Do you suspect someone in your life is a compulsive liar? Maybe they seem to be lying all the time, and you can’t tell the difference between when they tell the truth and when they lie. Compulsive liars represent around 3% to % of the American population. That means there are approximately close to 10 million of these people across the country, telling lies every day.
What is a compulsive liar exactly? What causes these people to develop this behavior? We’ll answer those questions in this post and look at the differences in the conduct of compulsive and pathological liars. We’ll also investigate if a compulsive liar can pass a lie detector test.
What Is a Compulsive Liar?
A compulsive liar is someone that tells lies all the time. They prefer telling lies instead of telling people the truth. They tell fantastical lies that seem somewhat unbelievable. For instance, a compulsive liar might tell people they know they met a famous person on the weekend. After a conversation, they invited them out to a club to party with them.
They’ll spin a web of lies around the event, telling their friends or colleagues how they bought them drinks, danced with them all night, and hung out with their crew. Compulsive lies often stack one lie on top of another to create a compelling story to impress people they value in their life or those they meet and want to make a good first impression with.
Attention is the primary driver behind compulsive lying behavior. These people like to tell lies for many reasons, but attention is the main force pushing them into lying to others. Maybe they think their normal life is too boring, and they must lie to impress others. Or perhaps they feel that lying about their life opens new avenues and opportunities for them with the people they meet.
Compulsive liars don’t usually believe the lies they tell, and this flaw makes them somewhat easy to spot. For instance, they’ll tell you one story this week, and when you hear them tell it to someone the following week, you’ll notice small inconsistencies in the details.
A compulsive liar will generally admit to their lies if you confront them about it, or they might try to lie more to cover it up and distract you from pursuing the truth about the situation. Typically, they don’t lie with malicious intent; they lie to make themselves look more appealing to others and to stroke their self-awareness and ego.
Most compulsive liars are good at lying, but you’ll notice that some of them ramble about the experiences they lie about. They might make up the lie on the spot, causing them to produce stories that don’t add up or make much sense. A compulsive liar will lie about most things and experiences in their life. If you discover one in your midst, it’s hard to believe anything they say.
What Causes Compulsive Lying Behavior?
Psychiatrists aren’t sure of the exact reasons why people develop compulsive lying behavior. Some believe that it might start in early childhood. The child has parents that lie to them for specific reasons, and they learn this behavior from their folks as normal.
Or they might experiment with lying as kids and realize that people can’t determine the difference between when they tell a lie and the truth. This establishes a feedback loop in their thinking and behavior that they can get away with lying whenever they want.
These kids carry the lying behavior through their teenage years and into early adulthood. Some compulsive liars find they grow out of compulsive lying in their twenties or thirties, while others will continue with it for the rest of their life.
Another theory surrounding the development of compulsive lying is that people develop it in their teens or early twenties. Their life experience teaches them that lying gets them a reward from society. By lying, they can achieve their goals, and people don’t seem to notice when they lie.
Some compulsive liars may develop the behavior due to trauma they experienced as a child, using lies to cover up their behavior so they don’t get punished. Others may use it to cover up abuse they receive from a parent, caregiver, or relative.
What’s the Difference Between Compulsive and Pathological Lying Behavior?
There’s a significant difference between a compulsive and a pathological liar. A pathological liar usually has an underlying pathology causing their behavior. Many pathological liars have underlying mental health disorders such as bipolar, OCD, ADHD, narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).
ASPD is the most common cause of pathological lying, with around 30% of people developing pathological lying behavior. When pathological liars develop a sociopathic or psychopathic personality, they become people with little empathy for others and lie maliciously.
These individuals may lie for personal gain at the expense of other people’s mental or physical health. They lie to achieve a goal, and many become talented liars that are hard to spot. A pathological liar with a sociopathic tendency will lie to erase boredom from their life or to see if they can manipulate people into doing what they want.
These individuals are risk-takers and tend to push people into situations where they might harm them without any regard for them. For instance, the sociopathic pathological liar might convince someone to have another drink at the bar, even though they’re drunk.
They know they’re lying about the person looking fine and encourage them to do so just to see if they’ll get behind the wheel of their car and drive home. A psychopathic pathological liar is more cool and collected with their lying.
While these individuals tend to lie for personal gain as well, they’re much more challenging to spot and don’t take chances with their lies. They tell convincing stories and have malicious tendencies, but rather with bigger goals driving their behavior. That’s why many CEOs and political leaders exhibit psychopathic pathological lying behavior.
Is It Difficult to Spot a Compulsive Liar?
It’s usually not as challenging to spot a compulsive liar as a pathological liar with psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies. Compulsive liars will tell lies that don’t seem to add up. When describing their lies to others, they forget details, creating inconsistencies.
