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How To Tell If Someone Is A Pathological Liar

Uploaded 4/3/2023, approx. 20 minute read

As you can see I'm working in conditions that are less than optimal.

Some furniture has arrived and I'm sitting on it.

I'm also using another laptop, not the one that I use in Macedonia.

So let me know if the sound quality is different, better, worse and so on and so forth.

Any technical issues and comments would be appreciated.


Today we are going to discuss pathological lying.

Now studies by Dana Raelli and many others have demonstrated conclusively that people lie.

People lie a lot. People lie all the time.

There are actually eight or ten types of lies.

Towards the end of this video I'm going to enumerate all the types of lies that people tell.

Lying is the lubricant of social life.

If we were to tell the truth unbridled, brutal, honest, we would be at each other's throats.

Very few people would be left standing or in my case sitting.

So lying is an essential feature in the frictionless functioning of social intercourse.

Look it up.

My name is Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited and I'm a former visiting professor of psychology.


The question that we are faced with is how do we tell apart someone who just lies a lot and someone who is a pathological liar.

The key of course is in the word pathological.

There is some pathology, some sickness, some illness, some etiology, some reason for this kind of behavior.

But what are the whole marks? How do we differentiate? How can we tell such people apart?

Well, let's start with the fact that pathological liars lie for no good reason. They just lie. They are not goal oriented. There is no aim or purpose to the lie.

Moreovermany of these lies are self-destructive, self-defeatingand self-harmfuland self-trashing.

And despite all these adverse consequences, pathological liars keep lying.

When people lie, they have a reason to lie.

Againtowards the end of a videoI will discuss the various reasons.

Lying sometimes is a useful tool to achieve goals.

Pathological liars lie for no reason and regardless of consequences.

This is the first thing, the first differential factor.

The second thing, the second element that sets apart pathological liars from just plain liars is that the lies of pathological liars are extensive. They elaborate. They are narrative lies.

Because they are compulsive, the pathological liar needs to seamlessly weave together a fabric, a yarn of lies.

Pathological liars lie all the time.

So each lie should fit with previous lies and with future lies.

I can't contemplate how exhausting this must be.

The lies should form a pattern that appears to be true and convincing.

So there's a lot of work that goes into it. It requires a lot of investment of resources, energy, forethoughtand a good capacity at storytelling.

So extensive and elaborate lies, stories that are very, very detailed.

Pathological liars pay a dear price for these lies sometimes.

Relationships are ruined, jobs are lost, custody battles, everythingbut they can't help it. This is the compulsive element in pathological liar.


Now studies are inconclusive as to whether pathological liars are self-aware or not.

Do they know that they're lying? Some of them convince themselves with their own lies, they begin to believe their own lies. Even when the lies are patently absurd and false and fantastic and stupid and inane, the pathological liar sometimes is emotionally invested in the lying, in the act of lying, not only in the lies.

So there is a cathexis, there is emotional investment not only in the liesbut in succeeding to fool others or in creating an environment which is conducive to the subjective well-being of the pathological liar.

Pathological liar weaves his ecosystem, lies constitute his natural ambiance.

When confronted with incontrovertible facts, pathological liars never admit, never confess, never flinchunless they have something to gain by doing this.

So some pathological liars would say, "Yeah, I did liebut I lied to protect you. I lied because I had no choice. I lied because at the time it looked that way. I lied because there's always an excuse.

Pathological liars would never just come out and say, "I lied, I'm sorry, I made a mistake, forgive me, let's move on." They would never say this.

Pathological lying is a very, very early onset phenomenon.

Studies show that pathological liars start to lie in their teens and never stop.

In certain personality disorders such as antisocial or psychopathic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, paranoid personality disorderand so on and so forth.

Pathological lying is an integral part of the disorder. You won't find it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

But victims of these people, intimate partners, members of families, friends, coworkers, bosses, they will all tell you that people with these personality disorders lie at the drop of a hat incessantly and refuse to recognize the lies as such.

We do distinguish though between pathological lying and instrumental lying.

In submental health disorders, the lying is pathological, for example, narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders. In others, it's compulsive but more instrumental, for example, in borderline personality disorder.

But don't get me wrong, the vast majority of pathological liars do not have a personality disorder or for that matterany other mental health disorderwhich led some scholars to demand to create a new diagnosis of pathological compulsive lying because it's not attached inherently, coherently, cohesivelyand innately to any other mental health disorder. It's not like we can say there's no such thing as pathological lying without some other mental health issue. That wouldn't be true. That is not true.

So many scholars are demanding that in the DSM6there should be a new diagnosis of pathological lying.

