6 signs you’re dealing with a pathological liar, according to psychology

We all tell a little white lie here and there, right? 

Most people typically lie up to twice per day with the vast majority of them being little white lies. A few little lies are normal and harmless. 

What about when it goes beyond that? Have you ever been around someone who seems to lie about everything for no reason at all? 

People who constantly lie about everything are known as pathological liars. They’re unpredictable and untrustworthy. If you know one, you need to be cautious around them. 

They’re not always easy to spot because everyone lies, but they do have a few distinct characteristics that’ll help you pick them out from the rest. 

Today I’m sharing 6 signs that you’re dealing with a pathological liar, backed up by the experts, so that you know when it’s just a few white lies and when it’s something more serious. 

Let’s dive in. 

1) They lie a lot

The first indicator you’re dealing with a pathological liar is the amount of lies they tell. We already know most people tell one or two lies per day but pathological liars blow right through this. 

Depending on which study you read, pathological liars are telling 5-10 lies per day and sometimes even more. And they’re doing it consistently over months and maybe even years. 

Do you have someone in your life who seems to tell a lot of lies? 

It’s like they can’t help themselves. I remember I had a work colleague who seemed to lie about everything. We were at lunch one day and she started telling the group about something that happened in the meeting right before lunch. 

The thing is: I was in the meeting with her and what she said was a complete lie. It made me realize she’d lie about literally anything and I was quite cautious around her after that. 

If you notice someone lies excessively, it suggests you might be dealing with a pathological liar

2) Their lies are pointless with no obvious benefit

Have you ever told a little white lie because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or because you wanted to avoid getting into trouble? 

Everyone tells harmless lies to make their lives a little easier in some way. I’m not saying it’s good to tell white lies but I can understand the motivations behind them. 

The funny thing about pathological liars is their lies are often pointless and without benefit to them. They don’t gain anything from the lies they tell, they’re just doing it out of habit.

“Someone who lies compulsively or pathologically will lie very often and out of habit, despite not having a good reason for being dishonest.” as outlined by PsychCentral.

It’s hard to wrap your head around this one but when you see someone telling random lies for no apparent reason, it’s a sign you’re dealing with a pathological liar. 

3) Their stories are inconsistent

Back at school, a girl in my class, Kelly had a reputation for being a liar. She used to tell us stories about holidays her rich parents took her on and elaborate things that happened. 

But the funny part was every time she told a story, the details changed. I don’t think she ever managed to tell the same story twice without the details changing a lot. 

Here’s the thing: pathological liars like Kelly are constantly making things up and fabricating stories on the spot. Of course, they’re going to have trouble remembering the details of their lies when they lie so often. 

“When someone isn’t telling the truth, they may have a hard time keeping details of their story straight. Someone who lies frequently will eventually lose track of previous lies and start to contradict them.” as outlined by WebMD.

Listen carefully to the stories people around you tell. If you hear the same story twice with different details, it’s a sign you might have a pathological liar on your hands.  

4) They tell lies that make you feel sorry for them

Another tendency of pathological liars is they make up or exaggerate stories to make you feel sorry for them. It’s like they’re the victim and the other people in the story are out to get them. 

Can you think of anyone who tells stories like this? 

The truth is: pathological liars may be driven by “anxiety or low self-esteem” as outlined by psychologist Timothy J. Legg Ph.D. and Adrienne Santos-Longhurst.

By portraying themselves as the victim in their stories, people who hear the story show them sympathy. This is one of the ways they can get emotional validation and feel cared for by the people around them. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that it’s based on lies.

Watch out for people who always have a story that pulls at your heartstrings, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a pathological liar.  

5) Their lies are overly complex and detailed 

Have you ever been told something that sounds far-fetched but it’s so detailed and complex you almost believe it, thinking to yourself “Why would someone make that up?”

Well, that is one of the specialties of pathological liars. Their lies are usually overly complex and very detailed. There are two main reasons for this:

  • They’re trying to impress you, remember sometimes they suffer from low self-esteem
  • To build on a previous lie, they need to add more layers to the story

I encountered someone like this when my friend’s cousin Maria spent a summer in our town and we hung out a lot. I remember one Friday, a few of us were planning to meet in a bar in town but she didn’t show up. 

The next day she told this elaborate story about how she’d got last-minute tickets to Beyoncé and just had to go. At the concert, they were invited backstage where she met Beyoncé and Jay-Z. And then on the way home, they were in a car crash and she spent the night in hospital. 

I told you it was elaborate! We found out later from a mutual friend, that she’d just gone out to a different bar with other friends that night.  

Do you know someone like Maria who tells overly complex stories for no apparent reason? If so it’s a sure sign they’re a pathological liar. 

6) They’re not worried about being found out

Pathological liars aren’t worried about their lies being found out. They go to a lot of trouble to tell big elaborate lies but they don’t care if the lies are completely unrealistic. 

One of their key characteristics is that they’re undeterred by the fear of getting caught. Can you believe that? 

It’s a sign of a pathological liar when “someone consistently tells stories about extreme, abnormal, or unlikely events that they were involved in, like befriending celebrities or witnessing a kidnapping” explains Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, a therapist in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Think about the story Maria told us about going to the Beyoncé concert. Firstly, there was no Beyoncé concert anywhere close to us that night and she had no photos of her meeting the celebrity couple.

Then we can turn our attention to the car crash which was even more unrealistic as her car wasn’t damaged and she claimed to have stayed overnight in hospital even though she didn’t have any injuries, not even a scratch or bruise. 

It’s very clear Maria was not at all worried about her lies being found out and this is one of the dead giveaways for pathological liars. 

Final thoughts

Everyone lies now and then but constant and excessive lying can be distressing to liars and the people around them. 

If you notice most or all of these signs in someone in your life, there’s a chance you’re dealing with a pathological liar. 

Dealing with this can be exhausting so be sure to set clear boundaries and encourage this person to get professional help. 

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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