Pathological Lying: The Too-Good-to-Be-True Fairy Tale

A book lies open on a table. shining lights come out of the pagesThere are different kinds of lies: pathological lies, lies so you won’t get caught, lies of convenience, lies for self-protection, and social lies. They all have something in common: if someone is focused on telling you only what you want to hear, or only what they want you to hear, you’re not hearing what you might want or even need to know. You might fall for their stories, if they’re convincing enough. People who lie pathologically tend to tell VERY good stories. I’m going to tell you about one such person in particular.

Anita (not her real name) told the most wonderful and romantic stories about her life. I felt so good listening to her. Anita was a talented storyteller, and I am a sucker for stories.

When we first met, she was all smiles and seemed easy to get along with. I liked her right away. “My life would be perfect,” she told me, “if only I had a boyfriend.” She began telling me about a man who worked in her office. He had beautiful, big brown eyes and strong arms. When she looked over at him, he was almost always looking at her. It was clear they were attracted to each other. He asked her out for lunch. He asked her out to the movies. He brought her flowers and little cute presents. She made him brownies and brought them to the office.

“Do you think he likes me?” she asked.

“I sure do!” I said.

After a few months, they started to get serious. Their romance was touching. He was older, but he was considerate and helpful. He enjoyed her youthful enthusiasm, and she enjoyed the many ways he showed he cared for her. He was courtly and charming. She felt safe with him.

Their relationship seemed fine at first, but then another woman wanted to enter the picture.

“What will I do?” Anita asked me. “What if he likes her more than he likes me? And who does she think she is, anyway?”

Anita quickly vanquished her rival, and she and her boyfriend were soon planning on moving in together. I wondered to myself if they would get married, maybe have kids. I was so happy for her. They were even starting to talk about buying a house.

Listening to Anita was like reading a really good book, one I couldn’t put down, or watching a movie I knew I would have to see again. Her story was about every dream come true. All things were possible. Life was always only good. Life was a fairy tale.

At first, I thought: Well, it’s young love. Eventually life will get back to normal. I even worried: Would Anita be able to take it if they actually had a disagreement, much less an argument? Everything can’t be perfect ALL of the time! Usually there is a little trouble in paradise—after a while, anyway. But Anita and her boyfriend never disagreed. They always wanted to do the same things at the same time.

Gradually, I began to believe her story felt too good to be true. Then I realized that, in fact, it wasn’t true at all. I had, in fact, been listening to a fairy tale. It felt like a switch in my brain clicked on when I realized Anita had the hallmarks of a person who pathologically lies. She made the whole thing up!

Gradually, I began to believe her story felt too good to be true. Then I realized that, in fact, it wasn’t true at all. I had, in fact, been listening to a fairy tale. It felt like a switch in my brain clicked on when I realized Anita had the hallmarks of a person who pathologically lies. She made the whole thing up! Anita needed to keep me fascinated; she had a real desire to control and manipulate how I thought about her.

I was shocked. My thoughts must have shown on my face. Once I figured out she was lying, she didn’t want to talk to me anymore. The thing is, I liked Anita, but she couldn’t believe that anyone could like her if they knew her as she really was. Her lies, I believe, stemmed from serious dissatisfaction with herself, a need to be loved, and a need to mess around with other people’s minds. She always had to be the best, the winner, HUGE!

I felt pretty stupid.

Even though I had been bamboozled, I still wanted to be friends with Anita. I suppose many people would have simply dropped her, but not me. We continued to meet for a time, and Anita tried out different story lines with interesting beginnings, but I wasn’t buying. I wanted to have a real conversation, but it wasn’t happening. Anita felt her real life was boring, and she was ashamed of herself. She thought she was too ordinary. She couldn’t see the beauty of the everyday. I think, at some moments, she believed her own lies. She was inventing her life as she thought it should be, and it had to be exceptional.

Storytellers need listeners, and I’m a good one—but eventually even I can identify a lie when I hear one.

