Pathological lying, also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, is the chronic behavior of compulsive or habitual lying.
Unlike telling the occasional white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or getting in trouble, a pathological liar seems to lie for no apparent reason. This can make it frustrating or hard to know what to do if you believe you’ve met one.
Though pathological lying has been recognized for more than a century, there’s not yet a clear universal definition of the condition.
Some pathological lying may result from a mental condition, such as antisocial personality disorder (sometimes called sociopathy), while others appear to have no medical reason for the behavior.
A pathological liar is someone who lies compulsively. While there appears to be many possible causes for pathological lying, it’s not yet entirely understood why someone would lie this way, outside of moral and spiritual belief systems.
Some lies seem to be told in order to make the pathological liar appear the hero, or to gain acceptance or sympathy, while there’s seemingly nothing to be gained from other lies.
Some evidence from 2007 Trusted Source suggests that issues affecting the central nervous system may predispose someone to pathological lying.
Compulsive lying is also a known trait of some personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder. Trauma or head injuries may also play a role in pathological lying, along with an abnormality in hormone-cortisol ratio.
A 2016 study Trusted Source of what happens in the brain when you lie found that the more untruths a person tells, the easier and more frequent lying becomes. The results also indicated that self-interest seems to fuel dishonesty.
Though the study didn’t specifically look at pathological lying, it may give some insight into why pathological liars lie as much and as easily as they do.
The following are some of the scientifically recognizedTrusted Source traits and characteristics of pathological liars.
Their lies seem to have no clear benefit
While a person might lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation, such as embarrassment or getting in trouble, a pathological liar tells lies or stories that don’t have an objective benefit.
Friends and family can find this especially frustrating because the person lying doesn’t stand to gain anything from their lies.
The stories they tell are usually dramatic, complicated, and detailed
Pathological liars are great storytellers. Their lies tend to be very detailed and colorful. Even though obviously over-the-top, the pathological liar may be very convincing.
They usually portray themselves as the hero or victim
Along with being made the hero or victim in their stories, pathological liars tend to tell lies that seem to be geared at gaining admiration, sympathy, or acceptance by others.
They sometimes seem to believe the lies they tell
A pathological liar tells lies and stories that fall somewhere between conscious lying and delusion. They sometimes believe their own lies.
It’s difficult to know how to deal with a pathological liar who may not always be conscious of their lying. Some do it so often that experts believe they may not know the difference between fact and fiction after some time.
Pathological liars also tend to be natural performers. They’re eloquent and know how to engage with others when speaking. They’re creative and original, and quick thinkers who don’t usually show common signs of lying, such as long pauses or avoidance of eye contact.
When asked questions, they may speak a lot without ever being specific or answering the question.
Most people lie at one time or another. Previous research has suggested that we tell an average of 1.65 lies every day. Most of these lies are what are considered “white lies.”
Pathological lies, on the other hand, are told consistently and habitually. They tend to appear pointless and often continuous.
White lies are occasional and considered:
- small fibs
- without malicious intent
- told to spare another’s feelings or avoid getting in trouble
Some examples of white lies include:
- saying you have a headache to get out of attending a meeting
- saying you’ve paid the phone bill when you forgot to pay it
- lying about why you were late for work
Pathological lies are:
- told frequently and compulsively
- told for no apparent reason or gain
- told to make the teller appear heroic or the victim
- not deterred by guilt or risk of getting found out
Examples of pathological lying:
- creating a false history, such as saying they’ve achieved or experienced something they haven’t
- claiming to have a life-threatening illness that they don’t have
- telling lies to impress others, such as saying they’re related to a famous person
Identifying a pathological liar isn’t always easy. While it may be human nature to be suspicious of anything that appears “too good to be true,” not all lies told by pathological liars are over-the-top. They also tell “regular” lies that someone without a compulsion to lie might tell.
The following are some signs that may help you identify a pathological liar:
- they often talk about experiences and accomplishments in which they appear heroic
- they’re also the victim in many of their stories, often looking for sympathy
- their stories tend to be elaborate and very detailed
- they respond elaborately and quickly to questions, but the responses are usually vague and don’t provide an answer to the question
- they may have different versions of the same story, which stems from forgetting previous details