When someone has compulsive lying, they routinely tell lies with little to no justification. Another name for it is pathological lying. A German doctor first described this condition in 1891. Despite being around for more than a century, compulsive/pathological lying lacks a precise definition. The term “compulsive lying” refers to the compulsive lying of pathological liars.


People are occasionally dishonest. However, pathological liars lie a lot more even when the context does not demand dishonesty. The following are the traits that are often found in pathological liars:

  1. Their lies are usually believable with a bit of truth in them. A person who fell and got a scratch might lie to their boss that they broke a bone.
  2. They lie even when they are not under any form of pressure. Someone trying to hide an affair by lying about it isn’t necessarily a pathological liar since they are lying for a reason (to hide it). However, a college dropout who is always claiming to have a Ph.D. will qualify as one.
  3. Their lies are mainly to make them look like good people or heroes. This is done mostly to gain acceptance, admiration, or sympathy.
  4. Internal motivations drive these lies. For instance, a child who lies compulsively to get out of trouble and has strict and abusive parents cannot be classified as a pathological or compulsive liar because their lying is triggered by an outside factor (their parents).
  5. While some people lie to get out of trouble or avoid uncomfortable situations, a pathological liar just tells lies and lies and stories with no clear benefit. This is because other people’s lies serve a clear purpose, whereas their lies have no such purpose.
  6. Because the person lying has nothing to gain from their lies, friends and family members may find this to be especially frustrating.
  7. Their lies are usually dramatic, exaggerated, and complicated but very detailed. Pathological/compulsive liars are good at telling stories so they can tell detailed, colorful, believable, and convincing lies.
  8. They might become delusional and begin to believe their lies because oftentimes, they tell stories that fall between conscious lying and delusional tales.
  9. A pathological liar tells lies and stories that fall somewhere between conscious lying and delusion. They sometimes believe their lies.


Even though currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) does not recognize compulsive/pathological lying as a mental health condition of its own that can stand alone as a diagnosis, it still appears to be a symptom of several mental health conditions. Yet compulsive lying does appear as a symptom of several larger conditions.

Compulsive lying disorder can be a symptom of the following psychiatric disorders:

  1. Bipolar Disorder
  2. Attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD)
  3. Impulse control issues
  4. Substance dependency
  5. Borderline personality
  6. Narcissistic personality

Another cause of compulsive lying is:

  1. Environment

Psychologists believe a person’s environment can play a huge role in compulsive lying. A person who grew up or lives in an environment where people use deception to their advantage without any major consequences may begin to believe that the benefits of telling these lies outweigh their consequences.

2. Low self-esteem

Some people may use lying as a way to soothe their ego by creating a delusion for them and others to believe.

3. Trauma

For some people, lying is a coping mechanism for the trauma they’ve experienced in the past while for others, they can’t stop telling lies because they’ve gotten used to lying to get out of trouble in the past.


Even though compulsive lying has a lot of short-term benefits, they tend the backfire with time.

  1.  A compulsive liar can experience extreme stress from trying to keep track of their lies.
  2. They can begin to struggle to live up to their lies.
  3. If these lies get exposed, their relationships are at the risk of strain and it could be as bad as facing legal consequences.


  1. Therapy

Compulsive liars are advised and encouraged to seek help from a qualified therapist. A therapist is always able to help habitual liars understand their condition and how their dishonesty affects other people. As we have stated earlier, compulsive lying could be a result of other underlying mental health problems, which a therapist will be able to diagnose and treat during therapy. However, it is important to resist lying as much as possible during sessions as lies could be misleading. Also, treatment works better and faster when the patient acknowledges they have a problem and they are willing to tackle it, therefore, it is not advisable to force a person into therapy. Forcing a person into therapy will only trigger them to build resistance by lying to their therapist. Group or individual therapy sessions can be helpful in treatment. When these lies have interfered with their romantic relationship, couples counseling can be recommended.

2. Behavior Therapy

This involves behavioral modification strategies and activities such as role-playing to promote changes, aid recovery progress, and deal with mood disorders that accompany the mental disorder.

3. Medications

If this behavior is fueled by other issues like anxiety or drug abuse, some medications can be prescribed to help with this.


Dealing with a pathological liar can be very frustrating particularly because their lies appear to be baseless, pointless, and unnecessary. It can threaten the trust in the relationship you have with them and make it hard to even have any conversation with them as they leave you constantly doubting and second-guessing their words.

Here are a few tips to help you cope with a compulsive liar:

  1. Don’t engage them

When you are having a conversation with them and you notice they are lying, do not engage them by continuing the conversation or probing further. You can question whatever they are saying to make them realize you are aware they are lies and this may encourage them to stop lying at that point. You can also tell them you are no longer interested in continuing the conversation due to their dishonesty.

2. Don’t get angry

As annoying as it can get, you mustn’t lose your temper or let your anger drive your words and actions when confronting them. This can be hurtful to them because most of the time, they tell these lies out of habit and not intentionally. Be firm but also supportive.

3. Expect denial

For someone who lies habitually, do not expect them to admit they are lying when confronted. They tend to respond first with a lie. They can even get angry, express shock, or start crying over the accusation.

4. Remember you are not the problem

It’s difficult to handle being lied to personally, especially when you are in a serious relationship with the person. However, for your mental well-being, you do not have to take the lies personally because this person might just be lying due to a bigger underlying personality disorder like low self-esteem.

5. Be supportive

When you are confronting them about their lies, let them know you love and value them for who they are and they do not need to try to impress you.

6. Suggest medical help

Without sounding judgmental, you can suggest they get professional help, for example on Calmerry online therapy and also let them know that this suggestion is merely from a place of concern for them. You can also help them with information about compulsive lying like articles they can read through when they are ready to seek help. Let them understand that they might have bigger underlying conditions that can be triggering the lies and getting help will help them figure this out on time.


Even though we often use both pathological lying and compulsive lying interchangeably to describe the same thing since medical literature doesn’t describe them differently. However, mental health professionals claim that these two terms are subtly different from each other. According to them, compulsive liars tell falsehoods uncontrollably and they are more comfortable with lying over unimportant issues. Compulsive liars can tell lies that can tarnish their images and they refuse to admit it even after the truth has been discovered by others. On the other hand, signs of a pathological liar include lying with no clear motives usually to gain admiration, attention, or even sympathy just for their internal gratification. Unlike compulsive liars, pathological liars tend to mix their lies with a bit of truth to make them more believable.

Because of these differences, pathological liars are considered more manipulative than compulsive liars.