Do you know someone in your family, or someone you love who is a compulsive liar? I have been looking into this topic more recently as I’ve learned it is more common than I once thought. Of course, everyone, at some point in time will tell a lie. This is normal behavior. A “white lie” about how nice our clothes are (when they look totally unflattering) is something that we are usually programmed to do by our parents.
For some, to tell constant lies is a way of achieving personal gains, for others it’s an unhealthy way of increasing one’s self esteem. They aren’t happy with themselves and lie to feel better. While it may be a temporary, and an immediate fix to their low self esteem, over time it causes much chaos and mistrust in their relationships. For these people, to lie has become “second nature” to them. They often become quite good at it and often believe their own lies in time. They become so good at it that they find comfort in telling lies. They lie to feel safe. They often do not see the pain and problems it causes in their relationships.
A compulsive liar will lie simply out of habit and normally not for personal gains other than to increase their own self esteem. For these people, it is very hard to tell the truth as the truth becomes foreign to them. They are not overly manipulative like a sociopath but find it very difficult to just state a true fact. A compulsive liar often tells lies because to them, telling the truth has become uncomfortable, and a habit that they are unable and possibly unwilling to break. It becomes an addictive behavior.
The best ways to confront a loved one who is a compulsive liar is not what one would think. Unfortunately, confronting a compulsive liar doesn’t help. They just continue to lie or tell more lies to cover up the one they were caught at. Usually this means that the relationship continues to deteriorate. No one ever likes to be accused of telling a lie. Those who are confronted often become defensive, never admitting to their deceit. They don’t see that the confrontation from a loved one is normally due to feelings of betrayal for the lie, not actually what the lie was originally about. Lies are often fueled by the liar’s fears. Therefore confronting them in a lie, often makes them more fearful. This in turn leads to more lies. Unfortunately for the love one when the liar is confronted, the liar only learns how to better hide their lies, and becomes better at it. Here are some things that might help. Know that often there is an underlying reason to why they compulsively lie which you may not ever be able to understand.
Getting them appropriate counseling will help them understand why they lie. If the relationship has strained to the point that divorce or separation is being discussed, then marriage counseling may be able to help the two of you cope with the issue, as a couple. It would still be recommended that the compulsive liar get their own individual counselor to help them find out the reasons why this has become a way of life for them as well as what it is doing to their relationships. Hopefully it has not reached a point where the betrayed feels that the lost of trust is un-repairable. In the mean time, here are some things which might help.
- Begin first by having a conversation regarding the issue, not confronting the liar regarding the original lie. It is normal, human behavior, that when people are accused or confronted people become defensive. You could start the conversation something like “I recently found out something that really hurt me”.
- Discuss how you feel and in the least judgmental and accusing way that you can. You want to show that you are willing to communicate and work on an issue, not become angry and judgmental.
- Try to remember that you love this person for who they are, not their lies. Their lies are part of a behavior that has become a major problem in the relationship. It does not define them. There are probably many good things about them or you would not be trying to figure out how to help your relationship.
For more information, Psychology today has published a short article called “Understanding Compulsive liars. ”