7 signs of a pathological liar

Have you ever met someone who claims to know a famous celebrity when they really don’t? Or even worse, have you met someone who falsely says that they a battling a life-threatening health condition? If you have, you’ve probably felt dubious about their behaviour and felt lied to! Indeed, you may have met a pathological liar. A pathological liar is someone who tells lies for no clear benefit to themselves. Although their lies may have no real motivation, it can strain interpersonal relationships with others, especially when the listener realizes the lie. By recognizing signs of a pathological liar, we can better understand the people in our social circle and assess what we’d like to do with this information: to try to help them, or distance ourselves. Hence, here are 7 signs of a pathological liar that you should look out for.

Creepy kid

1. The stories of a pathological liar are unbelievably bizarre

In many cases, stories of a pathological liar an be easily proven wrong. If your initial reaction was “no way!” followed by utter confusion, it’s likely that the story made no sense. For example, a pathological liar may claim that he or she continues to be close friends with Bruce Lee in 2020 (who has since passed away in 1973). Since this claim makes no sense in 2020, it’s definitely a lie.

2. Their stories change over time

Pathological liars can tell very elaborate, false stories to keep their listener engaged. However, this comes at a price; they often cannot remember their fake stories with extreme detail so they re-tell the story differently each time. For example, a pathological liar may claim that he or she continues to be friends with Bruce Lee’s friends (when he or she originally claimed to know Bruce Lee).

3. Pathological liars don’t like being doubted

A pathological liar may deflect their anger onto the listener or express other forms of hostility when they are questioned about their lies. For instance, if you, the listener, ask the pathological liar about whether he actually knew Bruce Lee or his family and friends, you may be met with a clear attempt to change the topic. Have you noticed that pathological liars avoid being questioned about the believability of their stories?

4. They are quick thinkers

Once someone doubts how believable their story is, the pathological liar will think on his or her feet to cover up their inconsistencies and past lies. If you question the pathological liar about their Bruce Lee story, you may not even realize how seamless their “cover-up” story is. They will most definitely make up an answer, even if it sounds bizarre.

5. They lack empathy

At this point, the listener will probably be really fed up with the elaborate lies the pathological liar continues to tell because their lies are so obviously false. Another sign of a pathological liar is that they won’t care about what their listener feeling: they’ll continue to spin the lie even if it makes others uncomfortable in their discussion. This lack of empathy links back to why pathological lies can strain interpersonal relationships – no one wants to be friends with someone who makes them uncomfortable.

6. A pathological liar may be self-centred

A pathological liar can be so preoccupied with his or her claims – the definition of being self-centred. Their self-centredness may be driven by their belief that what they are saying is actually true. As Joseph Goebbels says, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”. And so, the cycle repetitive lies continues: the pathological liar tells a bizarre lie, covers it up, and does whatever they can to keep up the lie.

7. They have a history of interpersonal challenges

There’s no wonder that pathological lying can damage relationships: they make others feel confused, uncomfortable, and scared (especially when the pathological liar is doubted) – and no one wants to experience that. So, more often than not, problems like job instability, substance abuse, and a history of broken relationships may be present.

So, have you recognized any of these traits in people you may know? While these are 7 signs of a pathological liar, having one or all of these traits does not automatically make someone a pathological liar. Although being a pathological liar is not a psychiatric disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, it can be really distressing for the person dealing with a pathological liar. And so, it’s important to recognize the possible 7 signs of a pathological liar in an increasingly social world.


Dutil, A. (2020, March/April). How To Tell If Someone Is A Compulsive Liar: 10 Signs To Look For. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.regain.us/advice/infidelity/how-to-tell-if-someone-is-a-compulsive-liar-10-signs-to-look-for/

Goebbels, J. (2008, November 11). Quotes – If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.shmoop.com/quotes/the-big-lie.html

Kandola, A. (2019, August 7). Pathological liars: Everything you need to know (T. J. Legg, Ed.). Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325982

Legg, T. J. (2018, August 27). How Do I Cope with Someone Being a Pathological Liar? Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/pathological-liar

Longley, R. (2019, October 28). What Is a Pathological Liar? Definition and Examples. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.thoughtco.com/pathological-liar-definition-examples-4171971

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