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What is a Pathological Liar?

Clinically Reviewed by: Dr. Robin Campbell, LMFT, PHD

Pathological lying is characterized by a profound and persistent inclination towards deception. Unlike occasional fibs or exaggerations, which individuals might employ to navigate specific situations, pathological lying reflects a deeply ingrained behavioral pattern. These individuals possess a compelling need to fabricate stories and distort facts, often weaving elaborate webs of deceit with remarkable detail and conviction. This behavior extends beyond mere avoidance of consequences or pursuit of personal gain; it becomes an integral aspect of the individual’s identity and interaction with the world. This compulsion to deceive often stems from complex psychological factors, such as deep-seated insecurities, a distorted sense of reality, or a pervasive need for validation. The consequences of pathological lying can be far-reaching, affecting not only the liar but also those entangled in their web of falsehoods. Understanding the intricacies of this behavior is crucial for effective intervention and support.

Signs of a Pathological Liar

Identifying a pathological liar can be a challenging task, as their deceptive behavior is often shrouded in complexity and manipulation. However, several telltale signs may indicate the presence of pathological lying, including:

  • Consistency in Deception: Pathological liars exhibit a consistent pattern of dishonesty across various aspects of their lives, from trivial matters to significant events.
  • Lack of Remorse or Guilt: Unlike occasional liars who may experience pangs of guilt or remorse, pathological liars often display a lack of conscience regarding their deceitful actions.
  • Elaborate and Grandiose Stories: These individuals are prone to fabricating elaborate and grandiose stories, embellished with fantastical details aimed at garnering attention or admiration.
  • Manipulative Behavior: Pathological liars may employ deceit as a tool for manipulation, exploiting others for personal gain or to evade accountability.
  • Inconsistencies in Narratives: Their stories often lack coherence and consistency, with frequent contradictions and discrepancies emerging over time.

Recognizing these red flags is crucial in facilitating early intervention and support for individuals struggling with pathological lying.

What Causes Someone to be a Pathological Liar?

The etiology of pathological lying is complex and multifaceted, rooted in a confluence of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. While no single cause can fully account for the development of pathological lying, several contributing elements may predispose individuals to this maladaptive behavior, including:

  • Psychological Trauma: Experiences of trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or significant loss, can profoundly impact an individual’s psychological well-being, disrupting their sense of self and reality. In response to overwhelming distress, some individuals may resort to pathological lying as a coping mechanism to shield themselves from further harm.
  • Underlying Mental Health Conditions: Certain psychiatric disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder, are commonly associated with pathological lying. These disorders may exacerbate deceptive tendencies and impair an individual’s ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
  • Genetic Predisposition: While research in this area is limited, some studies suggest a genetic component in pathological lying, indicating a potential hereditary influence on the development of this behavior.
  • Environmental Influences: Chaotic or dysfunctional family dynamics, societal pressures, or cultural norms that condone deception may contribute to the normalization of pathological lying within certain contexts.

It is essential to recognize that each individual’s journey towards pathological lying is unique, necessitating a comprehensive and individualized approach to assessment and intervention.

The Link Between Trauma and Pathological Lying

Trauma serves as a pivotal catalyst in the development of pathological lying, exerting profound effects on an individual’s psyche and coping mechanisms. The relationship between trauma and pathological lying is complex and multifaceted, with trauma acting as both a precursor and a consequence of deceptive behaviors. Key insights into this intricate relationship include:

  • Escapism and Avoidance: Pathological lying often emerges as a maladaptive coping mechanism for individuals seeking to escape or avoid the distressing memories and emotions associated with trauma. Fabricating elaborate narratives allows them to create alternative realities, shielding themselves from the harsh realities of their past experiences.
  • Distorted Perception of Reality: Traumatic experiences can distort an individual’s perception of reality, blurring the boundaries between truth and falsehood. In the aftermath of trauma, individuals may struggle to differentiate between actual events and imagined scenarios, leading to an increased reliance on deceit as a means of self-preservation.
  • Impaired Trust and Attachment: Trauma disrupts the formation of secure attachments and erodes trust in interpersonal relationships. Individuals who have experienced trauma may develop a pervasive sense of mistrust towards others, viewing deception as a necessary means of self-protection and control.
  • Self-Preservation and Survival: Pathological lying may serve as a survival strategy for individuals navigating environments characterized by threat, danger, or instability. By manipulating perceptions and distorting reality, individuals can exert a semblance of control over their surroundings, mitigating perceived risks and safeguarding their emotional well-being.

Understanding the profound impact of trauma on pathological lying underscores the importance of trauma-informed care and comprehensive therapeutic interventions in promoting healing and recovery.

Treatment for Pathological Liars

Addressing pathological lying requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and supportive interventions tailored to the individual’s unique needs. At New Hope Healthcare Institute, we offer a range of specialized treatment modalities designed to address the underlying factors contributing to pathological lying and promote sustainable recovery. Our comprehensive treatment approach includes:

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and psychodynamic therapy offer valuable insights into the underlying psychological mechanisms driving pathological lying. Through exploration of past experiences, emotions, and cognitive distortions, individuals can develop healthier coping strategies and enhance self-awareness.
  • Medication Management: In cases where co-occurring mental health conditions or underlying psychiatric disorders are present, pharmacotherapy may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms and stabilize mood. Medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics may be utilized to target specific symptoms and improve overall functioning.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: Our trauma-informed approach recognizes the pervasive impact of trauma on pathological lying, prioritizing safety, trust, and empowerment in the therapeutic process. By creating a supportive and validating environment, we aim to foster healing and resilience in individuals affected by trauma.
  • Family Therapy: Engaging family members in the treatment process can be instrumental in promoting understanding, communication, and support. Family therapy sessions provide an opportunity for families to explore dynamics, address relational conflicts, and strengthen bonds, laying the foundation for sustained recovery and emotional well-being.
  • Life Skills Training: Equipping individuals with practical coping skills, assertiveness training, and emotion regulation techniques enhances their ability to navigate challenging situations and maintain authenticity in interpersonal interactions. By developing adaptive coping strategies, individuals can build resilience and confidence in their ability to cope with stressors and triggers.

Through our holistic and individualized approach to treatment, New Hope Healthcare Institute empowers individuals to break free from the shackles of pathological lying and embrace a life of authenticity, integrity, and emotional well-being.

Reach Out to Us Today!

If you or a loved one is struggling with pathological lying, don’t hesitate to seek help. Contact New Hope Healthcare Institute at 866-806-1027 to learn more about our specialized treatment programs and take the first step towards healing and transformation. Check out our blog where we post weekly on Medium.


Pathological lying can lead to strained relationships, legal consequences, and diminished trust in personal and professional spheres. Over time, individuals may experience social isolation, identity fragmentation, and impaired self-esteem.

While there is no definitive cure for pathological lying, comprehensive treatment approaches can help individuals manage symptoms and improve overall functioning. With dedicated therapeutic interventions and support, individuals can learn to recognize and challenge deceptive patterns, fostering healthier behaviors and relationships.

Pathological lying is often associated with underlying mental health conditions or personality disorders but is not classified as a standalone mental illness. It is considered a maladaptive behavior rooted in complex psychological and environmental factors.

The duration of treatment varies depending on individual needs, treatment goals, and progress. While some individuals may experience significant improvements within a few months, others may require ongoing support and intervention to sustain recovery and prevent relapse.

Absolutely. At New Hope Healthcare Institute, we prioritize client confidentiality and adhere to strict ethical standards to ensure privacy and trust throughout the treatment process. Our team is committed to creating a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel empowered to explore their experiences and embark on the journey towards healing and transformation.

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