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Pathological Liar: What Causes It & 55 Signs and Ways to Help Them Change

Do you know someone who is a pathological liar? If you do, then you need to know all about the condition and how you can best deal with the situation.

Pathological Liar signs

We all know someone who has a hard time with the truth. Some of us lie to save someone’s feelings, but that is something entirely different from a pathological liar. A pathological liar is someone who lies simply because they can.

No moral compass, lies are the way they manipulate, control, and confuse everyone in their wake. If you think you can tame or change the pathological liar, you lie to yourself.

The pathological liar may or may not have started as one. Sometimes people are good at lying, and it becomes a habit. 

Before they know it, the truth seems too simplistic. Others use lying as a way to abuse and manipulate their victims. 

After all, telling someone something they know isn’t true and getting them to believe it must be pretty damn empowering. [Read: Giveaways to tell if someone is lying to your face]

What causes pathological lying?

Believe it or not, the cause of pathological lying isn’t completely established, and there is limited research on it. Scientists are still trying to determine if the brain of a pathological liar forms differently than someone who is a “normal” liar.

Some pathological liars might have had childhood trauma. As a result, they might have developed lying as a coping mechanism to help their parents or someone else meet their needs.

They might have grown up in families where they learned early on that they aren’t good enough and that being flawed is unacceptable. And they were most likely abused, emotionally neglected, or heavily criticized too. [Read: 15 ways a pathological liar hurts and confuses you with their lies]

In addition to childhood trauma, pathological lying is associated with these types of mental health conditions.

1. Antisocial personality disorder

People with this mental illness might lie to gain status in society such as a job, promotion, or for money. They also might lie to gain certain resources or simply to get sympathy from people. [Read: Asocial vs. antisocial – the similarities end with the name]

2. Borderline personality disorder

When someone has borderline personality disorder, they might lie to avoid rejection. No one likes rejection, but they lie to specifically avoid it. They also might lie to avoid abandonment too.

3. Munchausen syndrome

Munchausen syndrome occurs when people lie about being sick. They might fake having a terminal illness or anything else for that matter. And they can also lie to have someone in their care appear sick.

4. Narcissistic personality disorder

People with NPD might lie to get something out of someone by using manipulation. [Read: Malignant narcissist – 48 scary traits, causes, and what makes them so bad]

They have a false sense of self that they need to lie about in order to preserve. And they also lie to get out of trouble or make people perceive them in a positive way.

Do you know a pathological liar?

You probably do and may not even know it. Their lies tend to be so pointless they can go for a long time without being caught. 

Their lies can also be so insignificant that if someone were to know they were lying, it wouldn’t be worth bringing it up. [Read: Compulsive liar – why they lie, 22 signs and ways to spot them]

As we said, we all tell fibs, omit, and lie regularly. Usually, it is for a decent reason. A pathological liar essentially has no reason except their urge to lie. 

You may not even realize someone you are close to is a pathological liar until really trying to unravel their stories.

The signs of a pathological liar are more obvious than you think. We ignore them because they don’t always cause problems, but that in itself is a problem. [Read: Signs it’s time to walk away from the liar in your life]

These lies may not define your relationship or have any benefit or burden, but they illustrate a pattern of dishonesty. 

If this person feels the need to lie about something completely irrelevant, what is to say they won’t lie about something meaningful?

The undeniable signs of a pathological liar

You would think spotting a pathological liar would be hard, but in fact, with a bit of focused observation, it is easier than you would think. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

1. They lie about mundane things

Most of us lie either to get out of trouble or to stop hurting someone’s feelings. A pathological liar lies about everything from what they had for lunch to when they worked in the morning.

Pathological liars are pathological in that it is an illness and disease they seemingly can’t control. Although lying is a compulsion for them, they can control it but choose not to. [Read: Types of creeps and their recognizable habits]

2. They hide things from you

A pathological liar doesn’t want to get caught, so they hide everything from you. They lock their phone, keep passcodes on everything, and they keep you out of their personal business so that you can’t check up on them.

