Pathological lying, defined in psychiatry as mitomania, is the habit of lying. People with the disease are called mythomaniacs. Mythomania is a combination of the Greek word muthos (myth) and the Latin word mania (madness).
Let’s face it. We all lie from time to time. Saying, “You look great,” even though our friend’s hair looks horrible, so as not to break her heart, is a lie. But this type of lie is usually told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and to avoid potential problems. These types of lies, also called white lies, are accepted as normal in the course of our lives.
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Of course, lying is not a good thing; but not all lies are the same. Depending on the size of the lie, the effect it has on its surroundings varies in direct proportion. Some people lie so regularly that lying becomes a defining characteristic of their personality.
What is the difference between a pathological liar and a compulsive liar?
In our culture there are various terms we use to describe these people, such as habitual liar, compulsive liar and chronic liar. However, the most commonly used term is pathological liar. Despite being such a widely used term, there is remarkably little agreement on how it should be defined.
Compulsive lying is actually the simple lies we just mentioned, which usually don’t lead to bad consequences. Simple things like pretending you went on a vacation you didn’t go on or lying about what you watched on TV last night fall into this group. But pathological lies are different.
People who lie pathologically often lie about things that are not important for no apparent reason. They may even do it unconsciously. In other words, they are not aware that they are lying. People who lie pathologically are fundamentally different from the average person who lies to get out of a difficult spot or an awkward problem. In fact, most psychologists characterize pathological lying as a mental health disorder.
What is Lying Disorder?
This disease, which can be observed in 1 in 1000 people in the society, usually starts in adolescence. If left untreated, it can persist for years. Pathological liars also tend to be natural actors. They are eloquent and know how to communicate with others when they speak. They are creative and original and often think quickly, without showing common signs of lying, such as long pauses or avoiding eye contact.
Unlike conscious liars, mythomaniacs usually do not benefit from the lies they tell. That is, they do not tell these lies for their own benefit. However, mythomania can also occur among people who commit crimes such as theft, fraud, forgery and plagiarism. So there are also those who benefit from it.
Although mythomaniacs who build their lives on false people, characters, events and situations are seen as people who tend to be very proud of themselves; they have a tendency to have a superiority complex due to a lack of self-confidence, an inferiority complex.
Early Studies on Pathological Lying
The first person to do research on the subject, the first person to receive a PhD, was psychologist G. Stanley Hall. In 1890, Hall published a paper on dishonesty in a group of 300 children he studied. In his paper, he analyzed the various types of lies told by children.
He found that about 7 percent of them resorted to pathological lying. Hall argued that if these pathological liars are not intervened with prompt and severe intervention, the children will grow into adulthood to become impostors, charlatans and master liars. His term for this insane tendency to lie was pseudomania.
At the same time, another researcher was dealing with the concept of pathological lying. The German psychiatrist Anton Delbrück was conducting research in several mental hospitals in Europe on patients who exhibited an unusual pattern of dishonesty. Delbrück wrote about his findings in a book published in 1891. He described a condition he called pedologia phantastica, which roughly translates into fantastic lying. Today, terms such as lying disease, pathological lying, pseudologia phantastica and mitomania are all considered synonyms for the same disorder.
Where do We Stand Today on Lying Disorder?
Although pathological lying has been described in the literature for 130 years, it has not been widely accepted as a diagnostic entity in mainstream psychiatry and psychology. Moreover, pathological lying is difficult for psychologists to diagnose. This is because there is also the possibility that it is an extension of another disorder or the result of a habit acquired in childhood.
Often, psychologists look for an underlying cause for the phenomenon and study it in combination with other causes, rather than addressing mythomania in isolation. The treatment of this condition will also depend on whether it is a symptom of an underlying psychiatric condition.