Pathological lying (PL) is a chronic behavior characterized by the habitual or compulsive telling of lies. While the average person will tell an occasional untruth to avoid getting into trouble or to avoid hurting another person’s feelings (e.g. “That dress looks great on you!”), a pathological liar appears to lie for no apparent reason or personal gain. In fact, the chronic lying seems to be a pointless habit, one which is incredibly frustrating for family, friends and coworkers.
Although some of the lies are of the regular type (e.g. “Yes, I paid the power bill.”), other lies are fantastic in nature with a continuous storyline. For example, a person with PL might make up an entire false history of themselves or even claim they have a life-threatening disease. Sometimes the person blurs the lines between fact and fiction, weaving lies into a true story.
At times the stories appear to be contrived to make the storyteller into a hero or to gain sympathy, while other stories appear outright senseless. The lying behavior seems to be gratification in itself, rather than a means to some external reward (such as praise or sympathy). In either case, the backlash from people who find out they were lied to completely outweighs any potential benefits.
Most pathological liars are not deterred by guilt, shame or even the risk of being found out. The lying appears to be a true compulsion, with the satisfaction they receive from lying strongly outweighing the chaos and consequences it brings.
The ability of people with PL to use logical thought during their storytelling is still somewhat controversial among experts. While most pathological liars know they are telling lies, and will confess if pressed hard enough, some experts believe that some sufferers actually begin to believe their own lies, confusing reality with fiction. Other experts, however, wouldn’t call such behavior PL, but would rather label it as a delusional behavior instead. They believe that all pathological lying is purposeful.
There is some evidence that people with PL demonstrate the typical “guilty responses” while taking lie-detector tests. Whether or not this proves that people with PL know that they are lying is unclear. Some experts suggest that people with PL may make a strong effort to believe their lies in an attempt to avoid their own guilty feelings.
Example: Every time Sheryl was late for work, she told a fantastic story trying to excuse her behavior. Her coworkers also caught her telling unnecessary lies that seemed to serve no purpose. She was eventually fired from her company.
Pedersen, T. (2016). Pathological Lying. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 22, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/pathological-lying/