By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
I find the psychology of lying fascinating. So, while browsing research devoted solely to falsehoods (on which I’ll write a future post), I started to reflect on different sorts of liars I’ve met throughout the years.
This led to a Google search (“types of liars”) to see if it’s a thing. And it is… kinda – for example, sociopathic liars vs. occasional liars vs. white liars are all types of liars.
However, I’d been thinking about classifying liars on different terms. I conceptualize them on a spectrum, ranging from pathological (the worst type) to tactful (the least-harmful type), while taking into consideration the various reasons people lie.
In this post (which is not based on scientific research), I describe the 8 types of liars I’ve encountered, both as a professional counselor and in my personal life.
1. The pathological liar
This person lies constantly, for any reason, or for no reason at all. They don’t know when they’re lying and they’re incapable of being honest with not only others, but with themselves. Due to this, it’s impossible to have an authentic relationship with the pathological liar; their reality fluctuates and evolves on a whim.
What I consider pathological lying is what others may refer to as sociopathic. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), repeated lying is a criterion for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder (formerly known as sociopathy or psychopathy).
The pathological liar isn’t necessarily dangerous or cruel, but they’ll never be someone you can trust. The pathological liar, providing they have other redeeming qualities, is a suitable acquaintance, but never a loyal friend, partner, or spouse.
2. The intentional liar
This type of liar enjoys pushing your buttons. They lie for the fun of it or for the sake of entertainment. It makes them feel powerful and in control. The people they lie to are their pawns. They often desire an audience.
While the intentional liar is similar to the pathological liar in some ways, they differ in that they’re fully aware of their untruths. The intentional liar is the high school quarterback who asks the least popular girl to prom… and then tells her it was just a joke – in front of all his friends.
Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel.
They fib to get a reaction and then say (in a mean-spirited way), “I was just f—ing with you!” Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel. The only reason they’re not at the very end of the spectrum is that by possessing awareness, they at least have the capacity to change.
3. The manipulative liar
They lie to get what they need (or want). They have an end goal and will do or say whatever it takes to achieve it.
They often use flattery or say what they think you want to hear in order to get a promotion, make a sale, get elected… or get in your pants.
Like the pathological liar, you won’t know where you stand with the manipulative liar. (Does she think you’re witty? Or does she like free drinks?) The manipulative liar is not malicious, but they can still cause harm. They have no place in your life.
4. The protective liar
They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work.
This type of liar is at times dangerous, but can also be perceived as noble; it all depends on what (or who) they’re protecting. They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work. They have no moral objections to lying as long as it serves their purpose.
They may protect your secrets as well, making them a loyal friend or spouse.
The danger lies in who or what they choose to protect. This type of liar may carry dark, terrible secrets that would shake you to the core if revealed. You’ll never know what they keep hidden and therefore, you’ll never (fully) know who they are. Their secret could be as benign as a childhood stutter… or it could be devastating and unspeakable, a sexual predator who victimizes vulnerable youth or a secret affair with your brother.
5. The avoidant liar
Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.
They strive to avoid something they find unpleasant; instead of being honest, they offer partial truths or deflect. It could be that the avoidant liar is evading conflict or doesn’t want to complete a particular task. Maybe they don’t want to be judged. Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.
For example, the avoidant liar who opts out of a family dinner because they can’t stand their mother-in-law pleads a migraine. Or the avoidant liar who oversleeps and is late to work tells their boss they got a flat tire. And the avoidant liar who drunkenly spills red wine on your white carpet blames it on the dog.
Avoidant liars are frustrating because they don’t say what they mean; you can never be sure if you’re getting the truth, a half truth, or a made-up excuse.
6. The impressive liar
They aim to impress. This person may not see themselves as a liar; they may not even realize they’re being deceitful. They fabricate to gain the approval of others. They may stretch the truth to make a story a bit funnier. They could fake a feeling to seem more self-assured than they are.
Lying to impress is more of a habit than a conscious act. The impressive liar believes their own stories after telling them so many times. (For example, after multiple retellings of a bar fight, the impressive liar begins to believe that he knocked out three bikers, when in reality, he broke his fist attempting to punch the bouncer.)
Impressive liars are mostly harmless, but can be annoying, especially when it’s obvious they’re fibbing. They pose little risk, but why spend time with someone who feels the need to pretend to be something they’re not?
7. The lazy liar
Sometimes, speaking candidly requires a lengthy explanation. The lazy liar streamlines the truth because it’s less complicated than giving the full narrative.
The lazy liar doesn’t leave out important details; instead, they opt to recount the movie version of the truth instead of the 700-page book version.
For example, saying, “I was late because I grabbed the wrong report” is easier than “I’m late because after I grabbed the report, I realized one page was missing, and when I went back, I had to reprint the entire report because the page numbers were off and the heading wasn’t on a separate sheet.”
Lazy lying is harmless. The lazy liar doesn’t leave out important details; instead, they opt to recount the movie version of the truth instead of the 700-page book version. (The only time lazy lying can be problematic is when the lazy liar deems a detail unimportant when it is, in fact, imperative.)
8. The tactful liar
They are considerate and well-meaning. They offer overly-optimistic reassurances when things aren’t going well and find themselves saying things like, “It wasn’t that bad” (even when it was indeed that bad).
They’re pleasant to be around. Your plus-sized butt will never look fat in jeans and your disastrous dye job will be “edgy,” not “traffic-cone orange.”
What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.
You also won’t know when there’s spinach in your teeth, if your fly is down, when your breath is bad, if the PowerPoint presentation you put together for work is dull, or if it might be considered clingy to send 19 texts (including “heart eyes” emoticons) to your new boyfriend who’s at the game with the guys.
The tactful liar has the best of intentions; they don’t want to upset you or hurt your feelings. What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.
An honorable mention for the heroic (self-sacrificing) liar. This type of liar is exceedingly rare, which is why they’re not included with the eight more common types. The heroic liar is similar to the protective liar in that they’ll go to extremes to protect, but in their case, they lie to defend (or safeguard) someone they love (or to save a stranger even, if they believe it’s the right thing to do).
For example, if two children (brothers) are playing, and the youngest breaks a lamp, the older (heroic liar) will take the blame to save the younger from a spanking.
The heroic liar’s place on the spectrum would be past the well-meaning liar, on the very end.
Can you relate to any of the above liars? Maybe you’re personally acquainted with one (or several) of them?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!