The thing is that they are so damn good at confusing you, even if their fail-safe of hiding everything falls through, they have a great excuse to get out of whatever it is they lie about. [Read: Ways to confront liars without losing your cool]

3. They convince you that you are mistaken

They leave you completely upside down and backward. A pathological liar has a lot of experience and expertise in lying. 

So, if you do catch or question them, they learn to switch things up, project back onto you, and make you so upside down that you forget what you were even bothered about.

When you are in a relationship with a pathological liar, you spend half of your life scratching your head wondering where things went wrong. [Read: Gaslighting – what it is, how it works, and 33 signs to spot it ASAP]

4. You begin to question yourself when you are in a relationship with them

The pathological liar makes what is up down and what is down up. Always keeping you on guard, and what you know to be true you suddenly question. It leaves you feeling constantly anxious and unreal in your own life.

There is no way to maintain a healthy relationship with someone dishonest with you. You never know what is real, including their love.

5. There is nothing sacred enough that is off-limits to lie about

For most people, there are some things that you lie about and are okay with *like answering, “Do I look fat in this?”* and others simply off limits. [Read: Is he lying? 21 signs to tell if a guy is a liar and the subtle ways to read his lies]

For the person who goes through life-telling mistruths, there is nothing that they won’t lie about. 

Including whether they love you, if they are seeing someone else, or if they emptied your bank account. Lacking any moral compass, they don’t feel remorse for lying. It is a means to your end.

6. They switch stories mid-stream without even skipping a beat

Pathological liars are experts at thinking on their feet. [Read: How to spot the liars on an online dating site]

Most of us, when caught lying, stumble, blush a little, and struggle to find our way out of the hole that we just dug for ourselves. Pathological liars are different.

They twist and turn mid-sentence without skipping a beat, leaving anyone dealing with them thinking, “Clearly, I must be mistaken.”

7. They have a way out and an excuse for everything

An expert at lying has an excuse for everything. Almost like a full-time job, they cover their tracks no matter what happens. Their brains are hardwired differently than the regular person’s. [Read: How to overcome self-doubt]

Able to go off on tangents and find an excuse valid in the recesses of their mind, it truly is masterful. While the rest of us duck and weave when caught in a lie, the pathological liar has their do-over front and center and on demand.

8. They are very good at covering their tracks

A whole lot of time is spent and wasted on covering a liar’s tracks. They have a master plan that goes from start to finish. [Read: 20 BIG but subtle signs and gestures to tell if someone is lying to your face]

If they lied about something, you best be sure they covered it up with a witness or a loophole. There are very few ways to break the pathological liar’s web of lies. Like a spider, they lie in wait to sting.

9. If you question them, they make you feel bad for doing so

The best thing that the pathological liar is good at is manipulation. If you call them out, and they can’t account for the lie, they make you feel ashamed and embarrassed for questioning their integrity.

For someone who makes lying a living, calling them out is tantamount to taking them down. They will not stand for that. [Read: 16 signs a narcissist is using and abusing you]

They strike to set you off balance and make you look like a jerk for not just following along.

10. They typically have an underlying personality disorder that gives them the propensity to be lax with the truth

Being a pathological liar is typically the least of their worries. Usually, when someone can’t stick to the truth, there is an underlying personality problem.

Whether it is a narcissistic personality disorder or a sociopathic personality, lying is usually a part of their entire persona. A defense mechanism they use to hide who they really are. [Read: 15 questions to reveal a controlling personality]

11. They lie because it is a control thing

You don’t own them. They don’t owe you anything. Why should they have to tell you the truth? 

Lying is a very powerful and controlling thing. Having you believe something that isn’t true, is like saying, “Screw you, you aren’t going to put a GPS on me.”

12. They never take responsibility

“I’m rubber, you’re glue, what bounces off of me sticks to you.” If you are with a pathological liar, they will never, and we mean NEVER, take responsibility for anything. [Read: How to stop being toxic – 19 steps to not be bitter or blame others]

Their actions, their behaviors, their lies. They are either your fault or someone else’s. They have an uncanny way of making sure that nothing “sticks.”

