Reading The Compulsive Liar Mind: Causes, Treatment, & More

It’s hard to be honest all the time. Maybe even impossible. There are unavoidable situations where you just have to twist the truth. For example, telling your mother-in-law that her dress doesn’t suit her, in front of everyone. Unless you don’t mind getting into trouble, you have no choice but to tell white lies sometimes. However, lying can be a serious condition that can interfere with a person’s life. Let’s get inside the mind of a compulsive liar.

What is Compulsive Lying?

Also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, compulsive lying is the chronic behavior of habitual lying. Telling lies out of habit, or sometimes for no reason at all. As we’ve previously discussed, normal lies are defensive and told to avoid the possible consequences of speaking the truth. They are intended to spare someone’s feelings or to simply follow fixed social rules. Compulsive lying is consistent lying that may be done even without any personal gain, and may cause harm on oneself.

Compulsive liars usually face many different setbacks. Their relationships may fail due to lack of trust. They may experience serious confusion because they have two versions of reality. They can also find themselves in legal problems (like fraud) if their lying becomes severe. 

Characteristics of A Compulsive Liar

These are some common and scientifically recognized traits compulsive liars have:

  • They are eloquent and creative – they know how to engage others; they are quick thinkers who don’t show signs of lying like long pauses in speech and avoidance of eye contact.
  • Their untruths are believable – they tell lies that may have truthful elements (their flu symptoms indicate that they have coronavirus).
  • They usually play hero or victim – they are the star of their stories (they can also gain admiration, sympathy, or acceptance through this)
  • Their lying continues for a long period of time – not caused by any immediate pressure or desire to keep a secret such as extramarital affairs and illegal side jobs.
  • The stories they tell are dramatic and complicated – they are good and convincing storytellers; their narratives are usually detailed and over-the-top;
  • They present themselves in a positive light – they can claim to have excellent martial arts skills even though they actually know nothing about martial arts; they try their best not to portray a bad image;
  • Their own lies seem to convince them – they may not always be aware; they may not know the difference between fact and fiction after some time.
  • Their lies have an internal (rather than external) motivation – they lie for selfish reasons; things like lying in order to protect oneself from danger is not what drives them. 

Clinicians can only determine that someone is a compulsive liar after ruling out other possible causes, such as delusions and false memory syndrome (imaginary or inaccurate memories). 


Though used interchangeably, some mental health professionals differentiate between compulsive and pathological lying. Pathological lying is in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a possible symptom of psychological conditions such as narcissistic, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders. Lie detector tests show that pathological liars exhibit stress and guilt from their deceptions. Those with antisocial personality disorder lie for external personal profit (money, sex, and power). Those who have borderline personality disorder due to fear of abandonment, mistreatment, or rejection. Narcissists, on the other hand, believe they have achieved perfection. They don’t experience empathy and they only focus on themselves. 

Compulsive lying involves telling lies without control. Compulsive liars are more dramatic-particularly with their words-whether their stories are important or not. They also don’t feel rejected and their high levels of self-assurance enable them to lie successfully. The reason for their dishonesty is often out of their belief that their life is not interesting enough. 

Purposeless, internally motivated deception is listed as a factitious (false) disorder. This diagnosis refers to people who lie about having physical or psychological disorders. Research must be done to confirm that they do not in fact have a disorder (this may become troublesome because of how medical records are sealed to the public). Compulsive liars tend to lie about their identities and past history. Since the symptoms don’t match up, the individual may go undiagnosed or placed under unspecified personality disorder (UPD). 

What Causes Compulsive Lying?

A 2016 study of what happens in the brain when a person lies revealed that the more untruths you tell, the easier and more frequent lying becomes. The following are a few common reasons why compulsive liars exist:

  • Environment (growing up with compulsive lying or irresponsible people) 
  • Personal Issues (low self-esteem; need for total control)
  • Traumatic Experiences (developed fear of rejection; abuse)
  • Presence of A Disorder (depression, adhd, personality disorders, etc.)
  • Desire To Turn Lies Into Truth (e.g. becoming a hollywood actor)

Compulsive liars may use lies as a way to cope and to receive short-term benefits (gaining advantages that honesty can’t provide). However, this often backfires later on.  


Depending on whether a compulsive liar has a psychological disorder or not, treatment may include medication and a specific form of psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, behavior modification strategies such as role playing, and group therapy are just a few examples. Treatment process can be challenging if the client refuses to acknowledge their condition. It works best when they are willing and when they show sincere effort to change during therapy.

Compulsive liars are mere people like us. Society may not consider them normal, but they need just as much understanding as we do. Mental health conditions are real. There are many different factors that contribute to an unhealthy mind, and it doesn’t usually happen by choice. Family background, history, experiences, and other inevitable elements play an important role. Pathological lying requires proper attention. It shouldn’t be seen as a quirk or anything less than a disorder, especially if it’s already affecting the person and those around them in a negative way. If you think you or someone you know might be showing traits of a compulsive liar, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.

Can you relate? Share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear them!

What do you think?

Written by Hannah Grace

A B.S. Psychology graduate who fights both real and imaginary shadows every day with music and words.

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