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Most of us have told a lie at one point or another in our lives. But a pathological or compulsive liar is a profoundly extreme human being.

Responsible for many a broken relationship and destroyed career, compulsive liars tell us things they think we want to hear. However, pathological liars persist in lying even when they know you are aware they are lying.

Luckily pathological and compulsive liars are in a minority representing around 5% of the populace. But it’s almost impossible to live or work with them.

Small white lies

If we are honest, we all lie from time to time but usually the lies are small white ones. For example, when your best friend asks whether the new dress she is wearing makes her look fat, you might say “no”.  In reality she should have bought the vertical stripe and not the horizontal one! If your wife dyes her hair pink and asks if you approve, to keep the peace you might say “yes” but make a note not to take her to the office party. When our neighbour, erects a fountain in a postage stamp size garden that would be worthy of placing in Trafalgar Square you say how wonderful it looks. These are all small white lies we tell to avoid hurting people’s feelings.

The compulsive liar

Compulsive liars are prone to exaggeration and embellishment.  Everything they have done is bigger and better than anyone else. If they have an illness it will always be rare or worse than the same illness in someone else.

Compulsive liars can and often do reinvent themselves, especially if they move abroad.  Expat communities often have at least one or two of them in their ranks. It’s so much easier to become someone you are not, when no one knows you. The guy who collected trolleys at the airport all his life elevates himself to airport management. The woman, who was a cleaner in hotels, miraculously transforms into an hotelier with a chain of boutique hotels. Frequently they are so good at lying, most people believe them, at least until they slip up. For this reason, they tend to lead their lives quite normally because their lies are so plausible in the way they tell them.

The pathological liar

There is a subtle difference between a pathological and compulsive liar, although it is possible to be both. The pathological liar will repeat a lie over and again, even when they know they’ve been found out.  Conversely, a compulsive liar will usually admit to lying and come up with an excuse for it.

Pathological liars are so charming and practised in the art of deceit few people can detect they are lying. However, if confronted they won’t be sorry!  They are wholly selfish and will never consider how damaging or hurtful their lies may be to their victims.

It’s usually pathological liars who, when they fail lie detector tests, insist the polygraph is wrong. They’ll deny they have lied, even when there is other evidence to prove they have.

Whilst most white lies are often told so as not to offend or hurt another’s feelings, pathological lies have no real purpose. Sometimes these liars go so far as to incriminate themselves making it difficult to understand why they have lied at all.

What scientists say

Scientists haven’t done much research into the causes behind pathological or compulsive lying. They don’t yet know whether the condition could be categorised as mental illness. What is known is that many liars are impulsive and feel it necessary to make a good impression.

It’s possible that the brain of a liar is structured differently to that of an average person. Research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, outlined a scientific study that revealed “liars showed a 22–26% increase in prefrontal white matter and a 36–42% reduction in prefrontal grey/white ratios compared with both antisocial controls and normal controls.“  The scientists conducted brain scans on a variety of people including pathological liars. They came to the conclusion that the liars having more white matter in the prefrontal cortex might be providing them with ”the cognitive capacity to lie.”

There is very little research with regard to treatment options for compulsive/pathological lying. Psychotherapy may assist as might counselling, but often these types of liars have no desire to be ‘cured’.  Unless stipulated by a court, or their constant lies result in tragedy such as financial ruin, job loss or the break-up of a relationship, they’re unlikely to volunteer for treatment.

Private lie detector test

If you think your partner or an employee is a pathological or compulsive liar? Why not consider a lie detector test? They are available privately from Lie Detector Test UK with a focus on high level confidentiality. Contact us today for more details.

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