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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.


Tuesday 10th of December 2019

Reading these posts weighs heavy on my heart. All this drama and heartache. Broken families and relationships. Lost opportunities, ruined memories, stolen childhoods, innocent victims. And for what? Seriously, for WHAT? My daughter has been lying and stealing as far back as I can remember now. And she's not ahead in life, she's way behind. She's accomplished absolutely nothing but destruction. She has not advanced herself, she doesn't look important or special, she has not achieved more LIKES on FB than any normal person. No one trusts her and she has taken from me, her own mom, every single thing I ever worked for or loved in addition to destroying my reputation. A child who was never even spanked, never called a name, thoroughly wanted, valued, and cherished. I still remember my whole self lighting up like a Christmas Tree when she walked into the room. I always told her "I don't just love you but I really like you!" and I did. With my whole heart. She was always close to her Dad but was with me the majority of time (divorced) growing up. He had the money and the trips to Disney though, I had the mortgage, food, clothing, sports, dance, etc. My parents were also a big help and she was incredibly close to them. My Dad passed away when she was 14. From college on she was an entirely different person, seething with hostility toward me and I never knew why. Truly, no idea. I beat myself up for YEARS believing I must have done something so horrible to make her so angry. Finally, after I asked her in an email why she was always so angry with me, her response was "because I'm an only child and you don't have a partner which means I'll have to take care of you when you're old". Keep in mind, I've never asked her for anything and I've never been sick. She lives 10 hours away. WTH? I was invited to the wedding but shunned from her shower, Shunned at the wedding, excluded from the birth of my Grandson (all other parents were invited), why? Because she told everyone I stole her identity and opened up credit cards. I did no such thing, she did it and didn't want to take the blame. She stole thousands from my mother for rent, plane tickets, $130 sneakers. Stole $800 from a customer at work and was fired. Opened a GoFundMe for Christmas presents for kids that went into her pocket. Honestly I could go on for days. To the outer world she is so pretty, bubbly, always happy and incredibly sweet. Actually, that's how I saw her too. The last time I heard from her was a note that said "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry for everything" then two lines down she says "I forgive you". Passive/aggressive.

Today we have no relationship. My choice. I finally broke. There was nothing left for her to take, I certainly had nothing left to give. Over the years she even contributed to my losing my home that I worked so incredibly hard for and lived in for 15 years.

She cries tears, for herself. She called my mom the other day bragging about saving $6000 - four months ago she was asking us all for money. And if she really has saved $6000, why not pay back the thousands she stole?

I miss my little Velcro pal. I miss the person I thought she was. There wasn't a single day for close to TEN YEARS that I didn't cry my eyes out. Every morning I put on my make-up and by the time I got to work, I had cried it all off. And for 10 years she was on FB bragging to everyone about what they had, where they went, racking up those all important "likes". I'm not on FB, tried it for a month around 8 years ago, and saw how phony it all was.

I finally understood she would never change. And I let go. I pray for God to bless her and watch over her every single day. I want nothing but her happiness and well-being, but not at my expense anymore. She can lie, steal, and abuse someone else. I'm out.

To those of you who say you can't stop, you can't help it, yes you can. People overcome addictions and all kinds of struggles every single day. I've been sober for 30+ years. I know and understand the challenge, the struggle, the shame, the guilt (if you feel any), but what's the alternative? To continue down your destructive path? To gain friends just to lose them? To impress people who could really care less?

Every single time you lie, it's like punching someone. You don't see the cuts and bruises but they're there. I was SHATTERED for 10 years and I'm just now starting to heal. I lost everything, even my grandson, and I never did anything. NOTHING. But here I am, so she could get her likes and feel special.

If you do not do the work to change yourself, nothing will change. And yes, it's going to be a lot of work and it's going to be hard and you'll want to give up. But...……… with all the lies you tell and the people you're hurting (including yourself) is much harder.

For those, like me, being lied to and about, cut your losses. Take care of yourself, protect yourself, it's not your fault. You owe them nothing.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Fast fwd.


Monday 5th of August 2019

I am one of these lying people.

And although completely conscious of lying right at the moment I am fabulizing, about everything, I seem not to be able to stop. To never stop, even though I have ended up completely and utterly alone.

I DO NOT BELIEVE MY OWN LIES. I know I am lying.

I am 54 years old and have been told by the best woman I have ever met that I have Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and am Bipolar…. She's an expert in the field Evidently, I have lost her and caused great harm to her.

It may sound harsh but she's absolutely right.... I am sick.

My message is, suggest treatments, give ideas, see if you can help..

Most of us, the sick, want help, it is just too scary to go out in the open and say... I AM SICK AND I HURT PEOPLE. HELP ME.

Anonymity may be the way for people like me. Perhaps.


