The pathology of lying

My daughter Kaveri came to me the other day and asked me why her little friend lies so much. I asked her the usual mandatory questions a mother asks-“like how do you know she’s not telling the truth? And “maybe she was scared of telling the truth because other children may laugh at her?” “did you cross check with anybody that what she was telling was a lie” “maybe it did happen but nobody else saw it” etc etc. But she explained very lucidly to me “no mama-she lies for everything and to everybody. Her brother dosent tell lies then why does she?–She even swears on her mamma that she is not lying when even her mamma keeps telling her not to lie. It’s just a habit with her”

Trying to not take a patronizing and moralistic stand I found myself telling her that some peoples brains are wired differently and that makes them lie. And so while she did not have to condone or believe her friends lies she need not be angry with her for telling them either.

I  have encountered some big time liars in my life too
Sure everyone tell lies sometimes –who dosen’t ?Big lies, small lies, white lies and black lies.
There are many reasons why people lie. A lot of it is circumstantial.
a lot of it is fear based, a lot of it is a feeling of alienation from the self that they try to realign, survival, ambition , convenience,not wanting to hurt another persons feelings lack of self worth etc etc.

Studies have shown that the higher the intelligence in a life form the more prone they are to lying. Creatures of lower intelligence are less concerned with acquisition of power, success, territory etc and therefore less prone to such behavior.

So what separates the normal person who lies sometimes from the habitual liar?
Because very often the habitual liar is very convincing, not only to the outside world, but more alarmingly to themselves. They brainwash themselves into believing their own lies with such fierce conviction that it becomes easy to drag the outside world into their deceitful mesh. The habitual liar is most prone to use the words “I am honest”

As a young girl in a very affluent school where my classmates were constantly sharing details of their trips to exact foreign locations like Disneyland and south of France I would hate to be left behind. I would make up lies about my vacations abroad too –but I never had any photographs or goodies to show & was soon found out. On one occasion I even lied that I was about to catch a plane to Switzerland with my parents but we reached the airport late & inspite of running behind the aircraft as it was taking off we couldn’t climb onto it and so had to miss out on a exotic vacation!! After many occasions of being booed with the chant “Liar Liar your bum is on fire” I was shamed and forced to concede that I had lied.

Like this film maker friend of mine who used to tell his mother everytime she asked him why he would lie so much “I am not telling a lie mother. I am merely telling a story”
He has gone on to become one of the greatest story tellers in the world-so I guess his brain was programmed for it from a very young age.

Or like this lady I have known almost half my life- at least 10 of those in which she claimed to have a severe life threatening spinal disease. Even medical experts she lied to about it were baffled and sympathetic-the terminology she used to describe the condition so scientifically accurate
In all the years of her debility she went from being an environmentalist, to a socio economist to a doctor to a neuro psychiatrist! She is extremely intelligent, well read articulate and has even the experts in the various fields flummoxed by her knowledge. Her lies are interspersed with just enough truths to leave you confused. She disappears for months on end where not a soul knows where she is & no one has been able to cross verify the various universities she claims to have got her degrees from. She remembers all her lies and can backtrack them to the smallest details. Very few slip ups from her side –except when her truth was revealed unknowingly in a chance encounter by her family whom she had hidden from the outside world with great care as to not be caught. I then discovered that there was no chalets in France, or Mansions in California and there never was the life threatening illness she had claimed for many many years.
The disease was never with her body-only with her mind.

Or the young lady I know who was repeatedly abused by an older family member for many years. She had blocked out the memory throughout her teens till it started surfacing in her twenties. Her abuser was sympathetic, paid for her counseling and even agreed to see her psychiatrist to help her overcome her demons. During the visit to the doctor he made her leave the room and then proceeded to tell the psychiatrist that she was a compulsive liar since birth and none of the things she had told the doctor were true and that she was hell bent on maligning him.
That destroyed her soul even more than the actual abuse and she made her peace with her circumstances only after he passed away a few years ago. The only lie she realized was the one that she had been telling herself all these years, that inspite of all the trauma inflicted on her in her young years her abuser meant her well. She had been repeatedly lying to herself because of her inability to accept her own truth.

