There is a pretty old joke that’s been going around for a very long time. It goes something like this: How can you tell a narcissist is lying? The answer: his mouth is moving. So, does this joke ring true and are all narcissists pathological liars?
Yes, your narcissist is a pathological liar. I must qualify this statement in that I am talking about someone who is actually a narcissist, not someone who has narcissistic tendencies. Narcissists have to lie about everything they are in order to keep people from seeing what is behind their mask. They also must lie to keep their bad behavior under wraps. And everything else they need to hide.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
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What Exactly is a Pathological Liar?
Wikipedia, in its definition of a pathological liar, says, “Pathological lying, also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, is a chronic behavior in which the person habitually or compulsively lies. These lies often serve no obvious purpose other than to paint oneself as a hero or victim, depending on the circumstance. Healthline.com says, “A pathological liar tells lies and stories that fall somewhere between conscious lying and delusion.”
Don’t these definitions sound just as much like the definition of a narcissist as they do the definition of a pathological liar? The similarities are remarkable. But there is one clear distinction. While every full blown narcissist is a pathological liar, not every pathological liar is a narcissist. Everything that the narcissist does is a lie to keep his mask from slipping and showing his true self. This forces them to compulsively lie out of fear of being revealed for what they think they really are. It is amazingly sad.
One more distinction between pathological lying and narcissism is that pathological lying is usually done for no clear reason. But narcissists on the other hand usually lie with purpose. They manipulate whatever situation they find themselves in. They need to control the narrative and they need to come out on top in everything they do.
Just before my ex-husband and I separated, I remember dozens of people who tried to speak truth into him. They tried to show him his value as a child of God. That he wasn’t the monster he kept thinking people were calling him (because when a counselor, church authority, friend, or family member tried to talk to him about offenses he had committed against them, he automatically thought that they thought he was a monster).
The more people tried to speak truth into him, the more the pathological lying continued to grow. And it got to the point that my ex, who was an incredibly smart man, could no longer keep it all together. Ironically, the more he spiraled out of control, the more he continued to dig himself deeper with even more lies, and more outrageous at that. It was bizarre and surreal.
Is a Narcissist’s Pathological Lying a Mental Illness?
Pathological lying is not actually a mental illness in and of itself. It is, however found in the DSM5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but not as its own mental illness. It is mentioned as a symptom of several other diagnosable illnesses, namely, antisocial, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders, also known as cluster B personality disorders. Its fancy name is pseudologia fantastica.
As a general rule, lying is not in and of itself a mental disorder. But pathological lying is a whole different animal. And while it is not considered a stand-alone mental illness, it can definitely indicate that that there is indeed mental illness involved. So yes, pathological lying, while not its own separate mental health diagnosis is certainly evidence of mental illness.
To demonstrate this, let’s compare it to someone who broke their ankle. There will be swelling, pain, and an inability to walk normally. The diagnosis is a broken ankle. And they symptoms are evidence of the broken ankle. In the same way, the narcissist’s pathological lying is evidence of their mental illness, along with a list of the other signs and symptoms.
What are the Signs of Pathological Lying?
When a narcissist (or anyone else for that matter) starts lying pathologically to you, you tend to be left scratching your head. What in the world did they just say to you? You can’t quite understand why they would say those things.
That is because most pathological lies are extreme. Most often, they are absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical. At first, you wonder why they even said it. Then you try to make it make sense. But you can’t.
These lies are designed to capture the audience’s attention quickly. And they usually do. If the people hearing the lie don’t know the liar very well, they may initially believe it. But then, time usually gives it away. I have always wondered why my narcissist ex husband would say some of the things he did because they were so outrageous that it was just a matter of time before everyone knew what a lame lie it was. But then, there were always a few people that were willing to excuse everything he said as a misunderstanding or some other innocent occurrence.
Here are some specific signs of pathological lying that you can look out for, especially in reference to the narcissist in your life:
- The lies make no sense, or are extremely exaggerated, often to make the teller of the lie appear magnanimous, heroic, or amazing, or even an “extremely unfortunate” victim.
- Pathological lies tend to be stacked upon each other. Very rarely does one lie suffice. Often there need to be more added to bolster the original lie.
- There is no rhyme or reason to the lie. It just comes out of the blue. This is in sharp contrast to when most people lie to avoid negative consequences.
- Pathogical lies tend to be loaded down with too many details. This can be designed distract the person being told the lie. It can also be done to garner sympathy or admiration, huge tenets of narcissism.
What Causes a Person to be a Pathological Liar?
Research has not figured out exactly what causes someone to be a pathological liar in and of itself. As a whole, it tends tie in to whatever underlying mental illness diagnosis they are struggling with, namely the cluster B ones named above. So in the case of narcissism, the need to hide themselves from the world and reinvent themselves based on early childhood trauma or excessive adoration that the child cannot live up to will cause them to make up lies about pretty much everything.
It would seem that trauma of any kind that causes a person to need to hide behind a wall would cause them to use pathological lying as a tool. If they can divert the audience’s attention to their fantastical lie, nobody will see what is really going on in that person.
The problem with this is that it is never sustainable, even in the smartest of people. One of the reasons I never sought help for my marriage was because my ex had an incredibly sharp memory and was very persuasive with the people we associated with. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them things were very wrong.
Eventually, he took me to counseling because I wasn’t being the wife he wanted me to be. And they saw very quickly that his constant bizarre lies were not adding up. As smart as he was, he couldn’t keep all of his myriad lies straight. There were conflicts everywhere. And that is what my counselor told me that they knew what was going on. They said his story and answers to their questions were all over the place while mine were very consistent.
Is Pathological Lying Abusive?
