Everyone lies at some point in their life, whether to spare the feelings of another or avoid facing consequences for their actions. Small white lies usually aren’t harmful. However, telling major lies that negatively impact an individual’s life or the lives of others without understanding the harm they’re causing can indicate a problem.
Pathological liars tend to lie frequently and with seemingly no reason at all. These lies can be about things as basic as weekend plans, work, school, experiences or even what they’re having for dinner. It can be unpleasant to discover someone lied to you, especially a loved one, but pathological lying may be the symptom of a larger mental health problem. The link between mental illness and lying has been found in several disorders.
If you’re worried about someone’s constant lying, learn more about what pathological lying is and where it might stem from.
What Is Pathological Lying?
Pathological lying is a compulsion to lie about any matter regardless of the situation. Also known as mythomania or pseudologia fantastica, pathological lying is a behavior pattern where individuals often lie to make themselves look better. Sometimes, the lie is without reason and doesn’t benefit them in any real way. There isn’t usually a clear motivation behind why a person is lying or if they’re intentionally trying to deceive the person they’re lying to.
Being a friend or family member of a pathological liar can be difficult. You may find yourself second-guessing everything they tell you because you’re unsure when they’re telling the truth. It’s hard to pinpoint why some people lie compulsively, whether it’s the symptom of a condition or a condition itself. Biological factors may be responsible. For example, one study suggests that pathological liars may have structural abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex. Another found evidence that an imbalance in the hormone-cortisol ratio may be a cause.
However, the nature and purpose of lying change from person to person, making it difficult to find a clear reason behind when and why pathological lying occurs.
Is There a Link Between Mental Illness and Lying?
While there isn’t a specific lying disorder, a few mental health disorders can influence chronic lying. Talking to a mental health professional and getting a diagnosis can be the first step in treating pathological lying.
That being said, not everyone who lies automatically has a mental illness. While mental illness and lying can be linked, there’s a difference between having a mental health disorder and simply lying for social or personal reasons. Mental health disorders that may cause or contribute to pathological lying include:
- Anxiety disorders: Pathological lying isn’t a defining feature of anxiety, but there’s a link between anxiety and compulsive lying. Anxiety presents itself in many ways, from a generalized anxiety disorder to acute episodes. People with anxiety may lie for many reasons, including fear of rejection or to protect themselves against potential triggers.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: People struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, experience symptoms such as intrusive thoughts or feelings, obsessions and compulsions to perform routine behaviors. Pathological lying can manifest as a negative coping mechanism to cover OCD symptoms.
- Narcissistic personality disorder: Key features of narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, is an exaggerated sense of self-importance and arrogance. People with NPD tend to have little regard for others’ feelings and will use pathological lying to make themselves feel better or superior and manipulate others.
- Antisocial personality disorder: A person with antisocial personality disorder displays a pattern of being cruel, manipulative and deceitful toward others. It’s also commonly associated with psychopathy. Compulsive lying may be used to hurt, manipulate or cause harm to others.
Other Non-Disorder Reasons for Pathological Lying
While mental illness and lying can often be linked, there are other reasons why a person might lie compulsively, including:
- Social status: Lying may be used to maintain a reputation of social value. In certain communities, such as country clubs or prestigious social organizations, a good reputation may be linked with financial status. Without it, a person may be seen as inferior. An individual lying about their profession or lifestyle may be a way to fit in with the community.
- Insecurity: Those who are insecure about who they are may use lying as a defense mechanism. It can be used to inflate their own sense of self-worth or importance and prevent social exclusion or ridicule among peers.
- Substance abuse: People with a drug or alcohol addiction may lie to cover up the extent of their substance use rather than for sympathy or attention. For example, if an individual asks friends or family to borrow money, they may claim it’s for bills rather than drugs or alcohol.
- Humor: Some people may lie often simply because they find it amusing. Though less common than other reasons, people may assume no one actually believes their lies because of how far-fetched they are or may not realize the frustration they’re causing others.
Does Pathological Lying Require Treatment?
Pathological lying is difficult to treat because of how automatic and habitual it is for some individuals. There are no formal treatments for a lying mental disorder. If an individual is diagnosed with anxiety or a personality disorder, a doctor may suggest treatment that focuses on helping with associated symptoms.
A therapist will work with an individual to develop a treatment plan for their specific diagnosis to help control pathological lying. For example, a person being treated for anxiety may be prescribed a combination of psychotherapy, medication and mindfulness to reduce symptoms.
Personality disorders can often be treated with medication, such as mood stabilizers or antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy that target abnormal thoughts and behaviors individuals typically struggle with.
Treatment Is Available for Your Mental Health Needs
While pathological lying can sometimes seem harmless, it can also indicate a larger problem. If you or a loved one is struggling with pathological lying, talking to a therapist may be the right move to address any underlying mental health issues. By contacting Restore Mental Health at (877) 594-3566, you can speak to a counselor today and learn what services are available for your unique mental health needs.