Pathological Liars: Do you know who they are?

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Pathological liars are very difficult to live with. Their even more difficult to encourage to get treatment. Why? Because many pathological liars struggle with seeing why they need help, and the reasons for lying are often complex.

Think back to an age in which you told the most lies or “fibs?” Were you 4, 5, 6? Why did you tell the lie? Were you trying to get something in return, manipulate a situation in your favor, or avoid hurting someone’s feelings? If so, you are like the majority of us who curtail the truth in order to make things less stressful or negative for us.

Curtailing the truth happens a lot, even in the lives of adults. But what about those individuals who simply lie to lie? What about those individuals who lie to harm others and keep them wondering? How do you feel about these people? For many of us, we strive to avoid these trouble-makers and are almost always flabbergasted by their blatant lies and ease at which they tell them.

This article will discuss pathological lying.

Pathological lying (PL) has been a complicated and challenging subject to stdy. Because lying is a natural thing for humans to do at times, it is difficult to understand why someone would lie about every single detail of their life, even when there is no benefit. A pathological liar tends to lie even when the lie is self-defeating, when there is a possibility of being found out, or even if the manipulation leads to a loss of relationship, opportunity, or employment.

So you may be asking yourself “what would be the purpose of telling someone a lie and continuing to lie?” Research hasn’t found a concrete answer to this question.

What does research say?

In fact, research has shown that there is no clear consensus, in the field of psychiatry and clinical psychotherapy, on what PL is, but  there is agreement on its core features. Professionals of psychiatry and psychology agree that PL is characterized by repeated and long-term lying which includes no obvious benefit to the liar. Most lies are self-defeating, incriminating, or revealing in some way. It’s almost as if the liar is incapable of structuring their lies in a fashion that “protects” the fact that they are lying. Some pathological liars lack the ability to avoid incriminating themselves. However, there are some pathological liars who are very “skilled” at evading others, often making their story believable to a wide number of people. These individuals would be categorized as narcissistic or sociopathic. Think of the criminogenic behaviors of Jim Jones, who was able to control a massive group of religious followers with his lies and perhaps even charming revelations.

Anton Delbruck, a German physician, has been credited with being the first to describe pathological lying in a group of clients he noticed told disproportionate and unrealistic-type lies. He felt they deserved a category of their own. He acknowledged that their lies were not goal-directed, typical lies most of us tell. 

Who tells the lies?

Interestingly, pathological lying can be found among many populations including but not limited to:

Mental Health:

  • Individuals with personality disorders – narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, of sociopathic personality disorders
  • Mental illnesses that control perception of reality – schizophrenia, bipolar disorder
  • Behavioral disorders – oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, conduct disorder

Legal system:

  • Juvenile delinquents
  • At-risk youths
  • Adult criminals


Judges: Judge Patrick Couwenberg, a Superior Court Judge of California, lied repeatedly while serving the public. He was eventually ousted by his colleagues. He lied and stated that he was a Caltech graduate, a wounded war veteran and a CIA operative in Laos in the 1960s. All of these statements were easily identified as unreliable, but he continued to evade others. He was removed for “willful and prejudicial misconduct.”

His Caltech education was critical to his Judicial position and the rest of his stories were highly regarded by his colleagues. When his fabrications caught up to him, many were astounded to find that he was a very unintelligent liar. Every statement was verified to be untrue. Of course, Couwenberg’s attorneys argued that he suffered from a psychological disorder and that his behavior warranted forgiveness. To the benefit of everyone dupped by Couwenberg, the commission found no sympathy for the Judge.

  • Multiple politicians, Senators, Mayors, Governors

Why do pathological liars lie?

As you can see, we can list multiple people in our personal lives, in our work lives, and in the media who have engaged in the repeated, long-term game of lying. As a therapist, I have seen my share of liars, especially among those within the juvenile and criminal justice system. Individuals with sociopathic personalities and narcissistic tendencies derive some kind of pleasure from lying. It’s as if the sociopath or narcissist enjoys being “smarter” or “far ahead” of their victim. It is a sick game of control.

Other pathological liars, however, derive no pleasure but continue to lie for the sake of lying. It’s a difficult situation for many of us because we’d like to believe what we’re told is true. Of course, this is all the result of our own need to feel connected to others. It is also the result of us wanting to believe others are trustworthy and would have no reason to lie.

Call to action

I firmly believe that if we put ourselves and our egos aside, we could honestly proclaim that a liar is often hard to detect, hard to keep up with, and hard to defeat. The lies become more lies and sometimes the truth gets buried within multiple lies. It’s an entanglement of more and more entanglements. In some cases, the lies are mixed with truth, making everyone even more complicated.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.




Dike, C. (2008). Pathological lying: Symptom or disease? The Psychiatric Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from,

Winton, R. (2001). Panel ousts Judge for lying. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from,