How to Avoid Getting Hurt by a Pathological Liar
Being lied to can be one of most difficult things to cope with in a relationship or a friendship, but being lied to repeatedly can cause an even deeper level of stress. The lies can cause so much confusion in your head that you debate what is real and what is false. However, through knowing the signs of lying, verifying the story, and protecting yourself, you can avoid being hurt by a pathological liar.
Detecting Signs of Lying
Investigate if it's compulsive or pathological lying.The terms “Compulsive lying” and “pathological lying” are often used interchangeably. However, it is important to know that there is a difference between the two terms. While both involve the habit of lying over small or large things, the type of lying may help you understand the underlying motive and intent behind the lying. Additionally, each type of lying—compulsive or pathological—poses different kinds of threats to the people they affect as well as to the person who is lying.
- Compulsive lying is the habit of lying uncontrollably. A person identified as a compulsive liar is more comfortable telling lies than telling the truth. It is usually based on internal insecurities, also combined with possibly being raised in an environment where lying was used to an advantage for safety or coping with unnecessary stresses. Over time, being raised in an atmosphere where lying was necessary the person may have developed a habitual pattern of compulsive lying, with no underlying intent to get anything out of it. A compulsive liar will lie about important as well as unimportant matters with no ulterior motive other than the desire to protect the self due to low self-esteem. Even after a lie has been detected and confronted with the compulsive liar, he/she may still struggle with admitting to the truth.
- A person identified as a pathological liar is more likely to have a clear motive to their lying. It could be to get attention, to get out of something that is undesirable, or to appear more admirable or helpless that they actually are. Pathological liars are purposefully manipulative in nature, who lie to get their way without any forethought or concern for the feelings of others, even if the others who are affected are personal family and friends. Pathological liars are also more likely to believe their own lies.
Ask neutral questions.The first step to avoid the hurt of being lied to is to develop an awareness of when a lie is present. When you are talking to the pathological liar in your life, ask them neutral questions or perhaps simple questions that you might already know the answer to. This will help you establish a baseline and an awareness of their demeanor when they are telling the truth. Observe their behavior when you ask these questions.
- Ask questions like “did it rain today?” or “what did you have for breakfast?”
- Typically, when someone is being honest, they will be very calm. Notice for behaviors that will indicate a calm demeanor like even breathing and hands and feet that are at rest.
Find their ‘hot spot.’ A person’s hot spot arises once they shift from truth telling to lying. Once you have determined a baseline and have assessed their temperament when telling the truth, you will be able to more easily discern when they are lying. Their behavior will tend to shift from the baseline previously established. You can simply wait for the moment to arise when they begin lying again or you can ask them questions about things that haven’t seemed right to you with their previous stories.
- For instance, if they tend to blink evenly when telling the truth but you notice they start blinking rapidly later, then they might be lying to you.
Look for the “this/that” trap.Often, a liar will lie by omission or by using certain tricks on semantics to avoid the truth. For instance, you might ask them “did you wear my shoes yesterday?” They might reply by saying “no, I didn’t do that”, with the operative word being “that.” However, they may have worn them the previous day without telling you. Make note of these little tricks and try adjusting your question to leave out specifics.
- You might ask instead “have you worn my shoes?”
Observe body language.Sometimes, the greatest indication of lying is in the body language of the liar. You might notice that they fidget, hide their hands, or shrug their shoulders often. They might also make their bodies seem smaller by pulling themselves in close and crossing their arms or legs.
- Remember that these signs are not always accurate. They might display this body language at all times. But if their mannerisms switch when the topic does, it could be a cause for concern.
Notice their tone.When someone is lying, they might have a tendency to unconsciously change or alter their tone. Their voice might become more high pitched or they might begin speaking faster or more softly. Notice their tone when you know they are being honest and the differences in it and when you are unsure of their story.
See if they remove themselves from the story.Liars also have a tendency to want to remove themselves from the lie as much as possible. Notice if they say “I” and “me” a lot less when telling you about something that seems suspect. This is often an subconscious way for them to feel less guilty about the lie if they feel that they are not involved in the story.
Verifying the Story
Pay attention to the details that are verifiable.Throughout the course of the lie that your friend or partner is telling you, they will often find the need to tell more, smaller lies or they might even embellish on some things that are unnecessary for the purpose of their lie. Focus on the aspects of their story that you can verify. If part of the story is untrue, even something small, then it is likely that the bulk of the story is false, as well.