13. They destroy every relationship they are in

If you are with a pathological liar, what you will find out quickly is they don’t have many long-term friends or relationships. You can’t trust people who lie all the time.

And, although they might be good at what they do, when you get close to them, you eventually see their manipulation and ugliness. [Read: Psychological manipulation – how it works, 37 tactics, signs, and ways to deal]

If you are in a relationship with someone without quality friendships and their past relationships all ended in disaster, think about what goes on in their life.

14. They have no guilt or remorse

When the average person lies, they tend to have at least some sort of guilt about it. Whether you feel bad about fibbing on your resume or telling your best friend you did not hook up with your worthless ex again, you feel uncomfortable about it.

A pathological liar will thrive on a lie. Instead of squirming or feeling like they have duped someone, they show and feel zero empathy or guilt for their deceiving actions. [Read: Signs it’s time to walk away from the liar in your life]

The pathological liar watches you cry and lose your ever-loving mind, and it doesn’t affect them.

Someone who lies without remorse is just wrong in many ways. And, as much as you don’t want to hear this, they certainly don’t care about you.

15. They take your security

In a relationship, you expect to love and be loved in return. They turn out to sit on a bed of lies and make you question humanity and all the things you thought people were capable of. [Read: Why am I so insecure? 41 signs and 51 ways to deal with insecurity and feel secure]

When you love someone who blatantly lies to your face without feeling bad, it makes you question your judgment in all things. But remember, it isn’t you.

16. They humbly brag

Ahhh, the humble brag. One of the signs of a pathological liar is bragging. This person wants to show off everything they can think of. But, because they are a skilled liar, they won’t always do it in the most abrupt way. 

They will have mastered the art of the humble brag. This means they will try to get away with bragging by adding a touch of modesty to the statement. [Read: Types of liars and how to confront them without losing your cool]

For instance, they might say they are so embarrassed at something they did while somewhere very glamorous or posh.

17. They show signs of selfishness

We all have selfish moments, but pathological liars tend to always put themselves first. Even though this person’s lies may not have a clear-cut reason, they are addicted to lying.

The feeling they get when they lie overrides anyone else’s. So even if their lie throws someone under the bus, they will still tell it. [Read: 15 ways to spot selfish people and stop them from hurting you]

18. They are often jealous

Although the signs of a pathological liar are clear, the reasons behind them are not always as clear. But we can assume that a pathological liar wishes that their lies were in fact true. 

Therefore, someone that does possess the traits and skills they lie about having would make them extremely jealous.

Not only would they have an irrational response to others’ good news, but they would feel the need to outdo them with their lies as well. [Read: Jealousy in a relationship – how to accept, deal, and overcome it in love]

For instance, if a coworker was promoted, they would be bitter, but also feel the urge to lie about themselves to get more attention and praise.

19. They get defensive

If you have ever caught a pathological liar in a lie, you know their reaction. It is not apologetic nor fearful, instead, it is often hysterical. [Read: Why do people get defensive? Reasons and ways to handle them]

They question your questions. They accuse you of not trusting them when they know they are lying.

20. They are manipulative

The thing about pathological liars is that they have had a lot of experience lying. This makes them a lying expert of sorts. That means, not only do they lie, but they can get you to believe their lies.

They can even lie so well that they can convince you of just about anything. [Read: The devious signs of manipulative behavior you should never ignore]

21. They are comfortable lying

Most people are uncomfortable lying. They show signs of lying like lacking eye contact and sweating. But pathological liars feel most comfortable when they are lying. In fact, for them, lying is easier than telling the truth.

One of the signs of a pathological liar is having a hard time telling the truth. They may have a difficult time communicating their true feelings, but when it comes to lies, they don’t bat an eye. [Read: Giveaways to tell if someone is lying to your face]

22. They believe their lies

One thing that makes pathological liars so convincing is that they tend to actually believe their lies. They convince themselves that what they are saying is actually true. They manipulate their memories.

