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We all lie.

Does this idea sound familiar?

Person 1: “Do you like my new haircut? I feel so good with it!”

Person 2: “(cringing face in sign of doubt) Hum… Yes, you look good! (inside thoughts of not being sure and a deep down feeling of hating the haircut)

This would be what we usually call a 'white lie’. From a quick online search, it seems that an average person tells between one to two lies per day (with other studies pointing out to an average of 4). Most of these are harmless and might actually be very helpful in maintaining social dynamics that are important for life in community.

Lying is a common behavior in humans. When someone tells a lie, there is often a clear reason for them to do so. Lying is a tool that people use to achieve a goal, there's something to be gained from it. Pathological liars often lie without any reason. Their lies are extensive and elaborate. They tell intricate, larger than life stories that sound too good to be true. In these stories, they portray themselves as the heroes or the victims, looking either for admiration or sympathy.

The urge to lie is compulsive. They often can’t control the impulse to make up stories, even when this causes them harm. They may lose jobs and ruin relationships because of their lying.‌They don’t show any guilt or remorse about their lies. When a pathological liar forgets certain details and contradicts themselves in their stories, they quickly come up with elaborate explanations.

When called out on their behaviour, pathological liars deny everything, becoming defensive or hostile. They usually continue lying after they have been caught.

Side note: quite often, people can’t help but be fascinated by pathological liars because they are excellent storytellers and performers

Compulsive lying doesn’t constitute as a specific diagnosis in the most commonly used psychiatric guidebook -the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), but it has been associated with Munchausen syndrome, a mental disorder where the patient lies about being injured or ill.

Compulsive lying can also be a symptom in personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, which can lead to great challenges with interpersonal relationships.

If a person lies frequently, that may not necessarily mean that they are a pathological liar. If their lies are justified (i.e., they want to cover up their mistakes or have something to gain from them), they are normal lies. What makes pathological lies stand out is that they are easy to verify. For example, a pathological liar may tell you that they’ve earned an important award or degree, but a quick fact check will immediately expose them.

Identifying someone as a pathological liar can be difficult, especially if you’ve only just met them. You may believe them for a while, but they eventually reveal themselves in time.


It is hard. Just don't call them out, there's no good outcome coming out of it. Probably, you will be the only one dealing with feelings of resentment, anger and frustration, while the liar stays oblivious and will never take any responsability.

Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do when spotting a pathological liar is to avoid them – it is perfectly understandable that you don’t want to maintain a relationship where you constantly second-guess the other person.

If cutting all contact is not possible (maybe they are a member of your family or a colleague from work), you should learn how to manage conversations with them. Remember:

  • the fact that you are being lied to isn’t personal

  • the liar has an underlying mental health condition

  • losing your temper and lashing out at the liar won’t help either; when confronted with the lie, they will deny it and become defensive.

Instead, try to be kind but firm. End the conversation when they start lying so as to discourage them or just observe what's happening without engaging too much. Creating emotional distance from the behaviour of the pathological liar will prevent you from accumulating anger and resentments.

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