What is Compulsive Lying Disorder?

Compulsive lying disorder,  also known as pseudologia fantastica or mythomania, is a condition that describes the behavior of a habitual liar.

​While compulsive lying disorder is actually not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), except as a symptom of factitious disorder, many psychiatrists and psychologists consider it a distinct mental disorder.

In the past two decades countless hours of research and multiple papers have been written regarding this issue, though it remains one of the most under researched psychiatric conditions. Individuals with the disorder simply cannot stop themselves from misrepresenting the truth.

People with the disorder are not able to control their lies and experience no guilt regardless of how the lies may affect themselves and others. The lack of guilt is frequently the result of the fact that the individual becomes so caught up in the lie that they are telling, they begin to believe it themselves. If confronted with a lie they have told in the past or one that they are presently telling, they will be insistent that they are speaking the truth.

Over time, the individual will become so adept at lying that it will be very difficult for others to determine if they are, in fact, telling the truth. There are no exact figures regarding the number of people that suffer from this disorder, but has been found to be equally common in men and women and usually becomes very apparent in the late teens.

The defining characteristics of compulsive lying disorder are:

  • The stories told are not entirely improbable and often have some element of truth. They are not a manifestation of delusion or some broader type of psychosis: upon confrontation, the teller can admit them to be untrue, even if unwillingly.
  • The fabricative tendency is long lasting; it is not provoked by the immediate situation or social pressure as much as it is an innate trait of the personality.
  • A definitely internal, not an external, motive for the behavior can be discerned clinically: e.g., long-lasting extortion or habitual spousal battery might cause a person to lie repeatedly, without the lying being a pathological symptom.
  • The stories told tend toward presenting the liar favorably. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, knowing or being related to many famous people.

Dike, Charles C. (June 1, 2008). Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease? 25 (7).

​Currently, there are several theories as to what causes an individual to develop compulsive lying disorder. There has been research completed that indicates it is the result of neurological imbalance, particularly in the frontal lobe. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that pathological liars have an increase in the amount of white matter in the brain predisposing them to the condition. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences reported that brain scans had found that those with this disorder suffered from right hemithalamic dysfunction. There are also various psychiatric theories regarding the cause.

Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe that individuals with low self-esteem who are looking, whether knowingly or unknowingly, for attention, popularity, love, or to cover up a failure are prone to developing the disorder. Finally, there is speculation that it is a reaction to childhood trauma or neglect or failure of the parents to establish realistic limits and provide guidance. It is important to note that many experts believe that habitual lying is a symptom of a larger personality disorder including borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

As a result of not being included in the DSM-IV, there is no actual diagnostic criteria for a compulsive liar. However, many psychiatrists and psychologists will diagnosis based on behavioral patterns as reported by loved ones and through observation of the individual. There is no magic cure for this disorder. Therapy can be beneficial to the sufferer if they will admit that there is an actual problem. If the person does not recognize that they suffer from this condition, therapy will be of no consequence.

There are treatment options for this disorder, but they can only be effective if the compulsive liar agrees to treatment. In most cases, friends and family will have to learn to adapt to the situation in order to maintain a relationship. As you are probably aware, compulsive lying disorder can have a tremendous effect on the sufferer as well as those that care about them.

If therapy is initiated it will likely be geared towards the addictive aspect of the disorder as well as helping the person understand their behavior and how it impacts others. Later, there will be measures taken to help the individual change their way of thinking. Some psychiatrists may prescribe antidepressants to treat underlying issues with depression and self-esteem. Also, the prescription of anti-anxiety medications may be used to decrease the feelings of anxiety that may unconsciously prompt the individual to lie.

Again, it must be noted that therapy will only help the individual if they admit they do have a problem.​ Maintaining a relationship of any kind with a person suffering from compulsive lying syndrome can be complicated. In fact, relationships are almost certain to end without the involvement of a trained third party, such as a therapist.

Loved ones can benefit from attending therapy and counseling with the sufferer and individually. This allows them to gain insight into the disorder, express their feelings openly, and bring up important issues such as trust without the sufferer feeling as if they are being attacked. There is no guarantee that a relationship will survive, but the chances are increased with the amount of energy that is out into treatment. ​

Compulsive lying disorder is a complicated condition that requires a great deal of effort and determination on the sufferer to change their behaviors. Ultimately, it is entirely up to the person with the disorder as to whether or not they are able to regain their ability to tell the truth consistently.


12 thoughts on “What is Compulsive Lying Disorder?

  1. I may have this conidtion but am not entirly convinced that I do but better be safe then sorry so would like to maybe get my self checked out to see if I do have this or not. maybe helping to talk about whats happened in my past could determin if I have this or not.

