What Do You Do When a Powerful Person is an Insecure Liar?

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“I am the most important person, not you, and I am always right” is the mantra of the compulsive liar.  Of course, he is not the most important person (lie number one) and he is not always right (lie number two).  Yet, you can be drawn to his seemingly self-confidence and power.  Then, as long as you agree with him (even if what you are agreeing with is a lie), you will be part of his inner-circle. 

But, how do you deal with a compulsive liar if you don’t agree with him?  And why does he impulsively and compulsively lie?

Psychologists have described one type of person who lies so as to boost his ego.  He needs constant admiration from others and will even lie to get it.  If he is confronted with the lie instead of being admired, his worst fear of being criticized and rejected will appear, causing him to attack or try to silence the messenger.  He can easily attack without fearing the consequences because he lacks empathy and compassion for others.  His view is the right view and all other views are false views.  After all, for him it is just a comparison of views, not facts.

The compulsive liar has a grandiose sense of self-worth which is shown by boasting and being contemptuous towards “lesser beings”. Others are seen as being able to be conned by lies that will lead to his personal profit.  Because he does not feel a human connection with most people, he has no compunction about crushing them in order to achieve his goals. His impulsivity is shown in his speech and sexual promiscuity.  Yes, this could get him into trouble but he then deflects and denies responsibility.  Because he is such a great showman, he can fool many people many times.

The brain of the individual who impulsively and compulsively tells lies may be different from others’ brains.  Psychologists Yaling Yang and Adrian Raine have found that pathological liars have a significant increase in white matter and a decrease in the grey/white ratio in the prefrontal cortex compared to normal controls.1 The relative reduction in grey matter is linked with disinhibition, resulting in impulsivity and compulsivity.  The increase in white matter provides the capacity to size up a social situation enough to construct a really good lie.

So, if there are actually neurobiological differences in the brains of pathological liars, how can you deal with them?  You can’t change them and you can’t confront them.  The best you can do is contain them.  Reduce their sphere of influence so that their lies affect as few people as possible.  If you work with a self-aggrandizing liar, divide up parts of a project so you can be totally responsible for one part.  If you live with this person, stop trying to please him/her.  Look to other people and to yourself to satisfy your needs instead of depending on him/her.  If this person is one of the most powerful in the world, join with others to create a group that is more powerful than he is.

  1. Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., Lacasse, L & Colletti, P. (2005). Prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry. 187,320-325.

Raine, A., Lencz, T. et. al. (2000). Reduced prefrontal gray matter volume and reduced autonomic activity in antisocial personality disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57,119-127.

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