There is no grading or points meter that defines a lie.
It’s certainly difficult to put a label on the lie-except in cases where there are serious life altering or threatening repercussions.
I have often wondered why lying per se is not considered a disease or a crime-except when you are under oath in a court of law or in your specific area of work.

It’s complicated. Medical science has not been able to put a finger on it. There is nothing that can measure or scan a persons brain and diagnose if they are prone to lying. Like with other medical conditions “you are breathless and tired because you have a hole in your heart” or “your jaw hurts because you have an infected tooth”

I decided to do some amateur research on this and discovered the following information.
It’s merely the tip of the iceberg but worth exploring.

Compulsive lying disorder

There are a number of reasons why people lie. A lot of it is fear based, as a shelter from perceived punishment. If it is a one off incident it cannot be classified as compulsive. However if the fear is a constant then the lying may become habitual, almost as a reflex.
Even when confronted with the truth they will present the lie as the truth.
People also learn to lie through modeling. Foe eg if a child grows up with those around him/her telling lies, he will see it as a normal code of conduct and carry the same behavioral pattern in adult life.
People also lie because they feel it will get them what they want. It is merely the means to an end.
Only when lying becomes a habit can it be classified as compulsive.
Lying in these cases is almost like an addiction.
People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder or Bipolar disorder may also be prone to lie out of impulse.

Pathological Lying Disorder
People who lie constantly are often called pathological liars. Pathological means abnormal or grossly atypical.
A deliberate liar knows he is lying. A pathological liar MAY or MAY not
The way they are distinguished from “normal” liars is that they lie all the time–as if it was the normal way of communicating–and without any reason to. It’s as if they just cannot tell the truth–as if they are driven by some strong inner force to keep on making up stories in order to fool other people or create their own version of reality that they can deal with.
Another thing that separates pathological liars from people who are lying for a reason is that pathological liars BELIEVE their own lies. It’s as if they feel they can change reality with their thoughts. As if by making up lies, they actually do change the real events and people they are lying about
Medical science has indeed discovered a neurological basis for pathological lying. Studies have found decreased activity in the thalamus –particularly the right hemithalamus of pathological liars, whereas another study has found an increased activity of the anterior cingulated, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,and thalamic nuclei in 20 non pathological volunteers.
I guess that means that a pathological liars brain activity defers from the non pathological liars when they are going about their business of telling lies.
But research is still in its early days and much more needs to be done before a definite link is achieved .For eg researchers are wondering if we can induce pathological lying in ourselves by increasing the levels of serotonin supply in our brains? & will this lead to overall increase in aggressive behavior patters?
Pathological lying usually has its onset during early adolescence
Conduct Disorder and Anti Social Personality disorder are associated with pathological lying disorder.

Anti Social Personality Disorder
Anti Social Personality disorder results in what is commonly known as a sociopath. The criteria for this disorder require an ongoing disregard for the rights of others, failure to conform to social norms, deceitfulness or repeated lying for personal profit or pleasure, and lack of remorse for actions that hurt others in any way.

People with this disorder are extremely charming and make relationships easily, which are often without depth or meaning, and these are ended whenever necessary or whenever it suits them.

They have the innate ability to find weakness in people and are ready to use these weaknesses to their own end with deceit, manipulation or intimidation and gain pleasure from doing so. They live for the moment and need constant change and seek immediate gratification.
They seem to be incapable of any true emotions from love to shame to guilt. They are quick to anger and just as quick at letting go without holding grudges. No matter what emotion they state they have it has no bearing on future actions or attitudes.

