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  • We all lie from time to time, but there are some people who make a habit of it—these are compulsive liars, and they can cause serious harm to themselves as well as the people around them.
  • If you’re a compulsive or pathological liar, the good news is that you can work to change this bad habit; the first step is to recognize that you have a problem
  • The following might signify that you have a compulsive lying problem: you lie continuously, you have an internal motivation for lying, and your lies paint you in a positive light.
  • A mental health professional can help you understand why you lie compulsively as well as work on changing this bad habit.
  • While lying is a bad habit to engage in, it can make for entertaining television—shows like Pretty Little Liars and Big Little Lies gained dedicated followings.

When I was a teenager, absurd stories swept through the halls about a girl at another school—let’s call her Allison—who was notorious for lying. I shook off most of the stories as dumb rumors that some bored kid probably made up, until one outrageous story was verified by a county-wide lockdown. It was just another dull day in math class when an unpleasant alarm began to echo throughout the building. The principal came on the loud speaker, recited a code, and we were all kept inside for the rest of the day.

We were all confused about what happened and didn’t find out until a couples days later: a man reportedly snuck into the other middle school in our county and threatened a female student. Police infiltrated the school and stood guard at ours, as they searched for the culprit. After hours of being on lockdown, Allison—the notorious compulsive liar—admitted to fabricating the entire story.

As you can see, compulsive (or habitual) lying can have serious implications on others. But the thing is, as with most habits, it’s hard to break this cycle once you enter it. That said, nothing’s impossible—and the first step in breaking a bad habit is recognizing that there’s a need for change. So, let’s start by learning the signs of compulsive lying.

4 Signs You Are a Compulsive Liar

We all lie or stretch the truth from time to time but compulsive lying is a different story, as it is classified as a mental disorder. Additionally, it can signify another disorder or condition like bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder. The following are a few signs you’re engaging in compulsive lying:

1. The lies are believable and may even be partly true. For example, an individual may say that they’re deathly ill when really they just have a cold.
2.  The lies continue over a long period of time and are not due to an immediate stressor. A person who consistently lies about their weight or age due to insecurities would not be described as a compulsive liar.
3. The lies have an internal motivation. For example, Allison made up the big lie about being threatened at school in order to fulfill an inner desire for attention.
4. The lies typically present the individual in a positive light. Usually compulsive liars will lie in order to make themselves look better.

Treatment for Compulsive Lying

After the lockdown incident, Allison was forced to meet with a school counselor once a week. And it proved effective, as she learned to break her compulsive lying habit. In fact, meeting with a mental health professional consistently proves to help compulsive liars. That said, it can’t be effective if the individual doesn’t first realize and acknowledge that they have a problem.

Additionally, treatment can be difficult if the person carries their compulsive lying habits into the office and lies to their counselor or therapist. So, if you’re someone who battles the urge to lie, allow yourself to completely open up in order to successfully defeat it.

Lying: Bad for Reality, Great for Television

Some pretty great TV shows have plotlines centered around a lie or a heap of lies and mystery. These include shows like the ABC Family hit Pretty Little Liars and HBO miniseries Big Little Lies. In each of these series, the main characters are tangled up in lies that ultimately bring them closer together, while isolating them from others. They are constantly lying to cover their tracks and keep their secrets hidden from the world.

But are these characters compulsive liars? Nope—remember, compulsive liars are not individuals lying due to immediate stressors. Aria, Hannah Spencer, and Emily in Pretty Little Liars are only lying in order to protect themselves as well as their loved ones from possible danger. And the women in Big Little Lies—Celeste, Renata, Bonnie, Madeline, and Jane—decide to lie in order to protect Bonnie and bury their troubling pasts. Therefore, they aren’t compulsive liars, but rather women caught in sticky situations that make for some pretty entertaining television.

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Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett

Taylor Bennett is the Content Development Manager at Thriveworks. She devotes herself to distributing important information about mental health and wellbeing, writing mental health news and self-improvement tips daily. Taylor received her bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism, with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book and has published content on Thought Catalog, Odyssey, and The Traveling Parent.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."

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