Monday 26th of June 2017

I have a 14 year old daughter that this describes completely. It has gotten so bad that she believes her own lies. And the stuff that she lies about is so trivial. She also steals compulsively. Stuff that if she would just simply ask me for I would give her. I wouldn't care. Then she tries to tell me that she didn't know what she was doing was stealing even though I have explained to her on more than one occasion that if it doesn't belong to her and she takes it to keep without the owners permission it is stealing. The lying has gotten so bad that she claimed that her phone was hacked so she wouldn't get caught (she gave herself away) texting this overbearing and possessive 15 year old boy that claimed he had been shot 16 times in the last 3 months. She tells me that she forgets things that I know good and well that she didn't forget but is only saying it to get herself out of "trouble" (usually just a scolding until she lies to me) for not doing something that she was told to do such as taking something to the trash cans outside or something as minor as that. I love her very much but am so frustrated as she doesn't care who she hurts in the process of her lies and stealing. I know she has an illness but something has to give. She hasn't been abused or neglected or anything to the like although she will tell people she has been to get them into trouble. The things that she does and for no reason as all is mind-boggling. I asked the court for help, have filed 3 unruly petitions against her and each time she has pulled the wool over the judges eyes enough to keep her from getting sent to juvenile detention. She says that she tries to do better but then after a couple of days she just goes back to the same old habits but she doesn't even make an attempt. It's so frustrating to the point that I just don't know what to do. She has even set it up to get me into trouble because of her lies. Extremely frustrating. I love her and will never turn my back on her because I know what it feels like but it doesn't change the fact that she has hurt me to the point that I have to verify everything that she says because I just don't believe her anymore.


Wednesday 19th of April 2017

I've had this problem with my mother all my life. Now elderly, I go to help her and she's all sweetness to my face, but behind my back she tells people I'm after her money and that I want to clear her flat. I have never asked her for money and she admits this when I tell her off for lying. But she still spreads the lies. What disgusts me even more is that she plays in her church band and they all think she's wonderful and believe her and think bad of me when I'm a decent person. I can't carry on any more. I've had enough. I don't deserve to be treated like that. She knows she's lying, but I think she's addicted to the sympathy she gets for these wild stories, and can't stop now. I told her that the sympathy she gets from her gullible friends is more important to her than her own daughters. Very sad.


Friday 31st of March 2017

We are going threw this, with my friend and her son, she lies about being related to a famous president, she even sent her son to school with a family tree and putting his on it, she has lied about her ex husband saying he beat her, saying he threatend to push her down the stairs when she was pregnant, to the point that, that was her validation to take them away from there father, no.warning, no hey I'm leavin, je callled to talk to the kids after they where seperated and his son told him he was somewhere and the phone suddenly hung up and a few weeks later he then got papers saying they now belong to the state of Arizona, on top of all the alligatons she had against him. She took them there with a man she was once with who truly did beat her, and put them in that situation. The kids have been returned to their father, but only becUse the boyfriend left but when it's bought up by the children, and she is confronted she turns it around and makes it into how horrible it was for her to be there, and no remorse for the fact that the kids are so hurt and so confused by why they where taken, and why there dad wasnt there, to the point she told them he left them. After she returned she tried to do anything to get back with her ex husband, after lying to the courts to get all his rights taken away, and giving herself full power over them. Now the kids have been getting introuble and lying and when bought to her attention, she lies and makes it to be that she is so hurt, and somehow she is the victim, and it's kinda scary because the kids are so sweet, and so smart bit it's almost like she trained specially her son to lie, and not want to be a outstanding citizen. She tells everyone he has add even tried getting him checked by numerous doctors because she felt his lying and lack of caring and at the age of 8 lack of wanting kids to be that he has asbergers! It's so depressing becAuse there is no end in site. I try and be very not judgmental, but its hard!!! I see both of the kids taking on her trates, from playing the victim, to blaming other people for very serious issues, to being ok with not achieving in life, and to allowing the son to not want to do better in life. He is in 7th grade, and she has gotten him to need someone to monitor him in school all day, he can't even function without someone putting his stuff in his folder for him, but when her daughter lies or messes up, it's always ok because she did it when she was her age. I am very close to both parents, and it's very hard to see their father, who was accused of being abusive, who accused of being a horrible father, when she in fact always has had bad things to say about the son.. This man is the greatest father I have ever seen, I can remember him trying to find them, and she only letting him talk to them when she deamed necessary, and demanded the father treat the boyfriend with respect, and once she left the boyfriend she tried to make her cry to her ex husband about how horrible it was for her out there, saying how abusive he was, and how scared for her life she was. The boyfriend also was liar, and she even justified taking them as they are young enough to be ok. And tried to erase the father from their life. People around her see her for who she is, and tells her kids that people don't like her because of bogus reasons, and makes herself the victim! So now with both kids lying, one failing school, and both feeling they don't need to respect authority, it's very hard to see two beautiful kids going down this road. I have tried to plea with her, and have begged her to stop, but there is always a excuse as to why she does it, and it's just getting sickening. I will help anyone, and have so much compaction for everyone, but it's really to the point that it's sickening, something about always being the victim is just annoying!!! Thank you listening, venting really helps.