23. They love attention

Although we can’t often understand the reason a pathological liar lies, they likely desire attention. They love to be the center of attention. They want everyone’s focus on them. 

That is what really makes them stand out for your average liar. Most people try to hide their lies and want the conversation that revolves around their lies to change. However, pathological liars want even more attention to their lies. [Read: Understanding the wily ways of an attention seeker]

24. They make you feel crazy

You might be close with a pathological liar and not even know it, at least not until you start feeling crazy. Dealing with a pathological liar daily can make you feel like you are losing your mind.

You start to question your own memory of certain things. And when you question them, they are so convincing that you truly believe what they are saying over what you think or remember. 

This can be one of the first signs of a pathological liar that you will notice. [Read: Dark triad personality – what it is, 25 signs and ways to deal with them]

Can pathological liars have relationships? 

Yes, pathological liars can have relationships. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not challenging and quite unhealthy. Here are some characteristics of relationships with pathological liars:

1. Anger

If and when pathological liars are caught by people they have lied to, they can have outbursts of anger. They either become defensive or attack their partners with harsh words. This can damage the relationship deeply over time. 

They do this because they have no coping mechanism to manage their anger. And they might even become physically abusive if their partner tries to confront them about anything that bothers them. [Read: How do cheaters react when accused? Anger and what you should expect]

2. Constant need for attention

Pathological liars like to make themselves the center of attention in their relationships, and that can cause problems with their partners. 

They might seem caring from the outside, but they are really incapable of caring about other people’s needs. That’s because they only think about what makes them happy.

3. Secrets

Because they lie so much, pathological liars keep secrets from their partners too. They can’t prioritize their partners over themselves and their lies. It’s a compulsion, and so they frequently keep secrets from people. [Read: Sneaky people – 20 subtle signs and what defines sneaky behavior in someone]

4. Problems with trust

Because they find it difficult to control the need to tell lies, it makes it nearly impossible for people to trust them.

They have very little control over which lie they tell, and that makes it even more difficult for other people to ever believe a word that comes out of their mouths.

5. Irresponsible behavior

Because they have no control over their compulsions, a pathological liar is very irresponsible with their behavior too. [Read: Peter pan syndrome – what it is, 31 childish signs, and how to grow up ASAP]

They might cheat in their relationships without even thinking about the consequences. So, their partners can never really know what to expect from them – except for the lies.

6. Difficulty with commitment

Since pathological liars are always concerned about themselves, they are usually not very good at commitment. They might seem caring to the other person, but they shouldn’t be trusted.

Even if their lying is under control, they aren’t ready to be their best self in a relationship. That’s probably why they don’t have faith in relationships. [Read: Fear of commitment – 47 signs, whys, and ways to get over your phobia]

Can a pathological liar love someone?

As you know by now, all people lie to some extent, but pathological liars go way beyond normal levels of lying. They lie for no apparent reason, and it is just a part of who they are. It just comes naturally to them like telling the truth does to other people.

So, although pathological liars may be able to love other people, they can almost never maintain an honest and healthy relationship.

As a result, they usually have toxic relationships that are very stressful and hurtful to their partners. 

Some pathological liars even know that they are chronic liars. And some even feel bad for deceiving their friends, families, and partners. However, this guilt isn’t enough to get them to stop lying to the ones they love. [Read: Narcissistic sociopath – how they think, 31 signs, and ways to deal with them]

How to deal with pathological liars

If you have a pathological liar in your life, then you know how difficult it can be. So, you need to know how to deal with them.

1. Avoid when possible

The best thing you can possibly do is avoid pathological liars at all costs. If they are a friend, neighbor, or even a family member, try to stay away from them. Of course, there are times when you can’t, but it’s in your best interest to do so.

2. Try to stay grounded in your sense of reality

Pathological liars lie so much that sometimes their stories can sound real. And after a while, you might even question your sanity.