Pseudologia fantastica.
Pseudologia fantastica is typified by these characteristics:
(1) the stories are not entirely improbable and are often built upon a matrix of truth; (2) the stories are enduring; (3) the stories are not told for personal profit per se and have a self-aggrandizing quality; and (4) they are distinct from delusions in that the person when confronted with facts can acknowledge these falsehoods. The authors compile phenomenological data about “the pseudolouge”, who is represented equally males and females. Intelligence varies, but at least 40% have evidence of central nervous system dysfunction.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID),
formerly known as multiple personality disorder, will deny doing things for which they have amnesia (don’t remember). In such situations, the person may have no memory of doing X and swear up and down that it didn’t happen. But anyone who actually saw the DID individual engaging in the disputed behavior will believe he or she is just lying. Obviously, the situation is more complicated than that. (Of course, some people with DID can also have sociopathic tendencies and intentionally lie about some things.) Sometimes adults with this disorder will be motivated for treatment when consequences of their behavior — such as legal or financial trouble — cause them distress.

The truth about lying is therefore still hard to diagnose and decipher..
We will never know why some people lie while others don’t. There is no brain map to point us in the right direction. No firing of neurons or chemical brain puree that determines a person’s propensity to lie
There is no applicable here law except the divine.
The law of our individual conscience.

Yes we had something called “Moral Science” in my Girls Convent school which taught us these things, but after a few classes of being taught to tell the truth, and live an honest life with integrity etc the teacher would invariably break out into a tirade about us girls not becoming prone to sexually inviting behaviour. She would proceed to rave and rant about not inviting the boys attention by wearing short skirts and how we should NEVER let a boy kiss us!
The only girl who protested that she had already been kissed by a boy was punished and made to stand outside in every moral science class thereafter till she apologized and was made to say to the class that she had lied about the incident just to be different.
So much for moral science and how truthful it makes us.
I never listened to a word of what my moral science teacher said after that. I always lied that I had a headache and napped during that particular class.


26 thoughts on “The pathology of lying”

  1. hi suchitra i should compliment you on your thesis on lying and liars.
    It is thought provoking and written in a flowing style revealing amazing
    maturity,well reasoned,well said and very informative.
    these are my first reactions.more later.

  2. psychology offers very little hope in various areas of life. It is but a series of cases that have been identified and categorised. Diagnosis made and treated still provide no respite for the affected consciousness because there is nothing called an omnipotent omnipresent truth. People exist at different levels. A liar may chose to lie for multifarious reasons. It could genuinely be their imagined truth, it could be their choice of the projected truth, it could be a total disregard for social norms and what is expected of them, it could be a challenge issued to the world at large i choose to lie for the reasons i do, if you dont like it lump it or it could be a delusional mirage created for the self.
    If we actually pay attention to our core we lie persistently at various levels, what is caught becomes the shame quotient. What we are self righteous about becomes the blame game. The blame game is the biggest lie offered to the world at large and how many of us really have the honesty to take responsiblilty for that? How many of us have the honesty to admit our cruelty or disrespect for other souls? how many of us have the honesty to take charge of every nuance of our own life? how many of us have the honesty to know that we are the sole contributers to our own meandering, angst ridden and self righteous journey activelty contributing to the energy quotient of life around us?
    There is no good no bad, no right no wrong, and your own rules can only apply to yourself not to any other consciousness. If you dont like what you see… ask yourself why you have attracted it in your space… your thoughts are but the mirror of your life…think about it, how many of us actively reject and fight the truth that no one else runs our life? how many of us justify life as a helpless mirage? These lies are more lethal than normal everyday happenings…

  3. Hi Suchitra,
    I was interested in your blog about lying. You do an excellent job of exploring and explaining this subject. I’ve just had published a small book, “The Crashing Ego”, in which I devote one chapter to lying as applied to bipolar disorder, but don’t go into it as thoroughly or comprehensibly as you.

  4. …You started practicing for the marathon at a very young age :-)) Running behind an aircraft…Awessome!! It takes a really creative mind to come up with a creative one like this! This one had me in splits while I visualized you running behind the aircraft!!

  5. Religion- The BIGGEST lie in the world and The Bible- THE BESTSELLER of all times!

    We are taught to lie as soon as we are born! We learn our first white lie from our parents who force-feed us into eating everything on the plate else we will be taken away by the current hot popular villain!

    Then we learn in school where we lie to our teachers abt homework not done or bad grades becoz an honest truth that you hate the subject will definitely get you detention! To escape punishment you lie!

