lie in order to feel in control and good about themselves or the situation.
Types Of Liars:
There are several types of liars:
Sociopaths are those who lie constantly to get their way. The lying is often goal-oriented and there is little to no concern shown for others' feelings. Often sociopaths are charming and manipulative, and can be very self-centered.
Compulsive liars (also known as chronic liars) are those who lie primarily out of a habit. It becomes a reflex to lie as a way of responding to questions and interactions. The lies may be large or small. Often compulsive liars feel extremely uncomfortable telling someone the truth versus lying, which feels like second nature. Unlike sociopaths, compulsive liars are not necessarily manipulative; rather it is an unconscious habit.
Daydreaming Pathological Liars are those who mix fact and fiction together to create an ideal situation; however, the devil is in the details, and often the world created by this person falls apart. This type of lying is often driven by low self-esteem and a desire to hide who they are or to avoid dealing with the effects of trauma or abuse. It is also fairly common (~30%) for these individuals to have a brain dysfunction, such as a learning disorder.
Habitual Liars are those who lie out of habit. They lie frequently until they no longer realize they are lying. It becomes effortless and automated. The individual does not care about the effect the lie has or what the outcome is; it is instead a reflex. Habitual liars may lie to take advantage of a situation, avoid confrontation, cover up knowledge gaps or embarrassment, reinforce self-esteem, or for no reason at all. Fear is a common driver of this type of lying.
Impulsive Pathological Liar is a person who lies because he or she has an impulse disorder. Consequences are not considered and they fail to learn from past negative lying experiences. This person may have other impulse disorders and low serotonin levels in the brain.
Substance Abuse-Related Liars are those who lie to avoid possible judgment or negative consequences of substance abuse.
Regardless of which type of liar someone is, the habitual lying can interfere with relationships.
Children and Lying:
It is normal for babies and children to start lying. For example, a baby who wants to be held may fake cry in order to mimic distress with the intention of being held; while the baby is not lying about the desire to be held, the cry can be an exaggeration of the immediate need.
Children may fake an injury or cover up a mistake with a lie. Children become quite good at lying and often learn to lie at home. Children carefully observe their parents and learn this behavior from them. For example, a child whose parent says "It will be okay" when in physical or emotional pain learns to lie about how he or she feels. Being forced to tell someone they love a gift or to lie on their parents' behalf ("Tell them I'm busy") is how children learn to lie.
Treatment for Lying:
Treating compulsive lying can be very difficult. Lies are useful in avoiding punishment, changing a perception, and influencing behavior. Instances of lying increase in teenage years as a child attempts to assert his or her independence.
Lying can become an addictive behavior. Lying feels safe for a compulsive liar, who takes comfort in lying and only desires to lie more. Compulsive lying can also be symptomatic of underlying personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.
The challenge in treating lying is how to set boundaries and consequences for someone who lies without being confrontational or hostile. Controlling environments tend to provoke instances of lying, as well as over-reactions.
- Therapy is an effective treatment for compulsive liars. It tackles the addictive aspect of the behavior or the underlying personality disorder. Furthermore, therapy can help the person understand his or her behaviors, how they impact others, and how to change his or her way of thinking.
- Anti-anxiety medication can assist with feelings of anxiety that prompt the instinct to lie.
- Anti-depressant medication can assist with self-esteem or mood-related issues that lead to lying.
- Substance Abuse or Addiction Treatment can help those with addiction-related issues or other impulse disorders.
Additional Compulsive Lying Resources:
Truth About Deception contains information about the types, symptoms, and treatment of lying.
Truth About Deception's page on children and lying.
DepressionD.org has information about different types of liars.