But remember, your mind doesn’t have a problem – theirs does. So, stay grounded in reality. [Read: 52 happy habits and ways to find happiness within yourself and feel better]

3. Try to adjust your expectations

When people don’t behave the way we expect or want them to, it can often drive us crazy. But you can’t have the same kind of expectations for a pathological liar as you do for normal people. That’s because they seem like they are just from a whole different planet.

4. Try to set healthy boundaries

It’s important to have boundaries in any relationship out of self-love. But it’s even more important when you know a pathological liar. So, don’t let them overstep the lines you have drawn in the sand with them. [Read: How to set boundaries in a relationship – 39 rules for healthy love]

5. Try to be prepared for a confrontation

Pathological liars are very cunning, and they don’t like to be challenged. So, if you ever try to question their lies or try to point out that they are living in their own reality, then they will probably start a confrontation. So, be prepared.

6. Try to encourage them to seek support

They won’t like this, but you know that they need help. It’s difficult to encourage them to seek support if they don’t think they have a problem.

But you can try anyway – especially if you have an intimate relationship with them and can’t avoid them.

7. Try to learn about body language and “tells”

There is a lot of research on the types of body language that are dead giveaways for lying. [Read: Male body language – 48 subtle signs to instantly read a man’s thoughts]

From not looking you in the eye to holding an object as a “barrier” between the two of you, there are many signs you can look for to see if and when they are lying.

8. Know when to cut ties

If you are in a relationship with a person that you can cut ties with, then do. Don’t hang around long enough for you to lose your sanity – or even worse. Have the courage to just walk away and cut them out of your life entirely. [Read: How to get out of a toxic relationship with your dignity intact]

How to confront a pathological liar

Pathological liars can be scary sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you should let them get away with their unethical behavior. You should confront them and stand up for yourself – and reality. 

Here’s how to do it.

1. Mentally and emotionally prepare first

You have to accept within yourself that this person is in fact a pathological liar and you can’t trust them. [Read: 20 signs you can’t trust the guy you’re dating and he’s up to no good]

So, remember that the confrontation won’t be pleasant, to say the least. You have to be prepared for the worst, but you can handle it.

2. Keep records

This part is crucial. When you confront a pathological liar, they will try to make you seem like the crazy one. Because of this, you have to keep records so they can’t deny reality. 

It’s also helpful to fuel your memory. If you can get recordings as evidence, that is even better because they can’t deny that they said or did something. [Read: Emotional abuse – what it is and 39 signs this relationship is breaking you]

3. Build a strong case

Once you have enough evidence gathered, then you need to put it all together as if you would a court case. You almost have to get into the mind of an attorney who is trying to prove that the other person is a pathological liar. 

The goal here is to present such a strong case of reality – that they are a pathological liar – that even they can’t deny that it’s true.

4. How you present your case is vital

When you are talking to them, it helps to present your case in a way that isn’t judgmental, or else it might backfire. [Read: How to communicate with your spouse without resentment or fighting]

You don’t want to come out with guns blazing, so to speak. Instead, you want to start with a mild statement that gets across your point.

They will probably get defensive, so if they do, dial it down a bit and allow some time to pass before you bring up the topic again. You need them in the right state of mind so they will be as receptive as possible.

5. Ask for explanations

If you want to get them talking and analyzing their actions and lies, ask them to explain themselves. This puts the responsibility onto them, and that doesn’t make you look like the bad guy. [Read: 73 red flag narcissism signs and traits of a narcissist to read them like a book]

You don’t want them to think that you are being judgmental, because if they do, they will either shut down or just cover up their lies with even more lies. You have to make them think that you have an open mind.

6. Let them know that you are in this together

They might be defensive and see you as their enemy if you don’t do this right. So, you need to remind them that you are a team and not against them. You want to help them be a better person.

Being called out on their lies is traumatic for them. So, keep that in mind. [Read: Tumultuous relationship – 20 signs you’re in one and best ways to fix it]

They might try to withdraw and argue with you, so give them space if they need it. Just let them know that you are there for them. 

Can pathological liars change? 

Unfortunately, most liars who are compulsive or pathological don’t want to change enough to get treatment. If they do, it’s only because they were court-ordered to do so if they’ve gotten into trouble with the law. 