  2. I had a friend with this condition. He was the nicest guy ever. He#d do antything to help you out. But he lied. He lied about everything. We used to joke that he didn’t even exist because he lied about his very existence. I know that’s mean. But it ultimately cause all of his relationships to flounder. His lies were so transparent and omnipresent that people stopped caring for him. His relationships would last maybe one year before people got fed up and distanced themselves from him. I was one of those people. I hope he seeks help. He needs it. Again, he’s the nicestguy ever. I guess I’m just not strong enough to deal with such a person. Good luck my friend.

    • I just got out of a relationship with a man, who, I am now convinced. probably fabricated the core of his very existence. I mean from his marital status, to what he had for lunch to who he has lunch with. Unbelievable. I just had to block him out

  3. My partner talks constantly. When we are alone, he tells me the same stories over and over again. Things that happened when he was a child or jobs that he did (construction) with people I don’t know and will never know who are no longer in his life…and when I tell him that I heard the story, he continues to tell me. Then he branches off into other people related to that person, etc. I am polite and kind and have nicely talked to him about his condition and he acknowledges it and carries on.
    When “new” people are around (fresh ears) he gets over excited and talks even more and constant, hijacking every conversation, interrupting people, telling the same old stories, even though people say, “I KNOW….YOU TOLD ME”….and he DOES NOT STOP.
    I talk to him about how he is driving people away. I let him know that I am helping him and not judging him, because he is boring and always doing this. People are openly turned off, including his family.
    I am ready to hit the road. I am always trying to find the good in him, but this talking obsession has killed my love for him.
    It is getting worse because his need to heighten the drama causes him to brag, exaggerate and lie. AND it is obvious. He makes bold statements that people know are not true and everyone is uncomfortable.
    We just spent a few days with family and friends and before we got together I talked to him about listening, being polite and interested in what others had to say. To refrain from taking center stage and talking about himself and his entire life story…He said over and over again that he was going to try. He did okay for a while. He was sweating and fidgeting. As soon as the “new” people left and we were around my family, he talked until their ears bled. I nudged him and reminded him when we were alone that he was killing our weekend (and this is my adult children coming for a visit). They have heard these boring stories and know that they are being embellished.
    He brags all the time too. If talked about having a Porsche, he had a Lamborghini.
    Fewer and fewer people come to visit. No one calls him anymore. I am embarrassed to take him places with me and I am a public figure in the art world. When I do a presentation, I must ask him to NOT TALK….or not come. Lately he hasn’t been coming, because he is verbally inappropriate.
    I am really sad. My feelings for him are pretty much gone…and I tried very hard to work with him on this.
    Lately he has been getting disoriented with driving simple places…and he makes up a story when I ask him why he is getting lost (going to the store, he heads out of the driveway in the wrong direction) and he says that it’s because the GPS usually takes him that way….(IT NEVER DOES and we do not use it for going to local places)….
    He is getting worse. His father had a lifetime of dementia and was on lithium his entire life and his mother is also mentally unstable.
    I am thinking (after 8 years) that I must face it and move on….because the stress of trying to keep him balanced is not working….and he refuses to get help.

  4. I have been lying for as long as I can remember. I am diagnosed with mood disorders and ADHD and GAD. I am on medications for all but that does not help my lying. I just got caught in a big one today. I lie to everyone about everything. I don’t think there is a person in my life that I do not lie to every time I see them. I am so scared of the people I actually care about catching me. The person today I don’t care about. I made up having twins and being a mom and all the things that go along with that. I have always wanted to be a mother. I love kids and I took it really far with the lie. I pretended that my best friends kids were my kids and went with that. I knew in the back of my head that it was too big a lie to not eventually get caught but I did it anyway. I cannot remember the last time I had been caught. It is very rare. But now I am scared as hell the people I do care about will find out things I have lied about and I do not want that. I want to not get caught in any of the lies I have told thus far and I want to just be truthful from now on. I am going to practice telling many small truths and hope that helps. ;/

  5. Hello. I am a compulsive liar. i try to tell the truth,but i lie so easily. and sometimes i dint even need to lie, but i just make up stories about stuff that happens with friends constantly just because. i was admitted to St.helena’s pysch hospital in januar/feburary of 2014. they said i have anxiety, i knew that i would panic and sometimes get such a panicked feeling that i couldnt thhink right. and i would feel like i had tonthrow up but i didnt know it was anxiety.i have never felt guilt for my lies except one time. there was a boy i dated. he sacrificed alot for me,even his friendships and relationship with his family. he became sucidial because i would mess his up brain so much. they sent him to a pysch hospital and when he came out he was completely different. he broke up with me. we had dated since middleschool a total of one year and 6 months. when he left me,i began to realize how much he had done for me and how i lied about every single thing. recently i was supposed to start my sophmore year in high school. but i had stolen my friends sistersphone. they caught me and my mom took me out of the school before the first day even started bc she knew i was going to get bullied there. my bestfriend is friend with that girl. she hasnt spoken to me since they took the phone back. i dont have any friends anymore. new school. and yet no matter how much i say i will stop lying, i simply cant.

