Unraveling The Facade: Is Compulsive Lying A Mental Disorder?

All of us lie.

Young people tend to do it the most, and all of us try to get better as we age. We lie to get the things we want: from trying to make a friend feel better about their new hairstyle to avoiding a confrontation with our partners or getting the promotion we so dearly want.

According to research by Kim B. Serota and team, an average person tells about two lies weekly. However, this number in itself is a little bit cheeky because a lot of people go about their days without lying at all. On the safer side, almost 95% of individuals report telling at least one lie every week. However, some people do it so much more often that being dishonest starts to come off as a personality trait for them.

Science has a name for this condition – compulsive lying. For such a commonly used term in our daily lives, there are multiple questions and false assumptions related to it. Is compulsive lying a mental disorder? When does regular lying become problematic enough to be deemed as compulsive lying?

In this post, we will dive deeper into the concept of compulsive lying and understand its various aspects. Let’s get started.

Compulsive Lying

What Is Compulsive Lying?

While most people generally lie to get something they want or manipulate situations accordingly, those indulging in compulsive lying often do it much more routinely and without any concrete reasons. Lying becomes so inherent that they start getting dishonest about things that do not even matter. It gives them a sense of comfort and security to tell successful lies. The lying gets so obsessive and intrusive at some point that it starts interfering with the lives of affected individuals and those around them.

The term compulsive lying is often used interchangeably with pathological lying, and research suggests that there isn’t concrete evidence to distinguish between the two. Compulsive lying is therefore considered to be a subset of pathological lying and not a separate condition altogether.

Read more: How Are Compulsive Spending And Depression Related?

Early Research And Work On Pathological Lying

The term ‘pathological lying’ was first coined by G. Stanley Hall (1890) in an article while discussing the habit of dishonesty in a group of 300 children. Among these children, Hall described 7% as pathological liars who took up fraudulent personalities just to seek attention. While describing these children, Hall stressed the need for urgent and prompt treatment for pathological liars as these children could otherwise go on to become antisocial individuals and even more skilled liars.

At the same time, German psychiatrist Anton Delbrück studied the problem of pathological lying while working at asylums in Europe. Anton noted that some patients showcased an abnormal pattern of pervasive dishonesty. He described the condition as pseudologia phantastica or fantastic lying. However, similar to Hall, Anton also pointed out that the lying tendencies of these patients were not related to any concrete reason.

More recently, Dr. William Healy and Dr. Mary Healy wrote about the phenomenon of pathological lying, describing it as an “extensive and complicated” fabrication of facts. Their definition was centered around four key elements:

  • excessive lying,
  • lying not obviously linked to motives,
  • long-term expression, and
  • not associated with other psychiatric illnesses.

So Is Compulsive Lying A Mental Disorder?

Though compulsive lying has been studied extensively for more than a century, it has never been named in any diagnostic entity. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) does not list pathological or compulsive lying as a mental disorder. However, it is listed as a symptom associated with various mental disorders, including:

  • borderline personality disorder,
  • antisocial personality disorder,
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder, and
  • narcissistic personality disorder.

Read more: Understanding The ICD-11 Classification Model

When Does Regular Lying Turn Into Compulsive Lying?

It is seldom possible to catch people in the act of lying, and even more difficult to understand the signs of compulsive lying. However, researchers have studied different individuals over time and identified specific patterns that indicate compulsive lying behaviors. These include:

  • hesitations,
  • speech disturbances,
  • changes in voice pitch, and
  • filing regular pauses. 

Treatment Options

Since DSM-V does not list compulsive or pathological lying as a mental disorder, there is no standard set of treatment options. Counseling sessions or psychotherapy are generally used to help individuals comprehend the impact of their lying. Apart from this, other forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, can also help.


While lying sounds like something that all of us do occasionally, for some people, it takes a more obsessive form in the name of compulsive lying. While compulsive lying is not a mental disorder, talking to a professional therapist can help immensely.

Access to therapy is even easier with the advent of online therapy platforms. Read to learn more about the top online therapy platforms here.

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