The only other time they might be likely to seek treatment is if their lying has resulted in serious consequences such as divorce, bankruptcy, or losing their careers. [Read: Can a narcissist change? Why it’s hard and subtle signs they’ll change for you]

Since pathological lying is not a recognized condition, there are no formal treatments for it. Counseling or psychotherapy may help, but only with a focus on how to reduce their impulsivity when it comes to lying.

How to stop being a pathological liar

If after reading this you think that you are a pathological liar, the only person who can change you is yourself. You can change, but you need to want to. These are steps you can take to start to heal:

1. Admit that you have a problem

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. It’s just like an alcoholic not admitting they have a problem. [Read: 42 reasons, types, signs, and steps to stop lying to yourself and everyone else]

If you can’t admit it, then you will never find the strength to change. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just acknowledge it.

2. Stop the negative self-talk

A lot of pathological liars are very insecure, and that’s why they tell tall tales about themselves that aren’t true. They want to make themselves look better. 

But accept and love yourself the way you are. Stop saying bad things about yourself in your mind. [Read: Positive self-talk – what it is, where it comes from, and how to master it]

3. Find someone to be accountable to

Once you admit that you have a problem with lying, talk to someone close to you in your life. Tell them that you know you are a pathological liar and you want to change. 

Ask them if they will help hold you accountable for your lies. Then commit to being truthful.

4. Be aware of the consequences of your lying

You probably know that your lying has negative consequences for you and other people, and that’s why you want to change. But the problem is that you only see it in hindsight and not in the moment. 

So, before you speak any potential lie, you need to think about the negative things that might result from your lie. Stop yourself before you speak. [Read: 42 must-dos to rebuild and regain trust after cheating or lying in a relationship]

5. Journal about your lies

When you tell a lie, write it down in a journal. Then think about why you felt the need to lie and why you did it. 

You must become aware of your automatic, instinctual, habitual, and irrational thoughts. Try to consider more positive choices you can make to meet your emotional needs with honesty and integrity. [Read: Signs of dishonesty in a relationship that push couples apart]

6. Set positive life goals

If your lying is a result of low self-esteem because you want to give yourself false ego boosts, then you should just make your life and yourself better. 

Set concrete plans to work toward fulfilling goals. You need to give yourself something to be proud of within yourself that your lies are no longer necessary.

7. Seek professional help

Pathological lying is an addiction. You have a hard time doing it because it’s all you know. So, sometimes you can’t change on your own. [Read: Reasons couple’s therapy isn’t working for you]

If you have the resources to do so, seek out professional help from a therapist. They will help you deal with the underlying reasons why you lie and help you stop the very bad habit.

Treatment for pathological lying

It’s not easy to treat pathological lying. No medication will fix the problem, so the best option is psychotherapy. However, even therapy can have its challenges because pathological liars aren’t in control of their lying.

They might even start out telling lies to the therapist instead of admitting they have a problem and addressing it directly. [Read: How to beat a narcissist – ways to win over their manipulation]

So, treatment depends on what the person needs and how they respond during therapy sessions.

A pathological liar will have to commit to working on their addiction long-term. There is no quick fix. Find a therapist you can work with that will commit to helping you during your long journey to recovery.

It’s important to get help. A therapist can make a treatment plan to control pathological lying. [Read: Why does everyone hate me? 69 things you do that people probably don’t like]

With a lot of work and time, a liar can minimize the effects that their behavior has on themselves and their loved ones.

Final thoughts

Pathological liars are people who can’t seem to tell the truth and don’t feel the least bit sorry when they lie. Usually, a symptom of some other personality defect lurking beneath, don’t let them make you question yourself.

Most importantly, don’t let them change the way that you see other people in your life. It is easy to develop trust issues when you love someone you can’t believe, but it is on them, not you.

[Read: 15 signs of a bad relationship you should never tolerate]

To understand what you are dealing with, you should be able to identify the signs of a pathological liar. Hopefully, now you know where you should be looking and what you should be looking for.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...