Now, pathological lying has been described, first described hundreds of years ago. It was called in the time Sudologia Fantastica or Mythomania.

Again, the DSM doesn't include pathological lying.

What are the characteristics of pathological lying apart from the compulsive, self-arming nature?

First of all, it is excessive. Frequency, numeracy, number, quantity, the quantity of lies is egregious, overwhelmingand shocking.

Compulsive liars make stories all the time and these stories sound real and make people believe in them. So there's something called rate-based fallacy where people actually end up believing 90%. That's 90% of all lies they're told and that includes fake news and misinformation, smear campaigns and so on and so forth. It's easy to believe. You want to believe. Trust comes naturally.

Each and every one of us, we want to believe that people are good and there's order and structure to the universe. So lies fly in the face of these assumptions, perhaps naive assumptions. Lies expose the fact that most people are manipulative, bordering on eviland that there is no order and structure to the universe that supersedes or exceeds any single narrative. It's all a question of how you put it. It's all a question of a story.

We are creatures of dreams. Human beings are storytellers and story consumers and ultimately our fabric is the fabric of stories. We fall for stories. We love stories. We adore stories. The whole entertainment industry is built on this.

What is the entertainment industry? These are codified lies. Movies are lies, well, majority of them.

The lies, it's all structured industry of lying.

So lying is a mega money earner.

So there's a strong incentive to lie.


And so a typical pathological liar would construct a hierarchy of lies.

He would start with a lie and then it would add another lie to buttress, uphold and support the first lie. And then it would add a third lie that would somehow fit into the first two and hold them in place.

And so there's these enormous structures which sometimes unfold over years and decades of lying and lies.

And these are complex narratives that unfurl and unfold and that are very, very difficult to disentangle and roll back.

Because many of these lies have a kernel of truth.

Pathological liars leverage truth incorporated in their lies.

At some point it begins to be extremely difficult to tell truth and lies apart.

And this is of course how this is what gives rise to conspiracy theories.

Lies are outlandish.

To start with lies are outlandish.

But when you create an environment of lies, as Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister of the Third Reich has observed, when you create an environment of lies and you repeat them often enough, they become indistinguishable from the truth.

Pathological liars usually don't invest much thought, don't invest much planning in their lies because they lie a lot and they simply don't have the time and the resources to do it.

So they compensate for the poor quality of the lies by sheer quantity. They heap on you so many lies that you run out of resources and time to fact checkto verify whether these are lies or not.

So this is a hallmark of the pathological liar. That the lies come rapid fire and they leave you with no option but to succumb or else to take a break, invest in ordinary resources just to prove or to disprove a lie.

So lying with no good reason, a long-term problem, not a symptom of any other mental illness, not gaslighting. Gaslighting is premeditated, goal-oriented exploitation of a power symmetry to cause you to doubt your perception of reality as gaslighting.

Falsification is an attempt to bridge over memory gaps, these are not lies, they resemble lies but they're not lies, they're strategies.

So lying which is not a symptom of some other mental illness is usually pathological lie.


Now there are many types of lies and I will deal with the typology or the taxonomy of lying in a bit.

But how can you tell if someone is lying? What are the tells? How do you know if someone is lying?

The most recent discovery a few weeks ago is that liars give you too many details.

The orthodoxy what we had believed until a few weeks ago was exactly the opposite.

We believed that liars provide few details and the more skimpy the details the more sure you can be that they are lying.

But today we know that it's exactly the opposite.

The typical liar would inundate you with facts most of which are totally irrelevant and give the semblance of veracity.

And so he is kind of distracting you with unnecessary data and information so that you don't pay attention to the fact that he is lying, too many details.

In internal contradictions liars even consummate pathological liars have find it difficult to keep details of the story straight to make them fit together to render the lies compatible.

Someone who lies frequently loses track of previous lies starts to contradict himself.

This is the essence of police interrogation.

You ask the same question again and again and again and sooner or later contradictions emerge if the person is lying.


Next thing is unverifiable details.

Many of the details appear to be realistic but there's no way to verify them or it would take an unusual amount of investment of resources and time and money to verify them.

So you'd rather most people would rather believe them or just walk away but they wouldn't bother to fact check the lie.

So unverifiable details, the ratio of unverifiable to easily verifiable details is a major tell of a lie.

In a truthful story the amount of verifiable details will easily outweigh the amount of non-verifiable or verifiable with difficulty details.

As I said earlier too many details but the pathological liar organizes this profusion and polynocupia of details in a dramatic and long story.

Lies are always dramatic, they're always long, they're always anecdotal, they're always intense.

