In my life, and working with clients I coach, I have encountered both compulsive liars and pathological liars. They may seem the same, but their motivation and the way that you deal with them can be quite different. Here’s how you tell a compulsive liar:
A compulsive liar is unable to control their dishonesty, either due to gradual habituation over time, or deeper psychological conditions. Lies they tell may be anything from small white-lies to outlandish fantasies. And they may have motive for gain, or no motive at all.
This makes pathological liars a type of compulsive liar. Overall, pathological liars specifically do not have a particular motive for personal gain. They tell lies practically for the sport and interest of the lies themselves, which makes them different from sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, and other people who compulsively lie as a means to an end.
How One Becomes A Compulsive Liar
People can be come compulsive liars over the course of time through force of habit and repetition. Not all compulsive liars are born with a serious psychological condition. Usually, this starts out a simple ordinary white lies or “cover your butt” type lies that almost everyone uses occasionally since childhood.
A budding compulsive liar will start to use these lies ever more frequently. This can arise from a number of circumstances.
- Lies that require more lies to cover — spiraling out of control
- Social conditions that require or promote dishonesty
- Existing in overly strict regimes of punishment, especially as a child
- Boredom or lack of means to express creativity
As the frequency of lying increases, the liar’s ability to actively control their dishonesty is reduced. Eventually it becomes second nature.
Although most compulsive liars know they are lying (IE brain scans or lie detector tests could detect neurological stress due to lying), they have an extremely difficult time stopping lies before they come out, as if by force of habit. Eventually, in extreme cases, compulsive liars may become so acclimated to a constant stream of untruths that they lose even the subconscious reaction to the lies they tell (detected by lie detectors), making it almost impossible for them to tell the difference between truth and falsehood.
Are You A Compulsive Liar?
The different between a normal liar and a compulsive liar is a matter of degree, so in the gradual slide toward compulsive lying there is not hard and fast boundary. Here are 10 signs you might be a compulsive liar:
- You only realize you are lying after you start speaking
- You lie about things that don’t really matter to you
- You have difficulty remembering if something you said is true or made up
- You cannot remember how many times you lied today
- You try out different stories in your head to see how they might sound
- You are worried when different friend groups meet, because they might have been told different things
- You don’t feel a sinking feeling in your chest / gut when you lie
- You are constantly “joking” about everything you say
- You lie sometimes even when you meant to tell the truth
- People around you don’t trust what you say
If you answered more than 2 – 3 of these yes, then you are probably on the road to becoming a compulsive liar. Five or more any you would match the profile of many compulsive liars I have come across in my life and while coaching clients.
How to Handle a Compulsive Liar
The first impulse many people have when they encounter a compulsive liar is to try to “fix” them. I know I had this reaction too.
However, ultimately I found it is wrong to attempt to force them to change. While compulsive liars may be able to fix themselves, especially with proper coaching and support, you cannot force them to change if they don’t want to.
The best course of action with a compulsive liar is to realize what they are. Unfortunately, with a compulsive liar, you cannot trust anything that comes out of their mouth. This can be detrimental to both business and personal relationships with them.
Proper safeguards include increasing the social space between you and the compulsive liar. Eventually you will need to either put up appropriate healthy boundaries or dissolve the relationship entirely.
Depending on your relationship with the person, you may be able to politely notify them that you think they may suffer from compulsive behavior and that they stretch the truth. Encourage them, from a place of love, to seek help. Point them to this article and ask them to take the compulsive liar test above.
Can I Stop Compulsively Lying?
In many cases, you can overcome compulsive lying. Depending on how deep of a problem it is, this may me more or less difficult.
I recommend that you work with a qualified coach that you trust to help you with this problem, since it can be easy to lie to yourself about how deep of a problem it really is, and how successful your reform has been. Generally, I would start with the following general course of action:
- A course of self-observation documenting how often and when lying occurs
- Deep dive psychological methods to determine the root cause of the condition
- Identify exercises and practices confronting lies when they occur
- Rectifying wrongs that may have been caused by obsessive behavior
- Measurement and constant refinement
While is not clear if a compulsive liar can completely regain their natural instinct for truth, it is very clear that a compulsive liar can redeem themselves and significantly change their behavior if they are motivated to change.