9 signs you’re dealing with a compulsive liar, according to psychology

We all bend the truth on occasion, to some degree or another.

We tell white lies to spare others’ feelings, or we exaggerate a story to paint ourselves in a better light.

But while these small untruths are generally harmless, some people take lying to a whole new level.

For a compulsive liar, lying becomes the norm rather than the exception, and the habit can significantly impact relationships and trust.

How can you spot these individuals, you ask?

It can be tricky, as they have a lot of practice and are skilled at manipulating the truth.

However, there are subtle cues that let you know the person you’re interacting with is dishonest.

Here are 9 signs you’re dealing with a compulsive liar, according to psychology.

By reading between the lines, you won’t fall for their tall tales.

1) Their stories are inconsistent

Identifying inconsistencies in a compulsive liar’s stories requires a keen eye for detail, but it can help you determine whether the person you’re dealing with can be trusted.

According to psychology, a compulsive liar’s stories often lack consistency or coherence.

Someone who makes lying a daily occurrence can struggle to maintain a consistent narrative over time.

One of the most noticeable signs is the gradual or sudden alteration of key details in their stories.

Pay attention to how the story evolves when retold on different occasions.

If key details change, like the location or people involved, it generally suggests that the story is fabricated.  

2) Their stories are unnecessarily complex

Compulsive liars love to embellish, so their stories will be unnecessarily complex.

They will include a lot of color that doesn’t add much to the narrative but is meant to convince you that what the liar is saying is true.

Granted, it can be tricky to assess whether someone who has a tendency to go into a lot of detail when sharing a story is lying.

Some people like to listen to themselves speak.

I once had a co-worker who used to vent about their breakfast in painful detail day after day to everyone willing to listen, offering a breakdown of macros and describing exactly how burnt their eggs turned out.   

But when you combine this sign with some of the others on the list, it can speak volumes.

3) The details of their stories seem exaggerated

On the same topic of embellishing, compulsive liars tell stories that seem overly dramatic or exaggerated.

Psychologists believe they do this to gain sympathy or admiration, so you may notice that the person you suspect of stretching the truth paints themselves as either a hero or a victim.

For instance, a compulsive liar might spin a tale of enduring a tragic childhood with the intention of gaining sympathy and emotional support.

In reality, their childhood was normal, and they wouldn’t really have much to complain about.

Or, a compulsive liar might boast about receiving prestigious awards or achieving extraordinary success in their career, when in truth, their accomplishments may be much more modest.

You get the idea.

4) They pass others’ stories as their own

Another thing you’ll notice when interacting with a compulsive liar for a while is that they sometimes take others’ stories and pass them as their own.

In some cases, compulsive liars may feel that their lives lack the excitement, drama, or success they desire.

Appropriating others’ stories becomes a way to fill this void and create a more compelling personal history.

Alternatively, a compulsive liar may struggle with their sense of identity, according to psychology.

By adopting others’ stories, they temporarily construct a false identity they believe will be more appealing to those around them.

Does a story they tell sound familiar to you?

Maybe you already heard it from someone else.

Or, maybe they took it from a movie, TV show, or book.

With compulsive liars, anything is possible.

5) Their body language gives them away

While compulsive liars are skilled at telling tales, no one can 100% control their body language.

In other words, you may be able to spot indicators that the person you’re chatting with isn’t honest:

  • Excessive blinking or avoiding eye contact
  • Fidgeting, such as playing with hair, tapping fingers, or shifting weight from one foot to another
  • A mismatch between verbal and non-verbal cues (like nodding while saying “no” or shaking the head while affirming)
  • Touching the face (the nose, mouth, or ears)
  • Expressing emotions that don’t match the content of the conversation (like smiling during serious discussions)

Your subconscious will instinctively catch these non-verbal cues.

Once, I asked this guy I was seeing if he was talking to other girls since he was open about keeping in touch with exes and stuff.

He assured me he wasn’t but couldn’t look me in the eye as he did.

I immediately knew he wasn’t truthful.

It was early days, so I didn’t press him about it. I eventually found out I was right.

Trust your gut.

6) They dodge questions

Compulsive liars are driven by a need to maintain their deceptive narratives, so they resort to skillful evasion when confronted with probing questions.

If you ask them to clarify a certain aspect of their story, they will respond by talking on the subject for the next five minutes.

When they’re done, though, you’ll realize that they never actually answered your question or clarified anything.

Rather, they babbled on the subject until you nearly forgot what you wanted to know in the first place.

They’re just that good.

7) They quickly get defensive

Compulsive liars can get defensive if you accuse them of being dishonest or confront them with the truth.

When called out on their behavior, they will likely deny everything.

They might also become hostile, shifting the blame to you.

For example, if you tell a compulsive liar their story doesn’t sound truthful, they’ll point out that they have nothing to gain from lying and insist that you always see the worst in people.

By doing this, they move the focus on you and make you feel bad about something that isn’t your fault in the first place.

According to psychology, blame-shifting is a form of verbal abuse.

Don’t tolerate it.

8) They don’t feel remorse when caught in a lie

On a similar note, compulsive liars exhibit a remarkable emotional detachment from the consequences of their deceitful actions.

If a regular person lies, they feel guilty about it and act remorseful when caught out.

A compulsive liar, on the other hand, won’t feel too bad about being exposed.

They might react by staying completely silent or by telling more lies to cover their tracks.

They might admit it and move on from the conversation as quickly as possible.

This is befuddling behavior to anyone who confronts them.

You would expect them to make excuses, promise they’ll never do it again, say how sorry they are about it.

Instead, they act like it’s no big deal.  

9) They struggle to maintain relationships

According to psychology, repeated lying leads to destroyed credibility and breakups.

Consequently, compulsive liars don’t have a lot of successful relationships in their life.

The more time you spend with someone, the more you catch on to what makes them tick.

There aren’t many people willing to tolerate being lied to repeatedly.

As a result, a compulsive liar might not be romantically involved or have any old friends.  

They might also jump from job to job frequently, as managers are even less tolerant than friends when it comes to catching you in a lie.

On the surface, compulsive liars look like they’re thriving.

They probably date a lot or have big social circles since a lot of the connections they make are surface-level.

However, gently inquire about their long-term friends or employment history and see what they say.

Granted, they might lie about these aspects of their life, too.

Bottom line

Dealing with a compulsive liar is frustrating, especially when you can’t distance yourself from them.

If they are a co-worker or relative, set realistic expectations about your interactions and do your best not to lose your temper.

Remember that their compulsive lying isn’t about you. For them, it’s a habit. 

And if you suspect that someone you’re dating may be a compulsive liar?

If they’re unwilling to get help, building a healthy relationship based on trust is impossible.


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