Do you know someone who tends to lie frequently about any and everything? Have you caught them in a lie and wondered why they continue to lie? If so, you are obviously dealing with a pathological liar. What most people fail to recognize about pathological liars is that they often lack the ability to empathize with others, feel guilt about their lies, and have trouble controlling their natural impulse to lie. For most of us, it is very difficult to lie with a straight face and quite easy to feel guilty about the lie. But for someone with “psychological deficits” or pathological behaviors, it is very easy for them to lie while keeping others in the dark. What’s most interesting about pathological liars is that many of them know how to control their emotions in such a way that lying can look like the truth to us.
Having worked with adolescents for the past 7-8 years in the mental health field and juvenile justice system, I have seen my fair share of teens with socio-pathic, borderline, and histrionic traits that often includes lying. The lying behaviors are typically chronic, destructive to others, purposeful and nonpurposeful at times, calculated or impulsive, manipulative, and confusing for everyone. In many cases, pathological lying occurs when you least expect it. Pathological lying is very different from telling a “fib” to get out of something or change the scope of a situation. The lying is insidious. Many of my former clients engaged in pathological lying and could lie to a Judge, police officer, therapist, psychiatrist, family, etc. and be very calm, provide appropriate eye contact, maintain norming breathing rhythms, and become personable or friendly. These individuals surely fit the description of a socio-path and can be very dangerous for society.
The tragic reality of those who work with, live with, or know a pathological liar is that there are almost always victims. Sometimes you are a part of a lie and may not even know it. Other times, you may know the person is lying, but due to the person being very personable and friendly, you have a very difficult time convincing others that the person is lying. The fact that pathological liars tend to be slightly charming, sometimes intelligent, have good jobs, and are sociable, keeps many of us blinded to their blatant lies. Because of this, it is important to understand how to protect yourself against a pathological. Individuals with certain disorders or diagnoses sometimes engage in pathological lying and antisocial behaviors such as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy), and many others.
There are certainly ways to protect yourself from a potential liar and the whirlpool of confusion that comes with them. The most important thing to remember about someone who lies is that you may one day become their victim. You should take every lie seriously and engage in the following:
- Do not engage the pathological liar: If you sense that you are being lied to, perhaps you are. There are situations in which you might feel someone is being untrue but later find out they were telling the truth. But in many cases we, as humans, are good barometers and we can sense when someone isn’t being truthful or when they are. If you sense that someone is lying to you, don’t make the person feel comfortable by agreeing, nodding, or laughing about it. A blank stare might do the trick in shutting down the lie.
- Call them out: Sometimes it’s perfectly fine, especially if you have concrete evidence that you can use, to confront a pathological liar about their obvious lie. In counseling sessions the use of confrontation by clinicians can be powerful if used appropriately and with the right amount of kindness. Confrontation does not mean an argument but an acknowledgement that information isn’t adding up. For example, a confrontation might include you stating “…that’s not what I see happening because I spoke with the Principal and he showed me documentation that you skipped school at 2:00pm on Monday.” It’s always good to have dates and times or some kind of concrete evidence. Heresay or personal opinions or observations do not always work with liars.
- Play “stupid” : I use this technique quite a bit in sessions with adolescents and young children. If I want a youth to open up or I’m looking to build rapport, I make statements such as “…that’s not what I was told, can you help me understand because I’m a bit confused?” Individuals who tend to lie are usually seeking some sort of power over others. If you are able to take a step back and appear unassuming, you can actually become the person “on top” and coax the individual into explaining things so you can evaluate it. You’re not trying to catch the person in a lie per se, but to clarify information in a nonconfrontational manner.
- Don’t believe anything until you confirm the truth: Someone with a track record of lying behaviors should never be believed at face value. The moment you begin to appear as if you believe what the pathological liar is saying, they will run with it. Any kind of approval or trust the pathological liar can sense makes them feel powerful and energized to continue the behavior. It’s always good, when speaking to someone who frequently lies, to remain neutral, detached, and focused. You should weigh everything you are being told against the facts.
- Don’t argue or fight with the pathological liar: It’s not worth your energy to argue with someone who lives in a fantasy or psychologically unstable word. Most liars lack an identity and struggle with feelings of insecurity and abandonment. Other pathological liars are simply sociopathic and overly confident. Either way, don’t argue or get into a confrontation with the liar because they will continue to lie, demean you, and possibly create more lies to use in the future (possibly against you).You will never get to the truth, even with the use of intimidation. In some cases, you might get only half of the truth. It’s best to step back, work around the pathological liar by asking others about an event, and keeping a safe distance.
Pathological liars are difficult to live with or work with because you can’t determine what is true and what is false. You can also sometimes struggle with your own sense of reality because of all the lies around you. It’s best to keep your distance, if you can, and remain focused on the facts. Be mindful about your emotions and learn to question how you feel about what you are being told by the pathological liar. Questions to ask yourself may include: “Do I feel comfortable with what is being said to me?” “Do I feel foolish or silly while listening to this story?” “Am I questioning the legitimacy of what is being said to me right now?” If any of these things are occurring, these are all signs that you either need to do more “research” to understand what’s going on or are being told a bunch of lies. The most important goal for anyone who is dealing with a pathological liar is to always remember your dignity and self respect. A pathological liar typically has very little to no empathy and will take you as far as you let them.
As always, take good care of yourself