The Root Causes of Pathological Lying Explained

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Pathological lying is more than the occasional fibs; it is a more complex phenomenon that challenges interpersonal relationships and self-identity. And the root of this problem goes deeper than we can comprehend. 

In exploring this topic, we will unravel the nature of pathological lying, its causes, recognition, development, and impact on everyone. As we can’t avoid dealing with this type of liar, we should understand the details to navigate the problems more smoothly with healthier methods. Let’s get started!

Understanding Pathological Lying

A pathological liar lies compulsively. It’s a frequent and habitual fabrication of any information without any underlying necessity or benefit. The main characteristic of pathological lying is that it differs from the other types of lying, where there are hidden gains for the lies. But pathological lying is solely driven by an internal urge to lie about trivial or significant things, often blurring the lines between reality and fiction of the liar.

Main Causes of Pathological Lying

The main reasons behind pathological lying are:

Traumatic or Abusive Experiences

Many people who have experienced abuse or other trauma, specifically during childhood, often resort to lying as a survival mechanism from that time. It’s because when they lie, it can create a safer and more controlled world that helps them escape harsh realities.

Personality Disorders

People who have personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar, or borderline personality disorder often have pathological lying as a symptom. In their cases, they lie impulsively to avoid abandonment, maintain their image, or manipulate others knowingly or unknowingly.

Attention and Validation Seeking

Many people who crave sympathy, validation, or attention from others develop a habit of fabricating their stories. Their deception shows them as heroic, uniquely talented, or victimised individuals to get positive reactions from their audience.

Coping with Insecurity or Low Self-esteem

When people feel insecure about something in their lives, they want it to change or want other people to know things differently. That’s why they often lie about their achievements, personal qualities, or experiences that can compensate for their inadequacies. That perception of the ideal self stemming from deep-seated insecurity also causes pathological lying.

Fear of Disappointment

People with traumas with people tend to disappoint others and begin to lie for this reason. For example, many children fear their parents would be disappointed to know their negative things, and that’s why they fabricate their achievements or hide failures, like telling lies about their test marks. Their pathological lying is derived from their belief that their actual selves aren’t worthy enough to meet the expectations of their family, friends, or even society.

Addictive Behaviours

Some people do substance abuse or have addictive behaviours and lie about their doings. In their cases, their lies become a weapon to hide their addiction or to deny the severity of their problems. And gradually, their lies also become a part of their addiction, and they become pathological liars.

How Pathological Lying Develops

There are psychological, environmental, and neurobiological factors involved in why pathological lying develops. Let’s have a deeper look at how this behaviour develops:

Early Reinforcement

For some people, pathological lying starts in their childhood, when they experience that lying gives them significant reward or benefit. When those children find out they can avoid punishment and get what they want using lies, they keep repeating the behaviour, which becomes frequent over time.

Learning from Role Models

Children usually learn from their surroundings, what they see, whom they like, etc. Suppose they see that their caregivers or role models often engage in deceit to solve any problem or achieve goals. In that case, they mimic that behaviour as a standard method. Thus, they gradually become pathological liars.

Coping Mechanism

Sometimes, people who get involved in a great deal of stress, insecurity, or trauma try to be expected by sticking with different types of coping mechanisms. Lying is also a type of coping mechanism, as people can have a false sense of comfort or better lives by creating false statements or scenarios.

Social and Environmental Influences

In many cases, social and environmental contexts play a significant role in developing pathological lying. It’s becoming more concerning these days of social media and showoffs. Most of the time, honesty won’t get you anywhere, whereas lying can make survival or acceptance in society easier for others and encourage the development of pathological lying.

Neurobiological Factors

In a few cases, neurobiological factors affect impulse control or mess up the ability to distinguish between truth and fiction, making lying more habitual. This neurobiological factor stems from differences in brain structure or function, often caused by severe psychological wounds.

Positive Feedback Loop

Since frequent lying creates a positive feedback loop over time, where people can get immediate benefits after lying, the lies become more habitual. Those people who don’t care about other consequences but only care about the positive impact they’re getting from lying reinforce lying more and become pathological liars soon.

