Effects on Children Whose Parent Is a Pathological Liar

Pathological lying is not an official medical diagnosis, yet the term is often used to describe people who exhibit excessive and compulsive lying on a regular basis. Parents who are referred to as pathological liars may suffer from additional mental health issues such as personality disorders, low self-esteem or a desperate need for approval 1. Pathological liars often speak without thinking, and convince themselves that their lies may in fact have happened. Exhibiting a compulsive behavior such as lying to or in front of children has negative ramifications.


Children of preschool age may already be aware that their parent has trouble telling the truth. The small child may decide that they cannot trust their parent and be confused about mixed stories and messages. Child care providers and preschool may reinforce the value of honesty, yet at home, the child observes their parent engaging in undesirable lying behavior.

Parenting Skills

Pathological lying affects the ability to be a consistent parent. A parent who lies may change his or her story or sequence of events, therefore reducing the effectiveness of household rules and a child's sense of stability. Research reveals that inconsistent parenting produces negative behavioral issues for children, as they do not learn proper limits or consequences. In addition to creating household instability, a parent that compulsively lies is modeling a very negative behavior.

Learned Behavior

Parental pathological lying can become a learned behavior for children 1. Children and teenagers model the behavior they see their parents exhibit and also learn they can get away with it. By looking up to a pathological liar as a role model, the child or teenager gives him or herself permission to act this way themselves. Pathological lying can become a part of a dysfunctional family dynamic passed down to younger generations. When a parent is identified as having an issue with compulsive lying, it is recommended that children be counseled about the negativity of this behavior, before they emulate it.

Covering Up Issues

Some compulsive liars may lie in order to cover up past issues or hide current problems from their family. For example, a gambler or alcoholic may consistently lie about their whereabouts or how they spend money. Other pathological liars may be hiding serious issues such as past or current abuse. Regardless of the reason, lying to mask a problem, affects the ability to treat the underlying issue. A parent who is lying to cover up a problem such as drinking, is avoiding treatment, thus causing additional pain for their family and children.

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