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 doesn’t 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 lies sometimes –who doesn’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 & in spite 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 every time 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 were 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 in spite 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 person’s 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. Howeever 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 modelling. 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  seperates 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 pathlogical liars brain activity defers from the non pathlogical 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 pathogical lying in ourselves by increasing the levels of serotonin supply in our brains? & will this lead to overall increase in aggressive behaviour 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.


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