I’ll bet you can, too.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Terra

    Terra

    August 2nd, 2016 at 7:24 AM

    It certainly is pretty devastating when you think that someone is your friend and yet all they do is make up stories and lie to you. After this happens to you a couple of times you start to think that there is no one who can be trusted to tell the truth. They might not think that the lie hurts you because it does not personally involve you but they fail to think that you placed all this feeling and trust in this person and they destroy that by lying to you.

  • judy p

    judy p

    August 2nd, 2016 at 11:56 AM

    But you can see the reasoning behind someone who does this. Most of the time I would think that it is to impress someone and make them like them. I know it is for all the wrong reasons but think about how low their self esteem must be if they think that they have to make up stories to impress other people.
    I know that it is not the right thing to do but you have to have some sympathy for someone who feels like this is the only way that someone will like them.

  • joni

    joni

    August 3rd, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Pretty much if you hear something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Andrew

    Andrew

    August 4th, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    The sad thing is that there are people who can tell you these blatant lies like this and never even blink an eye.
    That is almost sociopathic to me, when they can spin these stories out of nothing and then act as if this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

  • Darlene

    Darlene

    September 1st, 2016 at 4:16 AM

    Going through this … Spouse is telling me lies after lies .. And I have proof

  • Tracy B.

    Tracy B.

    June 27th, 2018 at 6:37 PM

    I am taking a life skills course as part of my therapy due to my dad’s death by the Switcher, Charles was intoxicated and purpose left the switch engaged causing the trains to collide killing my dad instantly due to the train in motion was in full motion. He told my brother in the mid 2007 or so, saying he was SORRY for killing my dad and Gilbert, my dad’s Co-worker and teaching my dad the art of Train Engineer. This led to physical and psychological abuse due to my mums mental breakdown/good life for a bit/back to abuse because her mum died the same day due to dehydration do alcoholism. She was so grief stricken to loose her so young and then to find her husband of just 4 years. She also had to have a therapeutic abortion due to having my sibling and I just 13 months apart by c-section and got pregnant due to no birth control in catholic life. I support this yet because of this it does not acknowledge men’s sperm as viable it’s only looking at the fact that b control is based on stopping the egg from ovulating therefore no egg fertilized? Sperm is not affected by b control only the woman’s egg. So I am without this potential person in my life. My mum was possibly schizophrenic. She actually climbed into her mums casket. She pretty much was a zombie with some good times, thankfully…she never got over his death, neveŕ..
    due to abuse I moved with her 3rd husband’s sister in Saskatchewan only to be abused in every manner…I ended up a Permanent Ward of Saskatchewan , I was 15 and forced into a pilot project and the foster parents were a chronic gambler and a pedophile. The daughter was jealous and condescending telling me I was immature because I was not sexuality active at 16? The father was a chronic drunk and super creepy and watched me in the vent of our rooms and the bathroom. I blocked it out, he said “no one will believe you”. Haa ha haa. I had my first flash in December 1990 and have been writing for help for 25 years.
    This life skills course is triggeting, I’m working hard

    So this person habitually lies and it is around her injuring herself…they are pseudo fantastica…I’m a nurse so I catch all her lies
    she also micromanage me…I also feel her constant watching me is very creepy and maybe envious? I am really frustrated because I told her to just ignore me, please. But no, instead a heaping of her bruised lying ego continuing to contradict me so now I’m being abused by her and it’s taught in life skills to listen activity, support everyone and take responsibility for my thoughts feelings and actions. Thing is I loathe this liar and bullying person and she won’t stop abusing me.
    I’m not sure how to cope with this as I’m so mad at myself I have been self abusive and drank..,
    I am looking for some support and any suggestions…..thank you
    ♡dog speed♧

    I am working

  • arIel

    arIel

    August 8th, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    It is sad that there are people who think that they can only impress you by being untruthful.
    When will they learn that I don’t need to be entertained and impressed?

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