October 14, 2009

Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire. Understanding Compulsive Lying

A compulsive liar is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is their normal and reflexive way of responding to questions. Medically speaking, compulsive liars can have serious personality disorders. A few are psychopathic, but others are suffering from some form of neurosis which if often linked to stress and childhood trauma.

There are a number of reasons that people lie. The first is fear. This is the most common reason that people may lie, and they are taking shelter from a perceived punishment. It may be because they know they have done something wrong a single time, in which case it is not compulsive lying. But if they are always in fear of being punished, it may become a habit, which is a second reason for lying. In this case it may become compulsive lying, which is lying by reflex. Even when confronted by the truth, they insist the lie is the truth in this case. A third case is learning to lie through modeling. When a people see others lie, especially when they get away with it, they may become more prone to lying.
Finally, people lie because they feel if they tell the truth they won’t get what they want. Thus, out of the main reasons for lying, only lying by habit can truly be called “compulsive lying”. 
Not all compulsive liars have the mental illness; some people lie to get ahead, to make themselves look better or just to evoke an elaborate reaction.

There is a difference between Pathological and Compulsive liars. A pathological liar is usually defined as someone who lies incessantly to get their way and does so with little concern for others. Pathological lying is often viewed as coping mechanism developed in early childhood and it is often associated with some other type of mental health disorder. A pathological liar is often goal-oriented (i.e., lying is focused  - it is done to get one's way). Pathological liars have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others. A pathological liar often comes across as being manipulative, cunning and self- centred.

Since you can’t force someone into treatment for compulsive lying, it can be difficult to deal with that person. Either you can humour the person by just listening and not putting much faith in what he or she say, or avoid the person entirely. Many people who have trouble telling the truth will do it for the reaction; they will most likely not embellish the truth as much.

If you think someone you know lies compulsively, you can discuss the possibility of counselling. Chances are high that the person will deny it and refuse treatment. If the person decides to go to therapy, but does not believe he or she has a problem, or not willing to change his or her behaviour, treatment is most likely not effective. 

Treatment involves the person seeing a counselor to discuss the reason behind the fibs, role-playing to practice telling the truth, and then homework assignments to try outside of therapy. Homework assignments may consist of having to resist the urge to fib a certain number of times in a week, and then reporting to the therapist how he or she did. With practice, the person may be able to break the addiction of telling lies. Hypnotherapy could also helps.
Do you have a technique to share or a real-life example of success in dealing with this problem? 

Truth About Deception. http://www.truthaboutdeception.com/confront_a_liar/public/pathological-compulsive.html
What is Compulsive Lying? http://www.mental-health-matters.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95

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