Understanding Compulsive Lying and How Online Counselling Can Help

Psycholoog op Afstand
7 min readMay 24, 2023

“He is a compulsive liar!” “She is such a pathological liar!” How many times have we heard these words (or maybe even uttered them ourselves) in conversations with friends or family? These are also phrases we hear very often during our online counselling sessions.

But few know exactly what this means and that it’s actually very serious accusations about real mental disorders. In this article, we take a look at lying in general and discuss the red flags actually alluding to a mental disorder.

The Different Types of Lies

Although our reasons and intentions may differ, everybody lies. This is something very few likes to admit to (even in online counselling sessions). Or they simply do not understand that there are different types of lies. The following constitutes lying:

Little White Lies

This is probably the most misunderstood lies because people seem to use the term for all sorts of lies. This is something we experience quite often during online counselling sessions. White lies are defined as “small” lies that are generally used to spare someone’s feelings or be polite. For example, saying you’ve got a prior engagement when someone you don’t feel like spending time with invites you for coffee. Or telling someone they look good in an outfit that really doesn’t suit them at all.

Breaking Promises

If you don’t keep to your promises, not only have you broken trust, but you’ve essentially turned the promise you made in the first place into a lie. Imagine promising to be at your child’s ball game and then never showing up. Or promising to lend someone a dress for an event, yet never actually giving it to them. People will definitely think twice about believing the promises you make or relying on you at all in future.

Fabrications

A fabrication is hearsay or assumptions that are spread around as truth. In other words, it’s unfounded gossip. For example, Janet and Ben leave the office for lunch together, and someone immediately starts talking about “something going on between Janet and Ben”. Or someone tells you that they think Mary is on drugs, and you repeat the story as fact.

A Bold-faced Lie

This is exactly what it sounds like; straight-up dishonesty. It is mostly motivated by selfish reasons like trying to manipulate/scare someone or trying to get ourselves out of trouble. This is the cheating wife telling a suspicious husband that he is simply paranoid and his insecurities are the real problem. Or the teenager saying that they didn’t take the money out of mom’s purse when they just spent it at the mall.

Exaggerations

This is when the truth gets blown up and embellished. For example, the truth may be that you were in a minor car accident with another vehicle. And you walked away with just a few bumps and bruises. The exaggeration could be that you were in a car accident where the other car was going at least 180 kilometres an hour. And you think that you now have permanent neck and back problems.

Deceptions

This is when you are trying to mislead or create a certain impression. During our online counselling sessions we see this a lot when it comes to relationships. A good example will be the type of conversations that often occur with friends and family regarding our relationships.

For example, Sara tells her best friend Jane that her husband has disengaged, no longer seems interested in the marriage, and even slept on the couch the previous night. But in reality, even though it might feel like her husband has disengaged and is no longer interested in the marriage, there might be other things at play on both sides such as work commitments, stress, depression, or unrealistic expectations.

And what Sara also omits to tell her friend is that the couch sleeping occurred after a big fight and she told her husband that she didn’t feel like sleeping next to him that night. So, she was being deceptive in terms of how she was trying to portray the situation, essentially casting her husband as the villain in her narrative of events.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism actually counts as both lying and theft. This is because you are stealing someone else’s intellectual property. As well as claiming that you are the person responsible for the writing/drawings/ideas when it’s really someone else.

Compulsive Lying

The definition of compulsive is “resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge”. This means that a person can’t seem to manage or control the lying. This type of lying is mostly due to a disorder called Mythomania or Pseudologia Fantastica. Compulsive lying can sometimes also be a symptom of other personality disorders. Whereas other types of lies are all pretty circumstantial, compulsive lies are a constant occurrence.

The contents of the lies also vary. But they generally tend to be attention-seeking in nature with the person trying to portray either a grandiose version of themselves. Or paint themselves as a victim. For example, they may tell people a story of how they saved someone’s life by pushing them out of the way of oncoming traffic when this never happened. Or share horrific details of childhood abuse when it actually never occurred.

Pathological Lying

Pathological lying is an entirely different ball game. The lies told can be extremely intricate and complex. And they are usually told with ill intent and other sinister motives and agendas. The scariest part when it comes to pathological liars is that they rarely have any empathy for others or feel any guilt or remorse.

The underlying mental disorders for these types of lies are incredibly serious. And you’ll often find yourself dealing with someone that’s a psychopath or sociopath. We would just like to remind everyone once again that these are actual disorders that can range in severity, and the terms shouldn’t just be flung around.

For example, if we were to ignore real clinical diagnosis and had to go off uneducated public opinion alone, most ex-wives and ex-husbands are either sociopaths or psychopaths. So, be careful with what you say about others. If you would like to see a few examples of real and officially diagnosed sociopaths and psychopaths that were known pathological liars, take a look at Ted Bundy and Bernie Madoff.

And, once again, please don’t look these people up just to go “This is soooo Peter” — leave the diagnosis to the professionals. Pathological liars don’t have a very good rehabilitation rate due to the type of personality orders the majority have, so we won’t spend much more time on these guys in this article.

Lies as Excuse or Defence vs. an Actual Mental Disorder

Here it is important to distinguish between compulsive lying as an excuse and an actual mental disorder. A husband that keeps stopping at the pub after work and lies about it to his wife can’t just suddenly claim that he has a compulsive lying problem when he gets caught out after continuously telling her he had to work late.

This is the same type of behaviour we see when someone claims insanity in a trial in an attempt to get themselves out of trouble. Mental disorders are serious and should not be used as an excuse or defence for selfish purposes. This is also why it’s incredibly important to know what the symptoms of a real compulsive liar are.

The Symptoms of a Compulsive Liar Due to an Underlying Mental Disorder

If you spot the following signs in yourself or a loved one, it might be time to reach out to a professional and book an online counselling session:

  • The lies are constant, to such an extent that rarely one day goes by without one lie or the other.
  • The lies seem to occur for no reason. In other words, the lies can be about very unnecessary things and at random times. For example, mentioning in passing that they bought a blue shirt today when it was actually green. Or telling an elaborate account that’s untrue in answer to someone simply asking “How was your day?”
  • Compulsive liars always seem remorseful when caught out and will apologise, yet they’ll lie again, and again, and again.
  • Compulsive liars are well aware of the fact that they are lying. These are not delusional people. Compulsive liars will lie and many will actually feel guilty about doing so, yet they can’t seem to stop themselves from lying.
  • The lies can often stem from low self-esteem. That’s why the lies often make them seem like a hero or a victim (both will get them the attention and validation from others since they don’t feel like they can get it by simply being themselves). These types of lies can also show up in conversations where someone always appears to “one-up” another. Jack tells the group he just ordered a new Mercedes and Brad then tells the group he just ordered a Porsche that was once owned by Steve Jobs, yet Brad’s Porsche never comes.
  • A compulsive liar may be experiencing extreme anxiety from trying to keep track of all the lies they tell others.

There is Light at the End of This Tunnel

As you can see, compulsive lying is an actual mental health issue, and one we often see during our online counselling sessions. And because most compulsive liars have self-awareness and empathy, they truly do suffer from their condition. But it is also because of their self-awareness and empathy that they are often open to receiving help, and there is a multitude of different treatments that can help them manage their conditions and actually make the lying stop.

If you or someone you love might be a compulsive liar, please book an online counselling session to see how we can assist. You are welcome to reach out to us via the Personal Online Therapy website’s Contact Us form or via info@personalonlinetherapy.com.

Originally published at https://www.personalonlinetherapy.com on May 24, 2023.

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