Compulsive or pathological liars are sometimes caught up in their own lies and can't get out of them.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 11, 2020. It has since been updated.
Everyone lies sometimes. We tell white lies to protect others' feelings or ours. We don't mean any harm by it. Well, most of the time. For instance, if a spouse asks if they have gained five pounds most of us would say no. If a friend asks if their new haircut looks good, many of us would say yes even if it didn't look great on them. We tell these little lies to protect our relationships but when the lying gets over the top and incessant is when the problem arises.
"Lying is part and parcel of everyday life," Robert Feldman, PhD, professor of psychological and brain sciences and deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, told Everyday Health. "In a sense, lies are the lubricants that move social interaction forward,'' says Dr. Feldman, who wrote The Liar in Your Life. However, there are people who indulge in extreme lying, and that out-of-control behavior is known as compulsive or pathological lying.
These people are not always able to control what they say and may not even do it deliberately but it does end up hurting their loved ones. Often, we might wonder why someone lied about something that wasn't crucial and there may not seem like there is a reason for them to do so. Here are some reasons they can't stop themselves:
Sometimes, their desire for an alternate reality wins and they end up lying. For instance, it could have started as a child when they made up things about how great their family was or where they lived. They wanted a better life so bad that they made it up in front of others. They hope that they can make it come true by repeating it over and over again and believing in it. And in today's age, where "alternative facts" are accepted, it doesn't seem like the worst thing to them, as per Psychology Today. However, the pain and confusion they leave in their wake is something these people may be unaware of.
Memories are faulty things for everyone. We remember things wrongly and are often building on them every time we think about it. Being under pressure can also affect the way we remember things and it's possible that those people who lie are not remembering things right, as per Psychologenie. They genuinely believe in an alternate reality that they have thought up. They may not even be lying deliberately at this point since they believe in what they are saying. However, to the one on the receiving end, it can seem like gaslighting. It challenges their memory and way of thinking and without any basis. It can seem like a manipulative tactic.
One of the reasons people compulsively lie is to portray a certain image of themselves. They either want to show themselves as a victim or as a hero in a certain situation. They believe that others will find them more interesting or will care about them more. They want to gain admiration and acceptance from the people. However, sometimes they forget to keep a track of their lies and are caught easily.
Some of the people who lie constantly could have a mental disorder like antisocial personality disorder (sometimes called sociopathy). However, there are people who do it without any apparent medical reason too, as per Healthline. They could be doing it to gain control over a situation and influence people. They want to show their influence over others and how important they are in a situation. These people might be ignoring the truth since it's inconvenient for their purpose, as per Psychology Today.
A 2016 study, The brain adapts to dishonesty, says that the more lies people tell the easier it gets to tell them again. So, imagine a person who lied about their childhood to a partner and got away with it. They could start telling others of their grand childhood compared to a humble one. To keep the lie alive, they would invent and fabricate more and more details of their past. And, over time they would start feeling unaffected by their lies. However, when these people are uncovered they mostly leave the others unable to trust in them ever again. This behavior pattern can break relationships when it goes unchecked.
When compulsive liars are caught in their lies, it leaves others wondering why they did that because to others the topic of the lie may not be a big deal. However, to the people who are lying, it might seem like they could lose the admiration, acceptance, and respect they have built for themselves. Their need for attention from others and the need to impress can win over the need to be honest. But, ironically, when they lie, they do lose the admiration anyway.