Pathological Liar – Impulsive, Compulsive Lying, Self-Deception
Pathological Liar – Definition
Pathological liar refers to a liar that is compulsive or impulsive, lies on a regular basis and is unable to control their lying despite of foreseeing inevitable negative consequences or ultimate disclosure of the lie. Generally lies told by a pathological liar have self-defeating quality to them and don’t serve the long term material needs of the person. Therefore pathological lying is lying that is caused by a pathology, occurs on a regular basis, is compulsive or impulsive & uncontrolled, and has self-defeating, self-trapping quality to it.
Lying or self-deception is a part of everyday human interactions. In many cases lying can be beneficial for those who lie and those who are being lied to. Most of this type of lying with positive consequences occurs in a controlled way, thoughtfully, with careful weighting of beneficial consequences. Unlike these, the lies told by a pathological liar are uncontrolled and are likely to have damaging consequences.
Pathological lying covers a wide range of lying behavior, from pseudologia fantastica to habitual lying. Lying is a commonly found clinical component with people who suffer from impulse control disorders such as gambling, compulsive shopping, substance abuse, kleptomania etc. Pathological lying is generally caused by a combination of factors, which may include genetic components, dysfunctional or insecure childhood, dyslexia or other type of cerebral dysfunction. Such conditions may host environment that is likely to emerge chronic or pathological lying as an adaptive defense mechanism. Dysfunctional family, parental overprotection, sibling rivalry, mental retardation are among many causes of pathological lying.
Low Self-Esteem And Pathological Lying
Low self-esteem is a commonly found feature in pathological liars. The lie maybe an attempt to feel good about themselves, generally for a short period of time, similar to the effect of drugs & alcohol. The same lie or deceit repeated over and over may create a myth of personal well-being or success or displacement of faults of own failures on others, thus creating an imaginary fantasy protection bubble, which may reinforce self-esteem. Pathological liars repeatedly use deceit as an ego defense mechanism, which is primarily caused by the lack of ability to cope with everyday problems in more mature ways (Selling 1942).
Pathological Liar – Causes
Causes of development of pathological lying can be, but are not limited to, one or more of the factors mentioned below:
- A dysfunctional family;
- Sexual or physical abuse in childhood;
- Neuropsychological abnormalities; such as borderline mental retardation, learning disabilities etc.
- Impulse control disorders; such as kleptomania, pathological gambling, compulsive shopping.
- Accommodating or suggestible personality traits;
- Personality disorders such as Sociopathic, Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic and more;
- Substance abuse or substance abuse in family;
Pathological Liar – Types
Daydreaming Pathological Liar – Pseudologia Fantastica
Some of the more extreme forms of pathological lying is Pseudologia Fantastica. This is a matrix of facts & fiction, mixed together in a way that makes the reality and fantasy almost indistinguishable. The pseudologue type pathological liar makes up stories that seem possible on the surface, but over time things start falling apart. Pseudologues have dynamic approach to their lies, they are likely to change the story if confronted or faced with disbelief, they have excessive anxiety of being caught and they desperately try to modify their story to something that would seem plausible to create or preserve a sense of self that is something they wish they were or at least something better than they fear others would find out they are. The excessive anxiety is driven by unusually low self-esteem, the person tries to hide reality by creating a fake reality, and once the story has enduring quality to it, he/she is likely to repeat it and if repeated enough times he/she might start believing in it as well. This reality escape can be triggered of a past incident or of an unbearable present for the pseudologue.
About 30% of daydreaming pathological liars have brain dysfunction. For some it may take the form of learning disabilities, ex. dyslexia. Often those with cerebral dysfunction have greater verbal production & lower developed logical, analytical parts of the brain, thus they often fail to control verbal output.
Habitual pathological lying is, as the name suggest, habitual. Habitual liar lies so frequently, that it becomes a habit, as a result, he/she puts very little effort in giving a thought about what the output is going to be, nor does he/she care much to process whether it’s a lie or not, it’s simply a reflex & very often can be completely unnecessary or even opposite to his/her own needs. If he/she stops & thinks about it, he/she knows clearly it’s a lie.
Habitual liars lie for a variety of reasons, which include, but are not limited to:
- Take advantage of the situation or misguide a rival
- Avoid confrontation or punishment
- Cover up lack of knowledge
- Cover up embarrassment
- To entertain oneself or others
- Reinforce self-esteem, because of failing own expectation
- Receive unearned praise or avoid disappointment or disproval
- For no reason whatsoever
Habitual liars gives very few if any psychical or vocal signs of lying, due to the effortless nature of lying. That said, since he/she gives a very little thought to his/her lies, they are usually inconsistent & obvious.
Fear is a major contributor in developing habitual lying in a child & further advancement into adulthood, more so in conditions when the child finds truth telling results in more frequent or more severe punishment. Lack of appreciating and likelihood of unwanted consequences of telling the truth may result in frequent opting out for lying, which often involves less punishment & therefore becomes more desirable.
Impulsive Pathological Liar – Impulse Control Disorders & Lying
Impulsive pathological liar lies due to impulse control problem, he/she lies to fulfill his/her present (in the moment) needs, without thinking of future negative effects that can be caused because of the lie. Impulsive pathological liar generally suffers from impulse control disorders, such as kleptomania, pathological gambling, compulsive shopping etc. Those suffering from impulse control disorders fail to learn from past negative experiences, frequently suffer from depression, likely to have history of substance abuse in family or have substance abuse problems themselves, likely to have deficiency in brain serotonin. Increase in brain serotonin may have positive effect in decreasing impulsiveness, such medication may have positive effects, however there hasn’t been clinical research performed to confirm or deny this theory.
Substance Abuse Associated Pathological Liar
Self-Deception is an undeniable part of addictive process. People abuse alcohol or other drugs constantly lie to themselves & others to avoid embarrassment, conflict, as well as to obtain the substance. Getting off substance requires learning to distance oneself from the deceit, therefore learning to be truthful is generally a part of any Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program.
Signs of Lying
Human detection of deceit can be summarized by the following seven signs.
7 Signs of Lying
- Disguised smiling
- Lack of head movement
- Increased rate of self-adapters (eg., movements such playing with an object in hands, scratching one’s head etc.)
- Increased/Heightened pitch of voice
- Reduced rate of speech
- Pause fillers (“uh”, “hm”, “er”)
- Less corresponding, matching nonverbal behavior from the other communication methods (ex. the movement of hands doesn’t match the substance of the lie that is being told orally)
Reference: (Fiedler, Walka, Zuckerman, Driver, Ford)