It may be hard to admit, but most people have some experience with lying. You know, lying - making a false statement intended to deceive. Usually we do it to avoid embarrassment, spare someone hurt feelings, or get out of hardship. These “white lies” and “fibs” don’t resonate with our best selves (and are often not the best course of action), but sometimes it seems like the most polite or prudent way forward.
Pathological lying, however, is a different problem. Sufferers compulsively tell at least 10 lies per day, often more, with no rational benefit or motivation. Pathological liars suffer at work and with loved ones. One statistic claims up to 13% of people believe themselves to be pathological liars.
Not formally recognized?
Although it’s a significant problem it goes largely undiscussed. Perhaps this is because pathological lying is not recognized formally as a disorder. As such there is very little research on the topic. However mental health professionals widely accept it as a real phenomena.
Unless they get into a lot of trouble, pathological liars don’t often seek help for that specific thing. It usually becomes clear to doctors and counselors during treatment for comorbid disorders. These may come in the form of borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial disorder, etc.
Sufferers of these personality disorders have trouble regulating emotions, and this can lead to pathological lying for a sense of importance, to establish a sense of self, or simply to lie.
Sometimes pathological liars suffer from something known as “factitious disorder” - they want to make themselves seem sick for some kind of gain. One common example of this is Munchhausen syndrome, where a sufferer may lie about their health for attention or pity. Parents may also lie about their children’s health for similar reasons. In these cases the lying does indeed seem to serve some kind of purpose, but it’s still regular and severe enough to be sometimes recognized as pathological.
Then there is pathological lying in the case of older individuals with dementia. With a disease called “frontotemporal dementia” the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are dysfunctional - these regulate behavior and language. Sufferers may display inappropriate social behavior, lack of empathy, and little insight into their actions. Often pathological lying comes with these symptoms.
What to do if a loved one exhibits pathological lying?
Doctors will usually suggest treatment for underlying conditions, as they are almost always present. This path to treatment often begins with issues at a job or with a family/relationship, and they eventually realize it's time to seek help. A combination of therapy and medication management addresses the underlying disorder and helps patients get a handle on the pathological lying.
If the patient has self-driven motivation to stop the pathological lying it improves the likelihood of positive outcomes. As the lying is indeed compulsive it (or the urge to do it) may never totally go away but it can be managed and the sufferer can live a happy, meaningful life. But one thing is for sure: it’s vital to get it out in the open and actively comply with treatment.
If you or someone you know suffers from pathological lying, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Bregman Medical Group has decades of experience treating a multitude of disorders and we offer online psychiatric treatment and therapy right to your device! Simply schedule online at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.