• We all lie from time to time, but some of us lie compulsively and cause serious harm to ourselves as well as the people around us.
  • If you engage in compulsive (or pathological) lying, 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 and your lies cause problems in your relationships or at work. 
  • A mental health professional can offer medical advice, help you understand why you lie compulsively, and ultimately work with you to stop lying.
  • Shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Big Little Lies” center their plots around lying, but the lying depicted is not compulsive.

When I was a teenager, there was a girl at another school — let’s call her Allison — who was notorious for telling “little white lies,” but eventually she told a big lie with big implications.

It was just another dull day in math class when an alarm began to echo throughout the building. The principal came on the loudspeaker, 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 couple of days later: A man reportedly snuck into another 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 admitted to fabricating the story.

Allison was a compulsive liar. And as you can see, compulsive lying can have serious implications for both the liar and those around them. But the thing is, as with most habits, it’s hard to break this cycle once it gets going. That said, it is completely doable.

If you’re a compulsive liar, the first step in the right direction is recognizing that there’s a need for change. So, let’s start by understanding the signs of compulsive lying.

Signs I’m a Compulsive Liar

We all lie or stretch the truth from time to time but compulsive lying is a different type of lying — pathological liars lie more frequently, which is described by the term “mythomania.” 

The following are a few signs you may be engaging in compulsive lying:

  • Your lies are believable and may even be partly true.
  • Your lies continue over a long period of time and are not due to an immediate stressor.
  • You lie to gain something.
  • You lie in order to make yourself look better.
  • Your lying causes problems in your relationships and/or at work. 
  • You can’t stop lying, despite your desire to do so. 

While compulsive lying is not a mental disorder, frequent or compulsive lying can raise suspicion of other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder.

How to Stop Compulsive Lying

After the lockdown incident, Allison received support and treatment from a school counselor whom she met with once a week. And it proved effective, as she learned to break her compulsive lying habit. 

Meeting with a mental health professional consistently can be very helpful in changing compulsive lying behavior. That said, it can’t be effective if you don’t first realize and acknowledge that you have a problem.

Additionally, treatment can be complex if you carry your compulsive lying habits into therapy and lie to your counselor or therapist. So, if you’re someone who battles the urge to lie, do your best to completely open up in order to successfully defeat it.

Lying: Bad for Reality, Great for Television

Some pretty successful 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 the rest of the world. They are constantly lying to cover their tracks and keep their secrets hidden from others. But are these characters compulsive liars? 

Nope—remember, compulsive liars don’t lie due to immediate stressors. The main characters in “Pretty Little Liars” only lie in order to protect themselves as well as their loved ones from potential danger. And the women in “Big Little Lies” decide to lie in order to protect one of their own and bury their troubling pasts. Therefore, they aren’t compulsive liars, but rather women caught in sticky situations (which makes for some pretty entertaining television).