How to Recognise Pathological Lying?

You need to identify specific patterns and behaviours of others to differentiate between ordinary and pathological liars. Here are some key signs to consider to recognise a pathological liar:

Excessive and Unnecessary Lies: Although many people lie sometimes, pathological liars frequently lie about major and minor issues. They don’t have any rational or apparent reason behind their lies; they lie anyway to dramatically alter life experiences, no matter how simple or complex the issue is.

Complex and Detailed Fabrications: Most pathological liars use unusually detailed and constructed stories, with narratives so elaborate and convincing that they fool most listeners. That’s why their tales make the lies very difficult to immediately identify, as most assume what they are saying is plausible and intricate.

Inconsistency Over Time: Since pathological liars come up with fabricated stories, it’s tough for them to keep consistency in their stories when filling up the gaps in their information. That’s why, with time, the details of their stories change, and this apparent inconsistency indicates their falsehood.

Lack of Guilt or Remorse: Those who lie pathologically don’t feel uneasy remorse or guilt about their dishonesty. That’s more of a reason why they keep continuing with their deceit. When you tell them about the consequences of lying to others, they clearly don’t care.

Defencive Responses to Questioning: As pathological liars need to come up with more lies to make their fabricated stories plausible, they become defencive or cornered when you question their lies. Even they can act aggressively as their hard work to manipulate or attention diverting isn’t working.

Belief in Their Own Lies: Sometimes, pathological liars who have been lying since childhood believe that some of their falsehoods are true; they begin to think of those fabrications as a coping mechanism. In extreme cases, they can’t even distinguish between reality and fantasy. We often think of them as crazy in their heads.

Impulsivity: Often, pathological liars lie on impulse or spontaneously without any forethought of consequences. This happens because they don’t have much control over their lying behaviour. When asked about their lies, they often say that they did it without thinking anything at all and ask for forgiveness.

Impact on Relationships and Daily Life: You can also recognise pathological liars by observing the impact of lying on their daily relationships. Because they don’t care about how their lies affect others, their relationships often deteriorate and lead to trust issues, social isolation, or relationship breakdowns.

Impact of Pathological Lying

Pathological lying affects not only the individual lair but also their surrounding relationships and other aspects of the lives of people related to them. The impacts include:

Erosion of Personal Relationships: Pathological liars lie about many things, but lying breaks the foundation of any relationship: trust. Partners, family members, and friends doubt the liar’s word even though they care. Their betrayal of close people also breaks relationships, and that’s why they often don’t have people with close connections.

Professional Repercussions: Pathological liars often face problems in their workplace because of their lies. Since every workplace demands and values trust and integrity, when people lie in that workplace, it also jeopardises their careers. When this happens, they lose their reputation as word of misconduct spreads. It often hinders their future job prospects.

Legal and Financial Consequences: Sometimes, pathological liars face legal and financial implications because they lie in any situation and with anyone. They can even fabricate their qualifications in job applications or lie in legal documents, and they face lawsuits, financial penalties, and even criminal charges in some cases.

Psychological Distress:  Although pathological liars lie to stay out of some stress or tension, the lies also cause them anxiety and stress even though they don’t realise it. As they often need to think about how to lie and manipulate or what to do when their manipulation isn’t working, they become stressed, and it could lead to various mental health issues. Even though they don’t want to believe these are the problems, they only think they are doing what needs to be done to avoid them.

Damaged Self-Identity: Pathological liars often have a blurred sense of self as they struggle with their identity, too. They forget who they are beneath their lies or what they want. This damaged self-identity hinders their personal growth, self-understanding, and forming genuine relationships with others.


Pathological lying is a complex habit that challenges not only the liar but also their surroundings. Often, they need human compassion, support, empathy, and understanding to break free from their damaging lying habits. Sometimes, they don’t change, but you need to deal with them cautiously for your own well-being.

However, in both cases, you need to identify the pathological liar and the root causes of their habit to work toward mitigating that problem.

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