Is Lying an Illness?

Is lying a mental disorder–or a choice?

Lying is essentially a choice. However, it can become so ingrained and automatic that it no longer functions in the person’s mind—nor seems to outsiders—as a conscious choice. But it still started as a choice, and continues as a choice in that the liar evades what he’s doing. Sometimes this is called “pathological” lying. The term makes it sound like there’s a medical virus, bacteria or gene causing the behavior, but there is no such virus or bacteria and no known gene. To the best of our knowledge, lying is a choice. There are different kinds of lying. Some lie in a very premeditated and calculated way in order to gain something for nothing. Others lie to avoid conflict or to “not hurt another’s feelings” which almost always means trying to avoid conflict.

Lying is (at best) a bad habit that either happens occasionally and the person sees it as wrong and regrettable—or, at the other extreme, is a way of life for the person, perhaps in the interest of financial or criminal gain, or perhaps in the interest more of creating a false image of oneself for the sake of a certain kind of approval from others. In all cases lying is a willful distortion of reality. There is “psychological lying” in the sense that sometimes people become so good at creating falsehoods in their minds that they actually come to believe them. In a sense, the lies become delusions. Psychological problems and syndromes are mixed in with this, but the evasion involved with lying is deliberate and can be stopped at any time if the liar raises his level of full awareness and makes the value judgment that he’s not only harming others, but destroying his own mind, through living a life of pretense.