    To get accepted in your peer circle you lie to yourself and make urself believe that you are like them and behave like them!

    ….and the lies continue!

  6. Read something very interesting recently…I would like to share it here…

    “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”..

    -J. Krishnamurthy

  7. How come there are no specialist doctors for “Lying”…There are there for eyes, ear, nose, hair…everything! How come none for lying?

  8. Nobdy is born a liar.nor does one become one unless he choose or
    circumstances compel one to lie.
    There are liars galore.
    and so on.
    we are all born honest.
    dishonesty is thrust on us by harsh parents,bullies,social status jealousy,
    or presence of elders or others in the family whom we as kids observe
    and imitate!
    once so cultivated lies come naturally.
    we tend to believe in our own lies.
    And make a mess of our existence.
    fear.jealousy and greed are the factors behind lying.

  9. Yes Venkat
    we are all born honest
    we also face similar situations though to a varying degree-so how come some people chose to lie their way through life and some chose to come clean?
    Isnt that a mere personality trait? or like Suchitra says-some peoples brains are wired differently

    if fear jealousy and greed are the factors behind lying-isnt that something every human being experiences? so what creates a liar? for eg in one family-one childs nature is to lie, the other childs nature is to always speak the truth. Arent the two children experiencing the same circumstances and emotional and social stimuli? so how come they both turn out so different?

  10. Dear Suchitra,

    The only way to deal with it is to accept and forgive (if it hurt), instead of dwelling into the whys and hows. Everyone is different and setting own standards (and expectations), is futile even with the closest. Live the experience and move on.

  11. suchitra if two children in the family are differenttheir experiences may be different it is possible they are treated or brought up differently.their experiences may be different,their understanding levels
    may vary!there is also an equation between the two.

  12. Hey Suchitra,

    What ever may be the pathology of lies, the anatomy of lies is always wonderful. The reason is…we would not be having this much of variety in our lives had every body been straight and dead honest.
    Love is a lie. Let me say why? Because its not permanent. Relationships are lies, because people are impermanent. Every thing that is impermanent is a lie. Every thing that gets altered in course of time is a lie.


  13. ya y waste time is findin y people lie ?? people lie cos they dont want to face the concequences by tellin the truth !

  14. Hi Suchitra,

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    I don’t know how you will take my post either true or lie. It is up to your part.

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  15. Hi Suchitra,
    Informations and reasearches are very thought provoking. I would like to add some more informations. Adolf Hitler told that, repeat a lie at least hundred times ; it will be converted into truth. He used this theory lifelong. Leo Tolstoy confesses in his last book( A confession and reflection ) that in his autobayographical novels , he has written a lot of lies and hidden several truths. Thousands of years passed in search of truth and any creative form of expression is also a way to find their own truth. Thank god.I am not interacting with any professional psychologist. May be thease all are simple lies to show off my intelectuality.
    Dr. Anupam

  16. Quite scientific must say. Talkin bout liars had a maid who lied too. It was due to fear whenever there was cake fudge which wasnt offered to her in the freezer it would reduce in quantity & when questioned she would just deny. Same with chocolate cake. After a while we decided we neednt get righteous over it we either should have remembered to ask her to help herself to some or simply ignore it. We did that. Even close people after having said something to you on an earlier occassion, which would be something petty. They too can cooly turn around and say, “Really I could never have said something like that”. Either its conveniently forgotten or they really cant come to terms with the fact that they could have been so cheap. Interesting and thought provoking.

  17. Hi Suchitra Ma’am,

    Firstly, this is the first time i came across your blog. Would love to congratulate and thank you for wonderful melodies you have gifted us to cherish. without sidetracking the main issue, i had a friend who pathologically lied but seems she lies in the categories of socio paths from the description of the blog. i tried improving her and so did her other friends but in vain. even though we know she lies and she knows the same…it just doesnt budge or hurt…sigh! no extent of emotional or monetary help perhaps can help and neither affection nor attention does…guess the solution lies with time…!

    Thank you for the wonderful post!


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