Tuesday, September 25The Voice of London

Compulsive Lying: Do You Know The Signs?

Everybody lies. You’re lying if you say you don’t. When your co-worker asks “how’s your day going?” and you reply “Good, thanks”, when in fact you woke up half an hour late, had to miss breakfast and your tube got delayed… you just told a lie.
Words: Caitlyn Hudson Sub-Editor: Jade Ratcliffe 

Close up of woman shushing
Close up of woman shushing. Source: whatlovelybooks.com

Whether it’s to make our lives a little easier or to avoid upsetting someone, lying has become something we do everyday without thinking about it. Luckily, most of us have learned that lying in circumstances where it may hurt someone is wrong. As we grow older, we develop morals and, after being found out and lied to ourselves, we decide that it’s not usually worth it.

But there are, of course, exceptions. There are some people who know lying is wrong, but they still do it anyway. It’s not because they don’t have morals, and the lies aren’t always harmful – in fact they are quite often completely pointless. These people are called compulsive liars.

Unfortunately, compulsive lying isn’t considered diagnosable by itself – it is only considered a symptom of other mental health problems, such as sociopathy or other personality disorders. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a singular problem – a lot of compulsive liars aren’t victim to any other disorders, it’s usually a habit built through their environment.

Compulsive lying is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is as normal to them as telling the truth is to most people. But they feel awkward and uncomfortable when telling the truth. Their lies may range from simply exaggerating a story to make it more interesting, small white lies (like what they ate for dinner), to completely making up serious situations, such as a family member dying. Compulsive liars are thought to develop the habit as a child, when they felt the need to lie often (to impress, for attention, for an easier life, etc). The more they lie the more of a habit it becomes. They are not usually overly manipulative or cunning- quite often there lies are completely unnecessary and un-harmful. However this does not mean that it can’t destroy relationships with friends, family and partners due to lack of trust. As with anything, some have it worse than others. There are people who simply make little pointless, white lies like what they had for breakfast. Some, however, will make up countless childhood experiences, lie about their job, where they live, etc. The terms Pathological Liar, Habitual Liar and Chronic Liar are often used to refer to a Compulsive Liar.

Living with or knowing someone who is a compulsive liar can be very challenging and emotionally draining, leaving people with trust issues and low self esteem. I spoke to Chelsea Higgins, a 26 year old masters student in London, who’s friend of 14 years suffered with compulsive lying.

How long into the friendship did you realise she was a compulsive liar?
Chelsea Higgins: “I always knew she lied a fair amount, but at first it was just small stuff. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I became aware about what compulsive lying was. That’s when I realised she was one”.

What sort of lies did she tell?
CH: “When we first met they were mainly all lies to impress people, like saying her parents earned more money than they did, saying she had a brand new laptop, or been on holiday to cool places. As we became better friends and I started going round her house, often I realised she’d lied. But she denied even telling me those things in the first place. When we got older she started making up really awful stories for sympathy. When she was 15 she told everyone she had leukaemia and wore a wig. She also told everyone she got cancer but took a pill to get rid of it. And she told us her sister had died in a car crash… then we saw her walking down the street the next day, but we were all too worried to ask her about it. She’d steal things from friends quite a lot but she would always have a story, and if you ever confronted her she’d deny lying and then you’d look like the liar”.

How could you tell when she was lying?
CH: “I couldn’t straight away. She lied very easily, it was like second nature to her. I probably didn’t even find out all the times she lied because it was often silly stuff, which wasn’t even worth confronting her about. I think I found out all of the bigger things though”.

Had she always been a compulsive liar?
CH: “Since we were first friends, yes. Her mum never trusted her, even when we were young, so I think she must have had it from a younger age”.

Did you find being her friend hard?
CH: “Yeah, but we were in a group of friends and we didn’t want to exclude her. I’m not very close with her anymore, she still lives back in my home town so I don’t feel the need to talk to her often. She is getting help now though, apparently”.

Does she know why she’s a compulsive liar?
CH: “She told me her therapist said it was because her parents expected too much from her when she was young so she developed an addiction. I’m not sure if I even believe that because her parents always seemed quite laid back, but who knows. My other friends from back home said that she’s calmed down a lot and her lies aren’t so drastic, maybe because she’s realised she’ll get caught out”.

People can often end up feeling guilty for putting up with the lies of a compulsive liar, but unable to break ties with them. But all hope is not lost, most compulsive liars can be helped. Not instantly, but eventually the habit can be broken. If you think you or somebody you know is showing signs of being a compulsive liar, going to see a doctor is the best thing to do so therapy can be arranged.