From “The Catcher in the Rye” to “Catch Me If You Can,” there are several references in media and art that showcase compulsive lying as a form of entertainment. But if you know a compulsive liar, chances are there is nothing funny or entertaining about the condition, which can be common in people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
In fact, your trust might be broken if you’ve been seriously misled by someone who compulsively lies. This can lead to broken friendships and relationships.
So how can you approach a compulsive liar and maintain a relationship with one without being fed, well, more lies?
Use Common Sense
Even when dealing with a compulsive liar, you are still dealing with a human being. You yourself may have lied at some point in your life, so you know what it feels like to carry around the anxiety of potentially being caught or, worse, the embarrassment of being found out.
Although you might be frustrated with the liar, remind yourself that they experience these awful feelings all the time. Provoking the liar or increasing their load of guilt might not help repair your relationship, let alone stop the liar from lying.
Before you make any moves to confront the liar, make sure you have considered what you perceive to be lies from every angle. Nothing is more embarrassing than accusing someone of repeated lying when in fact they have been telling the truth.
How to Approach a Compulsive Liar
1. Nip the lie in the bud. If your friend starts to say something outrageous, speculative, or clearly wrong, question them immediately. Do not stew in silence over how deceitful the liar is. Call attention to the problem as it’s happening.
2. Make it clear that compulsive lying is not enough to end your respect or esteem for them. You can love a liar. But do also make it clear that your trust has waned or diminished. Liars often believe that if they stop lying, they will lose your approval. Explain that your approval is based on honesty, but that you still respect them as a person and want them to be better.
3. Clarify your intentions. Your friend or partner will likely not take your observations of their lying to heart if they believe you are coming from a place of criticism. Wait for a calm moment to let your friend or partner know that you see that lying hurts not only the people being lied to, but also the liars themselves.
4. Maintain respect. You want your friend or partner to get help, but remember that in order for someone to change long-standing behaviors and thoughts, they need to come to that decision on their own. This may take time, and you need to respect your boundaries.
5. Accept the outcome. Confronting someone about lying is a courageous step. However, you may find that the person continues to lie, even if they are getting help. At some point, you will have to decide whether or not you want to continue the relationship. If your broken trust cannot be repaired, you may have to accept that it is time to move on.
People who are getting Borderline Personality Disorder treatment will work on controlling their need to compulsively lie. For people who are not getting BPD treatment, it may take a lot of confrontations and damaged relationships before they address their tendency to compulsively lie. In either case, compulsive lying is something that can be addressed and managed so that relationships are not damaged.