How to recognize a pathological liar: “They are masters of storytelling”

Everyone tells white lies sometimes, but a pathological liar lives in a world built on lies. How do you know if someone is telling stories that often sound too good to be true?

by Julia Skipper

Years later, you find out that your partner has been lying to each other all his life or that your boyfriend has borrowed money from you for non-existent purposes. You read these kinds of horror stories about people struggling with a pathological liar.

A pathological liar is someone who often lies morbidly. “They don’t lie about a fact, but they can make up whole stories about their own lives,” says psychologist Ursula Hendriks-Van den Bos of Psychocare.

“Pathological lying is often part of a personality disorder such as an antisocial personality. Pathological lying is sometimes seen in people with narcissistic personalities because they tend to exaggerate their own achievements.”

show your brain when someone is lying

Brain specialist Maarten Boksem examined the brains of liars and truth tellers with an MRI scanner. Two important systems are active in the brain: the reward system and the self-image system.

The analysis allowed Boksem to see which areas of the brain were more active in people who lied and which areas were more active in people who spoke the truth. “People who often lie are more dependent on the reward system.”

They often tell stories that seem too good to be true.

Ursula Hendriks-Van den Bos, health psychologist

“The more activity there is in this system, the more lies they lie,” Boksem said. People who are more honest actually have more activity in the self-image system. They are more sensitive to the image they create,” he explains.

masters of storytelling

Pathological liars are masters of storytelling in great detail. “They often tell stories that seem too good to be true,” says Hendriks-Van den Bos. These are stories in which they pose as heroes or victims, for example,” he explains.

To him, it’s a sign that something is wrong. “If you’re in constant contact with someone who’s been lying for a long time, you’ll hear stories that don’t match a story that’s been told before.”

It’s not easy to deal with them

It is difficult to confront a pathological liar yourself. “A person like that won’t keep you awake if you catch them lying. That’s exactly the problem. The moment you do, they will stick around until you are sure of the lie or start to doubt yourself more.”

Therefore, they do not really want to change their own behavior, but are ashamed of the fact that they have fallen through the cracks.

Ursula Hendriks-Van den Bos, health psychologist

Dealing with a pathological liar is not easy. Hendriks-Van den Boss: “They have to be really motivated to let go. “When pathological liars come to me, it’s because they are found all over their environment because of their lies.” “So they don’t really want to change their own behaviour, but are disturbed by the fact that they are showing off”

Pathological liars can do a lot of harm

People who lie repeatedly and morbidly can cause great harm to their partners. Hendriks-Van den Bos: “Your self-image changes and you start to feel less good about yourself. “You empathize with your partner’s lies for a while and then you start to doubt yourself,” she says.

What can people do when they encounter a pathological liar? “It’s important to stay calm and not get angry, because that will only fuel the fire. If you suspect someone is lying, educate yourself and check if some of the facts are true.”

You must specify your limits. “Even if someone says they’re going into treatment, you don’t know if they’re telling the truth. So if you find out that someone keeps lying, stop talking, you have a right to do that.”

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Source: NU