I once worked with a young guy who was a pathological liar. He was such a proficient liar that everyone in the office believed his stories for almost a year, and we all chipped in to help out one of his “young twin boys,” who was “ill” back in Kalispell, Montana. We later learned that he had no kids (his sister was the one with twins, and neither of them was ill.) Besides bilking his co-workers out of hundreds of dollars, this man repeatedly lied about work-related activities, which negatively impacted the company’s business.
Not all lies wound others, but when they do, what do you do about the liar?
Most pathological liars don’t even recognize that they’re lying, so confronting them with the facts (the truth) has little or no effect. It often makes them lie even more. And what if you can’t fire them or dismiss them from your life by simply walking away? One of my first bosses was a pathological liar, and although I couldn’t fire her, she eventually lied herself out of her job, but it took a mighty long time for the truth to surface.
It’s especially frustrating and demoralizing when you’re dead certain that someone is a pathological liar, but others don’t or won’t acknowledge it, even when they’re presented with the honest-to-goodness facts. It’s impossible to understand why they won’t see what you see! Maybe they don’t care that the person is lying because they don’t think his or her lies will harm them. Perhaps they think you’re calling the person a liar because YOU don’t like him or her.
Just to be clear, pathological lying doesn’t mean exaggerating a bit, like saying you lost 27 pounds when you actually lost 22, or telling a little white lie to protect someone’s feelings, like refusing an invitation to a party by claiming your cousin is visiting. Pathological lying is compulsive, constant and consistent, and sometimes the liar doesn’t even recognize that he is lying.
Perusing a range of reputable websites about pathological liars–from psychologytoday.com to mayoclinic.org–I learned that this kind of lying has no official diagnosis, but is associated with an array of diagnoses, such as antisocial, borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. “When it comes to compulsive liars, words seem to flow out of their mouths without them thinking about it,” says Dr. Charles Ford, an authority on the psychology of deception.
People with severe mental issues, such as narcissistic personality disorder, can’t be “cured” with a pill. They need intensive psychotherapy (“talk therapy’), when they discuss the causes of their emotions, and what drives them to compete, distrust others and perhaps “despise themselves and others,” according to the Mayo Clinic website. As was the case with my former co-worker years ago, pathological liars can be charming and extremely likeable, especially because the psychological disorder connected to their lying triggers them to crave approval from everyone they meet. After my experience with him, I hope I never run into a person with this problem again.