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How to Spot a Pathological Liar

imagesWe lie once in a while right? We may tell a white lie in order to make the other person feel a little better.  A white lie is harmless and can be considered to be used for a greater good and is often used to prevent from hurting someone. But we may make a false statement with an intent to deceive. When we lie based on a fact, we jeopardize our relationships. The other person will not believe us again and we fog up their perception of reality. So, is it a good idea to lie? When you lie, do you know which style of lie you are choosing? Does it matter? Well, there are different types of lies which will be discussed in a later post. In this post, lets focus on pathological lying.

“When the problem of lying is at the point where the person is unable to control it, that person is considered to be a pathological liar.” ( A pathological liar believes the lies they tell and may not be rooted in reality. They lie about every aspect of their life and every lie has a meaning positioned for their gain. So how do you spot the difference between someone who may tell a white lie occasionally to someone who is a true pathological liar?

  • It is important to know what a pathological liar is: A pathological liar is someone who tells lies all the time. For them, lying is a way of life and telling the truth becomes uncomfortable. This type of lying usually develops early on when the child feels that lying will make situations better.
  • Do they live in reality?: A pathological liar does not live in reality and has a hard time maintaing consistency in their life. They go from job to job, have unsteady relationships, and family members do not support them or talk to them due to constantly being lied to.
  • Is their story consistent?: A pathological liar will change details to a story every time they tell a story. Ask them the same question throughout the day to see if their story changes. Keep track of details and how often their details change.
  • Do they lie for attention?: The pathological liar likes being in the spotlight and will do whatever to make sure they are in the spotlight. The spotlight becomes reinforcing for them making the lies grow bigger. A pathological liar may lie because he wants to feel important, wants to feel superior, is bored, has low self esteem or wants sympathy attention.
  • What is their reaction when they are caught in a lie?: A pathological liar caught in a lie may become defensive, may tell another lie to cover up the original lie, or may seek revenge.


Tips to Understand:

  • You will never get a consistent story
  • They lose the ability to differentiate between lies and reality
  • They have low self esteem and feel they are not important.
  • They make up accomplishments to be seen as worthy
  • Pathological lying can lead to depression and anxiety if their friends stop talking to them.
  • They exaggerate everything they tell you
  • Pathological liar is also called compulsive liar or chronic liar or mythomaniac
  • A pathological liar will either discuss the happy times or make up stories to replace the negatives. They will never admit that life is difficult.


Cognitive behavior therapy can help. Clients can identify situations and thoughts that leads them to lie, understand when they are likely to lie, and will learn to behave in a different way. If the person is not committed to making a change, treatment will not be effective. If the person is not willing to go to therapy, set your own boundaries in order to prevent getting hurt.


 Image taken from
How to Spot a Pathological Liar

Helen Nieves

Helen Nieves is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist. She teaches ADHD on line and is on the Advisory Board at The American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She also received advanced training in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and in Grief Counseling.

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APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2015). How to Spot a Pathological Liar. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Apr 2015
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