The Difference Between Pathological Liars & Ordinary Liars
We all lie at some point, about something.
Whether it’s a small lie or even a major one — lying happens — even to the best-intentioned people.
However, most of us do not consider ourselves to be pathological liars.
But what IS a pathological liar, really? And how is it different than being just a plain old ordinary liar?
The term pathological liar gets thrown around a lot. It can be used as a way to describe a person who has been caught in many lies or who has betrayed someone in some way. Uttering the phrase, “She/he is a pathological liar!” can casually be flung around as an insult.
However, saying or thinking someone is a pathological liar and them actually being one is much more complicated.
The medical definition of a pathological liar is, “a person who lies compulsively usually for no external gain or benefit and often with detrimental consequences.”
This means that while many of us might lie about things in order to save face or to get out of a commitment we don’t want to engage in, pathological liars will lie for no apparent reason.
I, personally, will resort to lying to get out of things if I feel backed into a corner or if people are being too pushy about getting me to do something. Many people do this on a daily basis. I am utterly guilty of this behavior.
But I do try not to lie and I am fully conscious of it. (I only use lying as an occasional emergency defense to get out of particular social engagements — honestly!)
A pathological liar will lie frequently about seemingly inconsequential things that don’t appear to offer any personal gain or end. Basically, it’s lying without any rhyme or reason and without much regard as to how those lies may affect others or even themselves.
Many of us are accustomed to feeling guilt after we tell a lie, whether it was a lie to get ourselves out of trouble or a lie intended to make ourselves look better.
Most of us are aware of our lying and we do worry about getting caught in our lies.
However, pathological liars apparently lie so much and with such vigor that they frequently don’t even remember when they lied or what they lied about.
Pathological liars often cannot even keep their own lies straight.
Psychology Today surveyed over 800 people about their lying. They managed to identify a small subset of people whom they classified as pathological liars.
The pathological liars identified seemed to have a pattern of lying that fit the diagnostic criteria for a psychological disorder. Their lying 1) was atypical (they lied more than most); 2) was maladaptive (it caused trouble in their lives); 3) caused suffering, and 4) caused danger (their lying led to the risk of harm or loss for themselves and others).
The biggest question I have is if pathological liars are aware of their incessant lying and/or if they ever feel remorse about it?
The first person to write about pathological lying was actually the first person to earn a Ph.D. in psychology in the United States, G. Stanley Hall. In 1890, Hall published an article about dishonesty in a group of 300 children he studied.
In discussing the various types of lies that the children told, he mentioned that about 7 percent of the children seemed to exhibit pathological lying. Hall claimed that some children would take on entirely fraudulent identities, often for attention. Others would develop very sophisticated, tricks, cons, and lies.
Hall added that he believed if those children did not receive treatment before they reached adulthood, they would become serious con-artists and detrimental to society. The term Hall used for the tendency to lie in this manic manner was pseudomania.
Although some pathological liars may start off lying with a real motive in mind such as to gain attention or just for the thrill of it, eventually the lies are told so frequently that they then build upon themselves to the point where the person telling the lies becomes lost — into their own web of lies so to speak.
There’s no real indication that pathological liars intend to do harm with their lying, necessarily. However, there’s no real evidence to suggest why they are continually lying, which leaves us wondering what on earth they’re thinking?
The biggest takeaway is that, generally, ordinary people who tell ordinary lies know why they’re lying and they know they’ve done something they shouldn’t have.
It seems that pathological liars simply spew out lies randomly and quite often with no real purpose in mind other than to keep spinning out more information that is — for the most part — fictional.
Pathological liars tend to have a very difficult time forming lasting relationships or even remaining functional in society. Their lies can hurt other people and damage their relationships with family, friends, and lovers.
Perhaps pathological liars feel emotionally comforted by their own stories and their own web of fantastical realities. No one is 100% sure, although the psychology behind this pathology is truly fascinating.
Do you know someone who you think might be a pathological liar? What has your experience been and why do you think they lie like this? Let me know in the comments!