- For instance, they might have told you that they had a bagel from a shop down the street before they went to work, but if you know that shop doesn’t sell bagels, their whole story may be false.
Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.If this person has been caught lying to you repeatedly in the past, be very weary to allow them to lie again. If it is necessary that you continue to work with or speak with them, then ask them to verify the things they tell you that are of any importance. Consider keeping a paper trail of your communications with them so that you can keep the story straight.
- For instance, if they tell you that they bought something, perhaps you might ask for the receipt.
- If they make promises to you, consider writing them down and having them sign them so you have them to refer back to in the future.
Talk to others you trust who know or interact with the liar.Sometimes, your friends, coworkers or family members can be of great use in assessing the story of a liar. Though you should not rely on these people to spy on the liar, you can use them to verify any story the liar has told you that they might have information on. If the liar is close to any of these people, they might be telling them similar or opposite lies which conversations with others can help you to identify.
- For instance, you might say to them “did Rob go over to your house the other day?”. If they say no even though he told you he went, then he very likely lied to you.
- Make sure you only rely on people who you trust to verify the liar’s stories.
Ask open ended questions.When trying to assess when you are being lied to, though specific questions can be helpful, ask open ended questions, as well. With a question that is open ended, the liar will tend to have to tell even more lies, making it easier for you to catch them and providing you more information that you can either verify or dispel.
- For instance, instead of saying “did you go to work today?” ask “what did you do today?”
Ask for the story in reverse.Ask the person you suspect of lying to tell you the story again but from the end to beginning, as opposed to the opposite. Though the liar may have practiced their story before speaking with you or even if they made it up on the spot, they will find it difficult to tell the story in reverse.
Don’t give the liar responsibility when you need accurate information.There will be certain times when you will need to know something with 100% accuracy. This could include information regarding bills or finances, academics, or things pertinent to your career. When you need to know something definitively and truthfully, don’t ask the known liar. Find it out for yourself or ask someone else.
Don’t trust the liar with sensitive information or tasks.If you need something done within a certain window, don’t trust the pathological liar with this task. The might lie to you or let you down, and depending on the task, this could be detrimental to you. Enlist the help of others or do it yourself rather than risking unnecessary hurt or letdown.
- For instance, if you need to pick up a prescription by a certain time, don’t ask the liar. Take a break from work or see if you can get it in the morning.
Trust the trustworthy.Though it can be difficult to trust again after being chronically lied to, you should still trust those who have not lied to you or who have been dependable with you. Don’t second guess those who have not given you a reason to question their character. Don’t allow your past hurts to make you bitter.
Rely on your own logic.When you meet someone new or if you have to continue working with the liar, rely on your own facts and logic in deciphering truth and protecting yourself. If you know something to be true, hold fast to that and don’t allow others to make you second guess yourself.
Practice self care.Perhaps you have been lied to repeatedly and fell victim to believing the lies more than once. This was undoubtedly very hurtful for you once you learned the truth and may have caused you to experience some sadness or anger. Take care of yourself, however, and avoid isolation or abandoning the things that you love.
- Continue your hobbies and develop new ones.
- Continue to eat well, exercise, and take care of your personal hygiene.
- Take a few days off from work.
Be a trustworthy person in return.Part of being trusting again will center around being trustworthy and dependable yourself. Although mental health professionals have not yet identified empirical evidence that pathological lying is a symptom of a mental health condition or a mental health condition unto its own, it is associated with a few mental health challenges that should not be taken lightly.
- For example, pathological lying could be a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, or psychosis. Likewise, someone who is a compulsive liar may have mental health diagnoses associated with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to name a few.
- Whether the person is pathological or compulsive in their lying, chances are that there had been some early childhood trauma, poor parental modeling, and familial systemic issues during their upbringing. If at all possible while maintaining the safety of yourself when encountered with any kind of liar who has hurt you, do your best to be the bigger person and assist with connecting them with help. A professional licensed and specially trained clinician will be able to help with psychotherapy, counseling, and medication management. Whether or not they take your advice or assistance with connection is up to them, and all you can do is try.
- Don’t seek revenge on them, either. Try to maintain as much distance as possible and wish them well.
Video: How to Stop Caring For People Who Hurt You
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