Let’s be real. Everyone lies from time to time. Anyone who says they don’t is, well, lying. Even those who consider themselves to be honest people will occasionally shade or omit certain facts in order to avoid punishment or gain an advantage. Honesty is considered to be a basic feature of a healthy person and a healthy relationship, but there are people who will move the truth around like Scrabble tiles to suit their needs. They’re called pathological liars.
I’m not talking about the sister who tells everyone she’s five years younger than she really is. This isn’t the brother who has stepped out on his wife and has to lie in order to continue the affair. A pathological liar is someone who lies frequently and persistently over time, often for what is seemingly no benefit. A pathological liar will lie when it’s just as easy to tell the truth. To be clear: they aren’t insane (although their curious relationship with the truth makes them seem like it); their behavior is often goal-oriented and motivated by selfish reasons. Pathological lying is in fact one of the common traits of those suffering from Antisocial (also referred to as sociopathy or psychopathy) or Narcissistic personality disorders.
I’ve been in relationships with two pathological liars, so I know first hand how difficult it is to admit that your lover is a liar. The first time we notice it, we may openly question what we’ve seen or heard. Of course, they’re quick to deny any inconsistency and while their response may or may not make sense, we usually give them a break “this one time” because we love them.
We second guess ourselves. “Maybe they’re right. Maybe I did hear them wrong…” and continue along in the relationship. And then one day the bomb that has been ticking all along suddenly goes off with a loud, destructive and emotionally cataclysmic BOOM. You suddenly realize that they weren’t just lying to you about little things…they lied to you about big things too, like having another family, or how much money they really have in the bank or where they went to school. In an instant, your sense of security and wellbeing is wiped out by an emotional hurricane that challenges your faith in humanity and leaves you questioning your insanity.
As you struggle to put your shattered psyche back together again a million thoughts run through your mind:
“How did I not see it?”
“What else are they lying about?”
“How can I be so naïve?”
If you discover that your lover is a pathological liar, you should figure out the how’s and why’s once you’re at a safe distance. Exit the relationship stage left as quickly as possible. Pathological lying is a form of mental abuse that can drive even the most emotionally balanced person towards the brink of sanity.
I know it’s hard to accept that the one you love is incapable of telling the truth, but acceptance is a key part of healing. You need to accept that how you feel is secondary to their need to lie. You need to accept that no matter how much you tell them that their lying hurts you, it won’t change them. They know how much it hurts you. They know it’s wrong to do, but they choose to do it anyway.
Some people may opt to stay, believing they can handle the lies or change their partner (I thought I could with the first boyfriend). If for whatever reason you choose to stay, please keep a few things in mind:
For one, know that your relationship will be on permanent Threat Level Code Orange, which will read as hypervigilant behavior on your part. Aside from running everything they say through a sieve, you’ll probably have to start keeping notes to track their lies. You’ll also need to brush up on your debating skills, for everything will come down to what you can prove, not what they said. You’ll also more than likely have to come up with lots of psychological theories in order to keep your denial about your partner’s behavior firmly in place. Like, “her lying is simply a response to an abusive childhood.” Or “his trust issues stem from being dumped by that girl while in high school.”
Forget about shaming or punishing them into becoming honest. From personal experience, I can assure you that no amount of interrogation, threats of abandonment, or door slamming will make a pathological liar stop lying. Also, there’s no amount of antidepressants and/or anxiety medication that will keep you from feeling like the proverbial ground is constantly moving under your feet. Stay with a one long enough and you’ll eventually feel like you’re the crazy one as your lover gleefully continues to give Pinocchio a run for the money.
The bottom line is that unless you’re prepared to become a walking/talking polygraph machine, you’re better off ending the relationship and cutting your losses. And for the record, I do believe that a person that is committed to changing their behavior can and often does. But psychiatrists will be the first to admit that pathological lying is a behavior that isn’t easily changed. At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual to decide what they will or won’t deal with in a relationship but in my opinion, your mental health and sense of security is simply too big a price to pay.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai's advice? Email [email protected] to have your love questions answered in a future column!