While it is certainly wrong to lie, telling a lie is not automatically abusive. Literally everyone in the world has done it at some time. But can it be abusive? Absolutely.
Pathological lying becomes abusive when the liar is trying to control or manipulate others through those lies, which in turn, oppress the person being lied to or about.
The person being lied to often feels the oppression of the lie. Maybe they know they are being wrongly accused, or being tricked into doing something. It could literally be anything. But they know it is wrong. And in spite of that, they feel powerless to protect themselves from the abuse. This could be that they fear that person and the consequences of calling them out on the lie. Or it could be that they fear nobody will believe them if they call the liar out. Regardless of the reason, that person needs to get to safety, emotionally as well as physically.
Lying is abusive when it is used to alter someone’s reality, to confuse, or belittle them. It is abusive when it is a constant attack on a regular basis. And it is abusive when it is used to get other people in trouble for things they have not done. I’m sure you can give many more examples than these! The point here is that pathological lying is abusive when it is used to destroy other people.
Is Pathological Lying Curable?
Pathological lying is not curable in the sense of taking some sort of medication and magically telling the truth from that point on. Even if the narcissist/pathological liar does take meds, it’s not that easy.
As a general rule, the treatment for pathological lying is talk therapy to discover and work out the issues that caused them to start the pattern of lying to begin with. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t, especially if it is a narcissist who is the pathological liar.
This is because narcissism may be the hardest mental illness to cure. If someone ranks lower on the narcissistic scale, there is a much better chance of healing. But for those who turn out to be full blown narcissists, there is rarely anything that can be done for healing.
This video gives just a bit more information on why narcissists cannot stop lying:
How Many Different Ways Does a Narcissist Lie?
Some people believe that there is a difference between a pathological liar and a narcissists. Both lie. But the perceived difference is that pathological liars lie for no apparent reason, often making outrageous random statements. But narcissists lie to make themselves look better, more educated, or more grandiose than all others around them in some way.
What I have seen with my narcissistic ex husband in our 35 years together (and even in the post-divorce time) that he will lie to make himself look better, smarter, more godly, more whatever. But he will also tell the most random lies out of the blue.
Here are some of the ways that narcissist lie to get an edge over those around them:
- Narcissists will gaslight others, making them think that their is something wrong with their thinking. Over a long period of time, the victim of gaslighting can actually believe they are crazy. Several therapists call narcissistic abuse crazy making for this reason.
- Sometimes narcissists will lie to hide something wrong they have done. They just can’t let anyone see them in a less than perfect light. So they will do whatever they can to keep it under wraps.
- Narcissists’ whole life is a lie. They “wear a mask” of the person they want everyone to think they are. But because it is not them in reality, then they are actually the lie. The lies they tell you are to keep up the lie of the new self they have invented.
- Narcissists lie to get the job they want without the qualifications needed to get it.
- Sometimes narcissists lie about where they have been going or where they are about to go. I probably don’t need to explain this one.
- Narcissists lie to their children in countless ways. They lie about how wonderful they were as children so their children will feel like they just don’t measure up. They lie about what they will reward them with if they do a good job/get their chores done, etc.. They lie about conversations that happened in the past, much like they do with their spouses.
So, in effect, narcissists pathologically lie about pretty much everything. Again, I’m sure you can give me tons more examples.
Do Narcissistic Pathological Liars Believe Their Own Lies?
In spite of the fact that pathological liars lie for apparently no reason, they do indeed know they are lying. When they tell you that they work in a top secret government job and if they tell you any details, they will have to kill you, they know they are lying.
And when they get caught in the lie and start scrambling to make all of the lies tie together cohesively, they know they are lying.
It takes a huge amount of work and brain power to keep all of those lies straight. And even the smartest of people will not be able to do this. Thus why it is pretty clear sooner than later when you are dealing with a narcissistic pathological liar.
How a Narcissist Responds When They Realize You’re on to Their Lies
When a narcissist realizes that you are on to their lies, they feel like their whole world is crashing in on them. You are about to take away the narcissistic supply that they have depended on for so long, especially if it is a marriage relationship. And they cannot bear the thought of that loss. It has nothing to do with losing you as a person.
When a narcissist feels like they are losing control, they will spiral wildly out of control. They will do crazy things to regain that control. Their lies will become even more outrageous because in the same way they got you by saying what you wanted to hear and believe, they are now going to try to regain you in the same way. And too often, this tactic works. And the cycle continues going on like this for years.
How to Heal From a Narcissist Who is a Pathological Liar
The biggest step to healing from a narcissistic pathological liar is to recognize the position you are in and how you are being treated, then to set boundaries that will allow you to regain your emotional strength. Here are some of the first things you need to do to begin healing:
- Read about it. You can find articles on this site and others that will help you start to see that it isn’t you! In addition, there are so many books available to help you. Click here to see some of the best ones.
- Choose a couple of really close friends that you can confide in with your struggles so they can help you see things in a balanced way.
- See a counselor. They will be able to help you move on and regain your emotional health. Plus they will give you action steps on how to proceed because they understand all of the ins and outs of relating to difficult people.
- Keep yourself healthy. Make sure to give yourself time every day for just you.
- Find a support group. This was one of the most healthy things for me. The people there actually understood what I was going through because they were either going through it or had been through it.
If you are dealing with a narcissist in your life, then you are most likely trying to navigate pathological lying as well. While you may not get them to stop, there are ways that you can get yourself to a healthy place where you aren’t buried by the lies anymore.
How have you done this? How long did it take you to heal? Were you able to get your narcissist to admit to the pathological lying and take some steps toward healing? I would love to hear how it has been for you. Please feel free to comment below or contact me here if you don’t feel safe to post publicly.
Love and hugs,
Blessings and hugs,