  6. I have been married to someone for 33 years that has been a chronic, compulsive liar. He says inappropriate things to everyone. He is on a constant pursuit of sex.I feel as if I have wasted my life. He has this overwhelming fascination with the military, he was in, got kicked out after 9 months 13 days for not being adaptable to military life. He somehow still gets to go to the VA for treatment, vet refuses to tell mental health officials what is truly going on with him. He sits at any location or event that is vet related and brags he was in wars he never was.He is 53 and has had at least 60 jobs in his life. I don’t know what to do anymore. He has made comments about being able to kill people and not leave a trace, drug in black garbage bags that look like body bags, saws, a shovel(we live in an apartment) and because of never catching up, my child and I have no way to leave. What do I do? I am at the end of my rope. He steals also, lots. If he wants it, he takes it. Any ideas about whats going on with him?

  7. I really need to get a grip on my compulsive lying . it makes me look like a complete idiot because months of ridiculous lies have been exposed.

  8. I have this lying disorder and I know it – I lie to everybody, Even the people I care for so much. I try to tell the truth but I can’t. I lie a lot, from little situations to huge things. I don’t lie about everything, but I lie about a lot of things, the only things I didn’t lie about are the reasons I think I have this damn thing (childhood, neglect from my parents). Everybody thinks I’m this nice sweet trustable girl, I’m not. (well, I don’t go telling all there secrets and stuff) but I do lie about myself. I told so many shit and today my “best friend” finally confronted me about it.. She told me she hated me, that she wished we never became friends.. But yeah. I need to seek some help, where do I go???

    • i read your post…I am glad you believe that you have a problem and with that attitude I believe you can recover Sia McKinley.
      Please do not give up, please do what you can to change, but most importantly don’t give up.
      It encouraged me to read what you wrote. It makes me believe that perhaps my old girlfriend can help herself also…but alas, I cannot imagine it because she has not come to the place that you have (self awareness).
      So your friend has actually helped you, and my wish for you is that you work at it just like you just did by writing your post and seeking answers.
      I have come to value the truth so much more now. I am determined to continue to work on lying also, that is to not embellish or twist or shade the truth. I am also learning that my best defense has been to learn to be less talkative. I was never actually garrulous, but I had my moments. So my first “breakthrough” was to become a “quiet” man. When I get excited or am around a lively talkative friendly crowd then I relapse into lying, exaggerations, embellishments…but at least I can recognize them more and more as they come out. I have even stopped, immediately afterwards and said out loud “…oh my god, that wash´t true, why did I just say that…” It is embarrassing as hell, but I am getting better…I know it.
      Good luck and thank you for being honest. LOOK, you took a good step, you “came-out,” you diid more than many would be able too.
      Your friend may not be recoverable, all of my old “friends” have washed their hands of me, but I am confident that what friends I do make in the future will be as a result of improvements I make in trying to be forth coming, straight-forward, better person, when it comes to dealing with others.
      It has not been easy, and I stumble more than i stride…but I hope.
      I have found Buddhist Meditation to help a lot…not so much the religious side, but the meditation part, which requires certain, internal, personal changes (ethically).
      My best wishes for you, Sia, don’t give up, be patient with yourself, seek out more answers just like you did here.

  9. I was with a compulsive liar for 4 years. It was only at “the end” that I was made aware of it. At that point all the craziness and insanity “made sense.”
    I cannot bear to go into the details even though the relationship ended 3 years ago…I am still “traumatized” (like PTS) and have a difficult time trusting others, especially women, in general.
    Easy enough to realize that my present “paranoia” is dysfunctional and based on the “trauma” I suffered at her hands. I have confidence that, with time, I will “recover,” fully.
    What troubles me now is that I see that she has not changed, in fact she has continued to the point that she was physically injured by her last “lover,” and I fear that some day she will not escape the inevitable. I have read that some of these (mythomaniacs or whatever they really are) end up in prison or hurt by others because of their actions (the lies).
    i stay in close contact with my old love´s grandparents. By the stories they tell it is easy to surmise that she is lying, again, to them. They are very old and at her mercy and I worry.
    She has chosen the path of criminality for a long and has associations with such people. I myself am no saint, and we were, ourselves, involved in much nefarious enterprises. I am confident that I deserved everything I suffered at her hands because I was involved in bad things involving others too. I regret my actions and behaviors of the past. Ending up with a person like her taught me a thing or two about myself and my own values, selfishness and irresponcible ways. My life has improved, but more importantly, the way I treat OTHERS has improved. I was the “perfect” match for a CL…I had all this coming…and I am lucky to be on my feet again. I lost everything because of her…material things and friendships with others even family members.
    I am working to be a better person as a result.
    I was a liar too, but did not really see it until all this happened.
    The problem is that she is still at it, obviously (from what I hear), but now she has a little 2 year old son. How will he fare?
    I still care for her, rather, I pity her. Her childhood was a nightmare. At age seven she was put with her grandparents, as her mother was finally imprisoned for her own crimes (she was a full time prostitute and involved in other much more serious crimes herself).
    I only got the “whole” story from the grandparents afterwards. Which was a “filling-in” of the blanks.
    It is all simply heartbreak…I have no answers, only this story of my own involvement with such a person as some of you have.
    Lucky for me all of this took (and is taking) place thousands of miles away…she is german citizen living in Berlin and I am back her in the states on the west coast.

