How to tell if you (or someone else) is a compulsive liar

A compulsive liar is someone who lies about a lot of things without any real gain or benefit. The term compulsive lying is often mixed up with pathological lying since both conditions have similar motivations and signs. However, they are two very different things.

Compulsive lying involves distorting reality with the aim to avoid or mask uncomfortable situations or feelings. The act is compulsive and it can be a challenge to stop without external help.

Compulsive lying or pathological lying?

People who lie compulsively do so because they’re driven by an unconscious need to change reality. Those who lie pathologically do it for more conscious reasons. Pathological lying often involves the exploitation and manipulation of others for financial or personal gain. 

The key to understanding the difference between the two is knowing what motivates the lie. Compulsive liars usually lie out of anxiety or fear, while pathological liars tend to do so to deceive or manipulate people. 


Experts are unable to say exactly what causes compulsive lying because the condition isn’t very well understood. However, it’s thought that compulsive lying may be linked to a number of environmental and psychological factors. 

Some of the most common causes of compulsive lying include:

  • Desiring the approval or attention from other people
  • Unresolved shame or guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Needing to avoid uncomfortable feelings

Sometimes, compulsive lying is connected to a mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder (BPD). Only a therapist is qualified to analyze someone and make this type of diagnosis.

In some cases, compulsive lying can be a form of learned behavior that someone picked up from their environment or family. Individuals who grew up in places where lying was encouraged or rewarded may have developed compulsive lying habits in order to deal with difficult situations and emotions. 


If you have a feeling that someone you know may be a compulsive liar, there are several signs you can look for to make sure. If you notice the following signs in a friend or family member, you may want to support them to get the help they need to kick the habit. 

If you find yourself lying for seemingly no reason, you may be a compulsive liar yourself. See if you often show any of the following signs and consider getting help from a professional if you do.

  • Embellishing lies with a lot of detail
  • Being anxious while speaking
  • Being vague when asked for details
  • Frequently changing the story and forgetting details
  • Being unconcerned when caught in a lie
  • Claiming someone else’s story as their own/your own
  • Regularly telling unlikely and dramatic stories
  • Becoming defensive when confronted about a lie
  • Lying when there’s no gain or benefit
  • Experiencing a thrill when getting away with a lie
  • Behaving in ways that don’t match their/your words


With help, someone can overcome their compulsive lying habits and stop altogether. Treatment for this condition usually involves a combination of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and therapy. 

Therapy gives the individual a chance to speak honestly and openly about what motivates them to lie compulsively. The first step in therapy to treat compulsive lying is to determine the root causes. These often involve a dysfunctional family environment or complex psychological issues. 

By acknowledging and addressing the underlying causes, the individual can develop healthier and more effective ways of expressing themselves, while learning more honest communication patterns, too. With the support of a good therapist and the determination to quit the habit, compulsive lying can be successfully managed.

CBT is an effective way of treating compulsive lying because it helps people develop new ways of behaving and thinking. This allows them to break their compulsive lying patterns and commit to healthier habits. 

Some people find making small lifestyle changes can greatly help. Things like making a new exercise regime, finding time for meditation, and getting enough sleep can reduce the urge to lie compulsively by improving mental health and lowering stress levelsMedication has been proven to be successful at reducing compulsive behaviors in some people. It can also relieve depression and anxiety, which are often the causes of the condition. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are sometimes prescribed to improve compulsive behaviors. 

With the right help and treatment, any compulsive liar can uncover the motivation behind their behavior and change it by developing healthy coping techniques for managing difficult emotions. In turn, this can help them live a more satisfying and fulfilling life. 

If you or someone close to you is struggling with compulsive lying, help is at hand. Seek support from family members, friends, or a mental health professional. A therapist can help get to the root cause of the unwanted behavior and offer effective treatments to break away from compulsive lying and improve the quality of life. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the traits of a compulsive liar?

Compulsive liars exhibit several common traits, including:

  1. Frequent lying on both small and significant matters.
  2. Difficulty controlling their lying behavior.
  3. Convincing demeanor, making their lies appear sincere.
  4. A tendency to exaggerate details in their stories.
  5. Using lies to avoid consequences or shift blame.
  6. Inconsistent and contradictory lies over time.
  7. Low self-esteem, with lying as a self-esteem boost.
  8. Impulsive lying without considering consequences.
  9. Manipulative use of lies for personal gain.
  10. Possible underlying emotional issues like anxiety or depression.

What is a pathological liar vs a compulsive liar?

Pathological Liar:
Lies consistently without an apparent reason.
Often linked to personality disorders like narcissism or antisocial behavior.
May create elaborate false narratives.

Compulsive Liar:
Lies due to an uncontrollable urge or compulsion.
Often tied to emotional distress, anxiety, or low self-esteem.
Lies can be more impulsive and less calculated.

What mental illness is compulsive lying?

Compulsive lying is not recognized as a standalone mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741