The truth about mundane issues, they don't become dramatic, they don't become intense, hyper-emotional or faking emotions.

And usually people who are telling the truth confine themselves to the core of the truth, a sentence or two.

They wouldn't go on and on and on for half an hour providing you with 99% unnecessary details that you've never asked for.

Liars do. Liars do.


So why is lying so prevalent? Why do we all lie? And we all lie.

Yes you too, you also lie habitually. We all do, end of story, whether you like it or not.

White lies, grey lies, you name it, but we all lie.

A statement constitutes a lie only if at least one of the interlocutors knows it to be untrue yet insists or assumes that it is true.

If all the parties involved in the exchange know that the statement is false or if none of the parties in the conversation know whether it is false or true then this may be fiction, an act of faith, but it's not a lie.

Lies are about facts. Lies are about states of being. Lies that pertain to facts cannot be rendered true by consensus.

Lying is not subject to voting. You can't vote a lie true.

Although in today's world, truthism and the attitude to the truth is that it's relative. You could have your truth, I could have my truth, you have your facts, I have your facts, my facts, you know, alternative facts and this is a slippery slope and a huge danger because facts are facts.

Lies that pertain to facts cannot be rendered true by consensus.

But with regards to lies about states of being, if the parties agree something to be the truth then their agreement can make it true. It can alter the truth value of the statement.

This is because statements about states of being are dependent on social context and personal context of course.

Example, we have to rely on self-reporting by other people. When we see someone crying and we ask her why are you crying and she says I'm sad, you have to accept her word for it.

There's no way for you to ascertain or to verify whether she's lying. We don't have a sad ometer. There's no way to penetrate, invade her brain somehow, intrude and test it.

We rely on self-reporting 99.99% of the time. This is the core of the intersubjective agreement which gives rise to empathy.


But how do we know that people are not lying? We don't. We have no access to other people's minds.

So reports about states of being can be rendered truthful by agreement.

In short, if you say that you are sad and I agree with you that you are sad, then even if you are lying, this would be the truth between us.

Lies either prompt action or inhibit actions.

Because actions can convert the lie into the truth. So sometimes you can take action that can change the nature of the lie and make it the truth.

It's a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-fulfilling lie if you wish.

There are eight types of lies.

Number one, utilitarian lie. That's a lie that is intended to accomplish something. A lie that is goal-oriented, a lie whose structure and content are planned to promote or inspire changes conducive to the furtherance of the liar's aims and aspirations.

Instrumental utilitarian lies.

The next type is the smokescreen lie.

A lie whose purpose is to obscure, conceal, hide or remove true information.

And this way, mislead other people.

This is common in the military, in espionage, in commando operations.

Smokescreen lies are intended to avoid facing a humiliating, shameful or dangerous truth.

Number three, the compassionate lie.

A lie that is geared towards sparing other people's feelings, catering to other people's sensitivities and vulnerabilities, and allowing other people to save face and to avoid shame and embarrassment.

Most white lies are compassionate and empathic.

Number four, the ceremonial lie.

Lies and dissimulations whose function is to establish a hierarchy, a pecking order by demonstrating reverence and glossing over facts and behaviors that inconveniently contravene the accepted hierarchy.

Manners etiquette these highly elaborate forms of ceremonial lying.

Number five, the compensatory lie.

Lies that are used in order to disguise the oft humiliating fact that we do not know the truth or cannot remember it.

Lies of this type amount to fiction, but with most of the interlocutors being unaware of it.

Number six, the confabulatory lie.

These are intricate lies that weave a fabric of alternate reality, which is frequently an exaggerated form of the liar's traits, conduct and personal history.

Though, of course, confabulatory lies can be completely unrelated to anything real in the confabulatory's life.

Number seven, the inferential lie.

These are fallacious conclusions or extrapolations based on true assumptions or statements.

Most logical fallacies are inferential lies.

And finally, the hybrid lie.

Hybrid lies contain markers of an occult hidden truth or pathways to true information.

They allow the recipients to read between the lines.

People in communist countries used to do it when they were consuming the official media.

And today when you consume mainstream media, you would tend to do this.

Hybrid lies are common in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes or when there is a monopoly of groupthink and individuals are not allowed to think for themselves.

Autological lying is a pernicious phenomenon, regrettably all too common.

We need to accept that with the emergence of mass media and especially social media, lying has been legitimized as a form of art.

And so maybe we need to add a ninth type of lie, the artistic lie, the self-fashioning lie, the self-reinvention lie, the I wish I were like that lie, the fantasy type lie, the lies that are common on social media, lies which reflect suppressed wishes, frustrations, hopesand the sadness and tragedy of coming short.

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