It has been 11 years since Casey Anthony was acquitted of murdering her daughter a court case that attracted international attention reminiscent of the media frenzy that surrounded the OJ Simpson trial. Anthony shared her side of the story on camera this week in a controversial new documentary series that labels her a “pathological liar,” a term that’s often thrown around but is far more complex than many people realize.
Pathological lying is not an official medical diagnosis, say psychologists. It is used informally to describe someone who lies frequently without an obvious motivation, so much so that it seems instinctive, impulsive and senseless.
“Pathological lying is not just: ‘I lie a lot because I don’t want to be in trouble.’ They can lie about things of little consequence to them and make things up for reasons that are not clear,” says Tracey Marks, a general and forensic psychiatrist with more than 20 years of experience.
Anthony maintains her innocence throughout “Casey Anthony: Where the Truth Lies,” saying she is a “convicted liar” but not a murderer. (She was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges, but found guilty of lying to the police in 2011).
“I did lie,” says Anthony, now 36, in the first episode. “But nobody asked why.”
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Everyone lies. So what makes it pathological?
As many may recall, Anthony repeatedly provided false and contradictory information to the police about his job at Universal Studios, about a babysitter kidnapping Caylee, about her daughter being missing and about receiving a phone call from Caylee the day before she was reported missing.
Pathological lying is a common phrase, but one study quantified it as telling five or more lies daily, every day, for longer than 6 months. The lies can be big or small, complex or vague. Regardless, pathological liars show a persistent, almost lifelong tendency to lie for no apparent purpose.
“We know that most people lie because we don’t want to get in trouble. We don’t want to offend someone we care about or cause an argument. These are all very normal and common reasons why we lie, ” says Kati Morton, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It becomes pathological when it’s so frequent that it becomes a trait.”
Contrary to popular belief, the lie is not always ill-intentioned. Andrea Bonior, a licensed psychologist and host of the “Baggage Check” podcast, says it’s typically a “strong urge,” rather than a conscious decision to manipulate others.
“It is usually not thought through or planned,” explains Bonior. In fact, most pathological liars aren’t good liars, she says, because they “don’t consider the consequences or repercussions.”
“They don’t say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t do that, because someone will know I’m lying and catch me. It’s more a force of habit and something they’re conditioned to do in the moment without thinking about it.”
Why do pathological liars lie?
Experts say it’s unclear what might cause someone to lie about even the most trivial of issues. Some pathological liars embellish their stories to seem more interesting or to gain sympathy. Others may deliberately deceive others to get what they want.
The Anthony-focused documentation repeatedly said she lied as a coping mechanism to deal with the years of alleged sexual abuse by her father. (Anthony’s father previously denied the allegations and did not respond to comments for the series).
“I lied to everyone, because that was my whole life up to that point,” said Anthony through tears. “To act like everything was fine, but to know that nothing is fine… All of this is a response to trauma.”
Psychologists agree that compulsive lying probably represents “a larger, more deeply rooted disorder or dysfunction,” such as narcissistic personality disorder (lying for personal gain), borderline personality disorder (lying on impulse), or social anxiety (lying to avoid social situations).
“There is more individual variation in people’s habits than we realize,” says Bonior. “We like to put people in boxes and categorize them. That if they do something, it’s for a specific reason. But people are complex, and one person’s lying habit can be for a very different reason than someone else’s.” a bowl.”
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Can pathological liars stop?
Like any behavioral habit, it is difficult for pathological liars to overcome an impulse. However, with proper treatment and self-awareness, it is possible.
Common exercises in therapy focus on building trust and evoking empathy to help them recognize the pain their seemingly harmless lies cause others.
“It’s crucial for them to see the impact their actions have on other people as well as themselves,” says Marks. “The lie can become so fluid that they may not even recognize when they are telling the truth versus when they are not, so part of the treatment would involve them breaking the habit when they start slipping into storytelling mode.”
Morton adds that it can be difficult for loved ones to trust someone with a history of dishonesty. It takes time, typically years, to regain trust and repair relationships through actions rather than words.
“People can overcome pathological lying,” she says, “but only if they really want to.”
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