This occurs because they have no real memories surrounding the lies they tell. If a compulsive liar tells a lie with a convoluted story behind it, you might seem to notice they use the words “um” or “uh” a lot because they’re thinking things up on the fly.
Compulsive liars also exhibit the classic body language associated with telling lies. They’ll break eye contact when lying, drop their shoulders or turn up the corners of their mouths. Generally, compulsive liars don’t believe the lies they tell as truths in their life. In contrast, pathological liars, especially psychopathic and sociopathic pathological liars, often believe in the lies they tell others.
If you confront a compulsive liar about their behavior, they’ll usually own up to it. Some might beg for forgiveness, while others might have something of a nervous and psychological breakdown.
Can You Catch a Compulsive Liar with a Lie Detector Test?
So, can you catch a compulsive liar with a lie detector test? The general answer is yes, you can. Let’s examine how the polygraph works to see where they go wrong during the exam, revealing their deceit.
Understanding How the Polygraph Works
The polygraph exam involves meeting with an examiner in a controlled environment where just the two parties involved are in the space. The polygraph examiner attaches the instrumentation to the examinee, consisting of two corrugated, convoluted tubes across the chest and abdomen, three sensors attached to the fingers, and a blood pressure cuff attached to the upper right arm.
These instruments register the examinee’s blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and electrical skin activity. The instruments relay this physiological data to a control box connecting to a laptop running the polygraph software.
The software analyzes the examinee’s physiological response to the questions the examiner asks during the lie detector test. The examiner looks for the “fight-or-flight” (FoF) response in the examiner under questioning.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is responsible for managing the FoF. It responds to stressful environments, such as the lie detector test. When the FoF launches, it immediately increases the vital signs monitored by the examiner.
If the examiner notices changes in the elevation of these vital signs under questioning, they interpret this response as deceptive. The examiner will repeat the questions causing the FoF reaction to determine if the examinee is just nervous or showing genuine signs of deception.
Can a Compulsive Liar Pass the Polygraph?
So, can compulsive liars pass a polygraph test? Short answer – no, they can’t. The compulsive liar is prone to the same FoF response as normal people. If they become threatened under polygraph questioning, the SNS launches the FoF response, and the examiner will pick up these changes in physiological behavior.
Compulsive liars don’t believe the lies they tell, so they experience the onset of the FoF like everyone else. Whereas pathological liars, especially those with psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies, usually believe the lies they tell.
These individuals don’t have the same neural connections in the brain that make them feel sensations of guilt and shame as other people and compulsive liars. So, there’s a chance that the sociopathic or psychopathic pathological liar may pass the polygraph, even if they’re lying.
However, the compulsive liar is usually much easier to spot. They also exhibit the same body language when lying as normal people. The examiner takes a video recording of the exam, and they’ll analyze it at their office after conducting the lie detector test with the compulsive liar.
If the compulsive liar exhibits body language cues, they’ll pick it up and use it to determine if they answer deceptively during the lie detector test. The polygraph machine is incredibly accurate and can detect deception in compulsive liars 85% to 97% of the time.
How Do You Confront a Compulsive Liar? Is It Worth It?
Confronting a compulsive liar is usually the best course of action to take with them if you want them to stop lying to you or leave your life. As humans, we value trust in our relationships. If you discover someone has a habit of lying compulsively around you, you’ll find it hard to believe anything they say.
This behavior becomes frustrating to you, and you’re likely to yell at them, causing an emotional meltdown. It’s better to keep cool in these situations and tell the compulsive liar that you think they’re lying. They should seek professional help to manage their condition and rehabilitate their behavior.
However, since compulsive liars violate the unspoken trust agreement between people in their lives, most individuals outside of their immediate family choose to cut ties with them. As a result, compulsive liars find it hard to keep relationships in their lives.
Is it worth confronting a compulsive liar? Probably not. You don’t have the ability to change their behavior just by telling them you know their lying. It’s almost as if they can’t control or restrict this behavior, and they’ll just keep lying to you even though they know you know they’re lying to you.
It’s better to recommend they see a psychiatrist and support them during their treatment, especially if it’s someone close, like a family member.
Can Psychiatrists Rehabilitate Compulsive Liars?
It’s very challenging to rehabilitate a compulsive liar, especially those that don’t see a problem with their behavior. Treating a compulsive liar requires them to want to change their behavior, or they’ll lie to their therapist during their treatment sessions.
There’s no drug that’s capable of suppressing or curing the condition. In many cases, it may take years for the compulsive liar to respond to the treatment and experience results. If compulsive liars fail to build rapport and trust with their therapist, it will take even longer to see results from their therapy.