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Pathological Lying

Question:

I believe my son may be a pathological liar and has been since child hood. He is now 28 and married with a new baby and a wife ready to leave him, after 5 months of marriage. He lies when he does not have to. He gets very angry when caught in a lie (that we can prove). Everyone who works with him thinks he’s a liar, so it’s not just me who thinks this is a problem. He is also in complete denial. My husband, my son’s wife and I want to help him get help. Do you have any suggestions on how we can get him to a psychiatrist – and once there, how we can get him to see his problems. Also, is there a particular field of psychiatry we should be looking for? He has symptoms of feeling inferior. He purchases very expensive clothes, just had liposuction to look better, (in his mind) buys excessively, and brags about everything and anything. He has had to have a new macho vehicle every few months, starting with a Hummer, yet he abuses these and turns them in for another kind of vehicle, which is never any better in his opinion. His birth mother didn’t want him and used him for the money his father has. She is an alcoholic who is now married to husband number 8. My son has had no contact with her for 7 years and asked me to adopt him, which I did. We are close as long as he feels I am on his side. While I believe he loves his wife and son, he is very active in sex on the internet and also phone sex. He is very intelligent and owns two successful businesses which permit him to live a lifestyle of excess. However, he feels that everyone else has more than he does, which very honestly is ridiculous. His father has until now believed every story or lie he has ever heard from our son, because he has felt that he had a horrible mother who never nurtured or loved him, and was very happy to allow his father and me to raise him at age 6. I am at a loss about what to do and also wonder if anything can be done. Please, help us.

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Answer:

To answer your second question first, what comes to mind when I read your account are what are called the “personality disorders”. Personality disorders are (to quote DSM-IV) “enduring patterns of inner experience and behavior that deviate markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture”. In English – they are chronic rigid problematic ways that some people interact with other people. Everyone has a personality or a way that they typically cope with the world, stress, etc. Most people are capable of flexibly responding to situations with a range of ways of coping. Some persons become (for whatever reason) rigidly locked into a singular way of approaching the world that causes problems, either for themselves or for others. Your son sounds like he possibly has chronic traits characteristic of several of the PDs including Antisocial (the lying, impulsivity, denial and aggressiveness) and Narcissistic (the insecurity, and preoccupation with success) traits. Of course, there might be something entirely different going on with him too. There is simply no way to diagnose your son over email. Assuming however that I’m on the right track – these conditions are quite hard to treat as the individual with the problem does not usually recognize or care that their behavior harms others. There are probably medicines that can help with the impulsivity some, but I’m not aware of any magic pill for this sort of condition. On the odd chance that your son becomes interested in therapy I would recommend looking for a more senior clinician with experience in working with similarly troubled persons.

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