  10. My mother has been identified with three different personality disorders: Intermittent explosive disorder, Compulsive lying disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder.
    Her intermittent explosive disorder pairs with her dissociative identity disorder and creates a personality that is split between a child-like angry personality or a ‘somewhat’ happy/sweet personality. The compulsive lying disorder makes all of this even harder to deal with.

    Growing up with a mother that has a mental disorder and not knowing it until you’re old enough to figure it out is beyond rough. I spent years asking myself questions such as:
    Why? What is wrong with my mother? Why is she so angry? What is she angry about? And why can’t she tell me the truth about it?
    And in the short, few times when she was happy. Why does the happiness radiating from her feel like there’s something unresolved beneath it?
    For years while I was growing up I spent almost my entire existence wondering what was wrong with my mother and why couldn’t she ever just tell the truth. She lies about everything, I never understood her random outbursts of rage directed at my siblings and I over nothing. For a long time I thought it was me. I thought I was the cause of her unhappiness, I thought her angry tyrants were actually my fault. Her outbursts knew no limitation of moral values. In her eyes (when she was angry at least), I was an ungrateful bitch, a lazy piece of shit, inconsiderate, a cunt, and a whore. I heard all of these things from my mother before I was in the seventh grade (middle school).
    When you’re a kid in middle school you look to your parents for guidance and motivation. I only had my mom to look up to so I actually started to believe I was all of these things. My self esteem plummeted and I began to hate myself in the way my mother had shown hate towards me.
    I never understood that she had a mental disorder and she doesn’t either. For a long time in my life I began to believe that parents were supposed to treat you like you were a terrible child. I literally believed that parents were supposed to insult you and that’s just the way life was.
    It was not until I grew older and I decided for myself that I did not want other people to feel the way my mom made me feel through her blindsiding episodes fueled of past resentment and hate.
    I made a decision for myself to chose to treat people different from what my mom had treated me my whole life. I had to re-learn everything I had been taught from seeing my mom’s reactions to things and realize for myself that she was wrong.
    A parent is supposed to show a child right from wrong, I had to figure out for myself that her actions were wrong and despite what I had been shown from my parental figure, I had to do what I felt was right within myself.
    I believe there is an even greater mental disorder behind this.
    It was hard to grow up not have to ability to talk to my mother about anything. It breaks my heart that I can never have the relationship with my mother the way a mother and daughter should. I can’t talk to her about anything I’m experiencing in life without her cutting me off and lying to me about entire events in her life that never actually happened. Anything I have to share with her about she approaches with a ‘been there done that’ already went through what I’m going through kind of attitude instead of just making an attempt to understand me.
    Her disorder only got worse over the years, she became irrationally angry and now she lies about the reasons why she is angry in an effort to cover up what she is truly hurt about. I think she’s scared of letting herself experience her built up pain. So scared she would rather just push it away and release it wrongfully instead of going through it and then being freed from it. Her mindset is not open enough to gain this understanding and is probably what led to her disorders. If I try to explain any of this to her she’ll just lie to me and pretend like there is nothing wrong. Every child wants to see their mother truly happy and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for her. But she’s so closed, she shuts everything out so nothing can hurt her but nothing can make her happy either. If I try to talk to her to help her relieve her pain she’s so scared of letting herself experience her pain she just pushes it away and lies about it. My mother tells me she has no pain and she’s happy. But I know better, I know she isn’t. She comes home angry about something but I don’t even know what she’s truly angry about. Instead of expressing what she’s truly angry about she releases it on to other things that aren’t actually the issue. Sometimes I see a lot of childish actions arise in her anger, actions that remind me of five year old children. I watched her run away from her emotions and problems and release them in unhealthy ways my whole life. I’ve shed countless tears for my mother because my love for her is so great. But as her child I cannot keep watching her make the same mistakes, continue her misery, and run away from her emotional problems.
    My heart goes out to those dealing with parents that have mental disorders. I’ve lived with the stress and heartbreak of watching and falling victim to the disorders my mother has.

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