Compulsive Lying Disorder: Description, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

compulsive lying disorderWe’ve all told white lies before. Perhaps a close friend asked you for your opinion on her horrendous outfit and you informed her that it was well worth her money or maybe you called in sick to work when, in reality, a couple of your friends were heading out for a day of fun at the beach that you didn’t want to miss out on; regardless of the situation, lying is a part of life. However, allowing white lies to pile up can pose a severe threat when dishonesty becomes your habitual method of dealing with people. If the lies extend far enough, they can evolve into compulsive lying disorder. In the sections to follow, we will examine this particular disorder, as well as its symptoms and treatment options.

To learn more about compulsive lying disorder and the ways in which you can detect and stop a lie in its tracks, check out this course on how to become a human lie detector.

What is Compulsive Lying Disorder?

Compulsive lying often develops when individuals are very young and heightens with age when more opportunities for fabrication are presented. Gradually throughout childhood and adolescence into adulthood, lying becomes more and more frequent, eliciting a sense of control in the affected individuals. They experience a sense of power over situations when they lie and become uneasy and uncomfortable when forced to tell the truth. Soon enough, dishonesty becomes habit, which then leads to classification in the compulsive lying disorder category.

Compulsive Lying Disorder is frequently confused with pathological lying, but it’s important to recognize the difference between the two. Compulsive liars engage in dishonesty because it is their automatic response to questions and situations, while pathological liars do so in order to manipulate other people and achieve their goals with complete disregard for the feelings of others. However, both compulsive and pathological lying is associated with antisocial personality disorder, more commonly known as “psychopathic behavior”.

For more information about the various aspects of personality that can make an individual more or less susceptible to developing disorders such as the one described above, take a look at this course on the psychology of personality.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Frequent Unnecessary Dishonesty

The symptom most easily recognized when diagnosing Compulsive Lying Disorder is frequent unnecessary dishonesty. Individuals will lie about anything and everything, even in cases when they have nothing to gain from concealing the truth. For example, an individual affected with this unfortunate disorder may lie when asked what his or her favorite food or drink is. In the majority of situations in which this question is asked there is no logical reason for answering dishonestly, yet a compulsive liar will automatically. This often results in inconsistency in relationships when the compulsive liar happens to be incapable of keeping track of his or her lies.

  • Attention Seeking Behavior

Compulsive lying disorder often develops very early in childhood due to a child’s need or desire to seek out attention from caregivers and peers. By fabricating stories in childhood, they often gained the fascination and disbelief of those around them, which led to others paying more attention to the extraordinary nature of the child’s story. Children have vivid imaginations, so at first parents often brush off the child’s lies and allow them to get away with it under the assumption that the child will simply “grow out of it”. However, if the lying behavior is allowed to go on too long, then it becomes nearly irreparable and compulsive lying disorder develops.

  • Story Fabrication

Compulsive liars feel the constant need to convey to others that they are superior and deserving of more attention then the other children in their cohort. In order to achieve this goal, they construct elaborate stories about themselves, often involving fantastic adventures and incredible feats that are intended to display them as a hero in the eyes of their peers. However, once the individual is caught in the lie, they are looked upon with contempt and dislike, which then causes them to lie even more in order to shake the unpleasant label. Once the compulsive liar reaches adulthood, these mystical stories because more grounded in nature, but still maintain their awe-inspiring intent.

  • Covering Up

Though compulsive liars often take extreme care to keep others under the spell of their deception, once in awhile the web of lies unravels and the liar is seen as is without any of his dishonest walls. When this occurs, the liar works quickly and frantically to rebuild those walls, constructing more lies in order to rebuild himself into what he was previously seen as. This often involves elaborate stories of being falsely accused, constructing lie after lie with the intention of defending his or her supposed innocence. If this method, as well as any other attempt at lying, fails and the compulsive liar is forced to tell the truth, he or she will often become incredibly nervous and display a great deal of uncomfortable behavior.

  • Same Story, Different Characters

Plagiarism is a key factor in the life of a compulsive liar. This often involves twisting and warping stories heard from peers, acquaintances, or movie plotlines into plausible adventures that could have occurred in the liar’s life. Crafting these storylines takes a great deal of effort on the part of the individual since the biggest fear of a compulsive liar is being “found out”. Of course, much of this effort is done subconsciously, which results in individuals being unable to recall that the story is a lie. If a compulsive liar was attached to a lie detector machine, it’s likely that their statements would come across as the truth simply because they’ve told them so many times that they sincerely believe the fabricated event actually occurred.

  • Low Self-Esteem

Many cases of compulsive lying disorder development can be attributed to low feelings of self worth and an inferiority complex. These factors typically influence individuals to seek out alternative methods, including lying or crafting stories, to feel better about themselves. However, when the dishonesty and false endeavors fail to impress those around the compulsive liar, their self esteem sinks even lower, which causes more extreme fabrications to come to the surface.

  • Personality Disorders and Addiction

The two main personality disorders that contribute to the development of compulsive lying disorder are bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD. Bipolar disorder causes affected individuals to experience intense long lasting emotional highs and lows, sinking them into the depths of depression for months at a time before switching to the manic phase, which functions much like ADHD. Once the individual has entered the manic phase, they are more likely to exhibit dishonest behavior and speech, which leads to eventual compulsive lying disorder. Individuals affected with ADHD experience much of the same since the disorder influences them to exhibit impulsive behavior. Addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or other similar factors often causes individuals to lie about their whereabouts or actions, which can potentially lead to the development of compulsive lying disorder.

To learn more about ADHD from someone who has experienced it first hand, check out this course on the disorder itself.

Treatment Methods

The most difficult aspect of providing treatment to individuals affected with compulsive lying disorder is the fact that those affected need to seek out treatment and cannot be pushed into receiving it against their will. The individuals must recognize that they have a problem and that it is, in fact, a problem. If the subject sees no error in continually behaving and speaking dishonestly, then any treatment approach would be futile.

However, when individuals do seek out treatment on their own, compulsive lying disorder can be overcome through the use of behavior modification. This typically involves a counselor playing the role of an acquaintance or significant other and conversing with the compulsive liar to assist in dispel the lying habit.

For more information about therapy methods that use behavior modification to ease or eliminate a disorder, take a look at this course on an introduction to cognitive behavior therapy or this blog post on cognitive bias modification.