Lies, Liars and Lying


"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"

- Sir Walter Scott


Lies and liars come in all shapes, and in shades of white, grey and black. What distinguishes the more extreme forms of lying is the degree of harm they cause and the extent to which the behavior becomes habitual or uncontrollable.

White Lies

So-called “white lies” generally mean deliberate lies which have no victim or no intended victim. For example:

Telling your children about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
Telling your kids that they did a great job the first time they tried to dress themselves.
Telling your girlfriend that those jeans don't make her look fat.
Telling your host that she served a delicious meatloaf - when she didn't.


"It is always the best policy to speak the truth - unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar."

- Jerome K. Jerome .


Self-Serving Lies

This is your basic, old-fashioned fib. The most common form of lying is self-serving and infrequent. This kind of lying is done by just about everybody and is usually motivated by a desire to get something you want or to get out of something you don't want.

Children instinctively learn to lie from about the age of 4 or 5 when asked loaded questions like "did you wash your hands already?", "did you eat that cookie?" or, "did you hit your brother?". Most of us develop the skill of lying into adulthood. We don't do it any less - we just get better at hiding it.


"A liar should have a good memory"

- Quintilian


Dissociative Lying

Dissociation- A psychological term used to describe a mental departure from reality.

People who dissociate believe - at least in part - what they are saying to be true. Dissociative liars can be thought of as people who also deceive themselves when they tell a lie. As they are speaking, they may not be fully aware that what they are saying can be shown to contradict objective truths, verifiable facts, or statements they may have made in the past.


"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes"

- Mark Twain


Compulsive Liars and Compulsive Lying

Compulsive Lying - Compulsive Lying is a term used to describe lying frequently out of habit, without much regard for the consequences to others and without having an obvious motive to lie. A compulsive liar is someone who habitually lies.

A compulsive liar is a person who is addicted to lying. Compulsive liars are people for whom lying feels like emotional safe ground compared to telling the truth. Compulsive lying is less self-centered or manipulative in nature than other kinds of lying. Compulsive lying is not oriented so much toward serving a person's long term self-interest as it is doing what feels good at the time. Compulsive liars may tell lies, exaggerate, distort or bend the truth in ways which get themselves and others into unnecessary trouble.


"A lie told often enough becomes the truth."

- Vladimir Lenin


Pathological Liars and Pathological Lying

Pathological Lying is a persistent deception by an individual to serve their own interests and needs with little or no regard to the needs and concerns of others. A pathological liar is a person who habitually lies to serve their own needs.

Pathological lying is similar to selfish lying, while being more pervasive. A Pathological Liar has a greater disregard for the effect their dishonesty has on others, resulting in a more destructive impact. A Pathological Liar may often be accused of being self-centered, manipulative and controlling.

What it feels like:

When you discover that you have been lied to, it can make you feel as though you have been taken advantage of, made to look foolish, had something stolen from you. You may feel anger, disappointment and fear all at the same time. You may feel the urge to get even, get justice, settle the score, clear your name.

You may also turn some of that negative energy inwards upon yourself. You may begin to question yourself - "Why was I so easily deceived?" "Am I too naive?", "What other lies have I been told?" Your sense of security may be damaged.

Over time, if you are lied to repeatedly by a pathological liar, this loss of self-security and sense of injustice can severely beat you down emotionally. You may begin to believe very negative things about your own self-worth and your place in society. You may become depressed and feel hopeless and powerless. If you are related to or in a committed relationship with a person who is a habitual compulsive or pathological liar you may feel isolated and trapped. You may begin to consider extreme options to free yourself from your situation.

What NOT to Do:

  • Don't confuse intelligence with honesty. Just because someone has an articulate, respectable appearance it doesn't mean they are trustworthy.
  • Don't enter into contracts with people who you do not know well. Don't marry someone, sign a business deal, open your home or your bank account to anyone who you have not known for a considerable time and seen a track record of honesty in their dealings with you and others.
  • If you see a person lying to others, stealing from others or speaking ill of others, chances are they are doing or will do the same to you.
  • Don't let anyone intimidate you into giving them your trust. Remind them that trust can only be earned - not taken. If someone tries to make you feel bad for not putting your trust in them stand your ground. Chances are your initial instincts are right on the money.
  • Don't let yourself become isolated from people whom you DO trust. One of the ways pathological liars retain control is to keep their victims isolated from people who might tell them the truth. Don't give up any healthy relationships with family, friends and acquaintances or let them slip away because of pressure from another person. Don't go it alone or keep what you are experiencing a secret.
  • Don't give up a good job, good habits, career, hobbies or interests for the sake of another person. What is good for you makes you stronger and is good for your loved-ones. True Love never asks a person to sacrifice something that is good for them.

What TO Do:

  • Try to judge people by their behavior rather than by their appearances.
  • If someone makes promises of change or pleads with you to give them one more chance, judge them by their track record rather than by what they say. If a person truly is reforming they will understand your need to do that.
  • Talk to trusted friends and family about what you are dealing with. This helps to compare your thinking with other people who can perhaps see things in a different light and can tell you if what you are dealing with sounds reasonable.
  • Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Develop an emergency plan for any scenario that may include theft, violence or abuse being directed towards or your children.
  • Report all acts of theft, violence, threats of violence or self-harm to the authoritiesimmediately every time.
  • Maintain your healthy lifestyle and healthy relationships. You will need them. Explain to your loved one gently, if necessary that you have made your decision and that is that and then move ahead. If they really do love you they will be happy to support you in what is good for you.

Articles & Resources:

Into The Mind of a Liar - NPR article about how people who lie a lot have differences in their brains from the rest of us


"Men are so simple, and yield so much to necessity, that he who will deceive will always find him who will lend himself to be deceived."

- Niccolo Machiavelli


Some Famous Presidential Lies:

"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." - George W. Bush

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." - Bill Clinton

"We did not--repeat, did not--trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we" - Ronald Reagan

“I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” - Richard Nixon, speaking of the Watergate incident.

"The North Vietnamese regime had conducted further deliberate attacks against U.S. naval vessels operating in international waters" - Lyndon B. Johnson

“I have previously stated, and I repeat now, that the United States intends no military intervention in Cuba.” - John F. Kennedy

"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians." - Harry S. Truman