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Signs of Lying

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

What is Lying?

Everyone lies from time to time. However, some people lie more frequently than others and may lie without cause. If a person’s habit of lying negatively affects their life, or if they feel unable to stop lying, then they may have a condition known as pathological lying.

Pathological lying is still being studied, but its cause appears to be a number of conditions. Pathological lying is a symptom of various personality disorders, including antisocial, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders. Other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder, may also lead to frequent lies, but the lies themselves are not considered pathological. Finally, some people simply lie pathologically but have no other conditions.

Regardless of the reason for a lie, it’s unpleasant to find out that someone has lied to you. If a loved one is frequently lying to you, you can learn to spot their lies. You can also support them, if they decide to get treatment.

Types of Lies

People lie for many reasons. Most people tell lies occasionally to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to get out of uncomfortable social situations. These are generally known as “white lies,” because they are intended to avoid harm and are generally about trivial matters. Many white lies are only partially false or exaggerate the truth.

On occasion, people will also lie to avoid getting in trouble or to protect themselves from a threat. These lies are generally more complete fabrications. They also tend to be about serious or self-serving matters. This type of lie is known as a “gray lie,” since it’s less likely to be socially acceptable than a white lie.

Finally, some people lie for malicious reasons. These lies often carry serious consequences for other people and may lead to situations people consider unfair or unjust. Any malicious lie is generally considered a “real lie,” which is completely socially unacceptable. People who lie pathologically are more likely to tell gray or real lies than other people.

Signs of Lying

When lying, many people have “tells” that can help you identify when they aren’t telling the truth. However, there is no one-size-fits-all method to tell when someone isn’t being truthful. Instead, you need to pay attention to that person specifically. If a loved one is lying to you frequently, look for some of these signs.

Contradictory Stories

When someone isn’t telling the truth, it’s harder to keep the details of their story straight. Someone who lies frequently will eventually lose track of previous lies and start to contradict themselves. If you notice your loved one is contradicting themselves, they are likely lying. 

Unverifiable Details

Many people who lie frequently may add details to their lies to make them seem more realistic. Studies show that people tend to include fewer verifiable details when lying than when telling the truth, and a similar number of details that can’t be verified. So, if someone is telling you a story with a lot of details that you know can’t be proven or disproven, the story may be more suspicious.

Overly Dramatic or Long Stories

Especially with pathological liars, a lie is more likely to be dramatic and long than the truth. If a story seems too dramatic to be true, that may be the case. If your loved one often has anecdotes about overly dramatic or intense situations, they may be lying to you.

Living With Frequent Lying

Living with someone who lies frequently can be stressful and uncomfortable. If you want to maintain a relationship with someone who lies to you, there are a few tactics you can use to handle conversations and daily life.

Stay Calm

Many people who lie frequently will react poorly to anger aimed at them. If you believe you are being lied to, remain calm.

Don’t Engage With Lies

If you know something isn’t true, there’s no reason to act like it is true. Supporting your loved one’s lies will only reinforce their behavior. Instead, let them know that you know they are lying and stop the conversation.

Suggest Medical Treatment

If your loved one seems distressed by their lies, you can recommend that they get medical treatment. Therapy may help them confront the root of their habit of lying and lead to fewer lies in the future.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Deception detection.”

Applied Cognitive Psychology: “Eliciting Information and Detecting Lies in Intelligence Interviewing: An Overview Of Recent Research.”

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: “Commentary: Getting at the Truth about Pathological Lying.”

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law: “Pathological Lying Revisited.”

Kaleidoscope: “Real Lies, White Lies and Gray Lies: Towards a Typology of Deception.”

Legal and Criminological Psychology: “Exploiting liars’ verbal strategies by examining the verifiability of details.”

Psychiatric Times: “Pathological Lying: Symptom or Disease?”

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