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The label ‘pathological liar’ gets thrown around a lot, especially in the direction of politicians or celebrities. Although it isn't a formal psychiatric diagnosis, it is a recognised concept that psychologists and psychiatrists have been interested in for a long time, at least since 1891 when the German psychiatrist Anton Delbrueck coined the label ‘Pseudologia fantastica’ to describe several of his patients who told an astonishing amount of fantastical lies (other similar psychological terms include ‘deception syndrome’ and ‘mythomania’). So why do people do it?
Worth noting is that while psychopaths and people with antisocial personality disorder can be inclined to excessive lying, most pathological liars are not psychopaths, nor do they necessarily have a personality disorder. Indeed, while psychopaths and people with an antisocial personality are typically manipulative and self-serving, pathological liars often lie for no apparent purpose.
Another key feature of pathological lying, as opposed to being a common-or-garden compulsive liar, is that the lies are often particularly bizarre or far-fetched.
When it comes to coping with a pathological liar, it's perhaps worth remembering the likely cause of the person's tendency to tell so many far-fetched stories. While their behaviour might be irritating and even cause serious harm (especially when it comes to false allegations), if it's driven by a deep-seated insecurity, then you might be wise to see it as a call for help, and to resist the urge to confront the person too forcefully or without sympathy.
If the pathological liar in your life is someone you care about, perhaps you could help them find more productive ways to address their low self-esteem and anxiety, or even to come to terms with a difficult past, if that's relevant. Although research into effective treatments is largely lacking (partly because ‘pathological liar’ has yet to be recognised as a formal diagnosis), a sensible step could be to gently encourage the pathological liar you know to seek professional mental health support.
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