We all cover up the truth from time to time — whether that’s telling your partner that they look good in those jeans or your boss that you’re late because of traffic when you just overslept.

But when do those little white lies or omissions become a problem? When does lying become compulsive or pathological?

White lies, or “fibs,” can be about a small matter. We might tell a white lie to:

  • protect someone’s feelings
  • avoid conflict
  • make themselves look better
  • avoid punishment

But a person who lies pathologically constantly lies, sometimes without a seemingly good reason. They may lie about a variety of seemingly unimportant things. Other signs of pathological lying include telling untruths about minor events and continuing to lie even when confronted with the truth.

Pathological lying, formerly called “pseudologia phantastica,” was a term originally coined in 1891 by psychiatrists Anton Delbrück. It was used to describe behavior that involved telling outrageous lies so often that it was considered pathological.

A person who lies pathologically may feel that this behavior is out of their control. They may experience distress because of their behavior. It may affect their relationships and interfere with their daily life at work and at home.

The exact reason why someone lies pathologically isn’t known, but researchers suggest that these lies can often grow from one initial lie more in people who pathologically lie than those who don’t.

Compulsive lying is often used interchangeably with pathological lying. But research suggests that compulsive lying is a broader term that falls under pathological lying rather than being its own separate behavior.

Pathological lying may be linked with some mental health conditions, such as personality disorders.

For example, people with narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder may act in manipulative or deceitful ways, which could include behaviors such as pathologically lying.

Lying may also be a symptom of conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, or impulse control disorders — but this isn’t always the case. And this behavior isn’t always pathological or compulsive.

If you think you may have a habit of pathological or compulsive lying, talking with a mental health professional can help.

While pathological or compulsive lying is not a formal diagnosis acknowledged by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), your experiences are real and valid.

Speaking with a mental health professional can help determine whether your behavior is a symptom of an underlying mental health condition and recommend ways to manage it.

This brief, time-saving questionnaire is meant for anyone who thinks they may have compulsive or pathological lying habits.

The statements in this quiz can help you figure out whether you may benefit from the support of a mental health professional for the behaviors you’ve been experiencing.

A therapist can also help you determine if your issues may be a symptom of a mental health condition and recommend a treatment plan if necessary.

This online screening is not intended to be a diagnostic tool. Pathological or compulsive lying is not considered a diagnosable condition. Still, many people can identify with it.

The results of this quiz may be helpful in assisting you in navigating further exploration of what you’re experiencing.