A case of pseudologia fantastica, otherwise known as pathological lying

The events that led to Lorraine being incarcerated on a secure forensic unit at age 22 are mind-boggling. It began when she reported to police that a colleague had been sending her death threats in the post. Then about a year later she reported to police that her best friend Abby had developed a lesbian infatuation with her and was stalking her. Two weeks later, her friend Abby appeared to have abducted Lorraine at knifepoint and was subsequently charged and imprisoned. Fast forward another year and Lorraine now reported receiving death threats from her fiancé’s ex wife, and soon after that she blamed her fiancé’s three-year-old son for the starting of two fires in relatives’ homes.

The thing is, there were no death threats, Lorraine had made it all up. She had persuaded her best friend Abby that by appearing to abduct her, she would actually be doing Lorraine some kind of favour. And she set the fires that she accused the three-year-old of starting.

According to Cheryl Birch and colleagues, Lorraine has pseudologia fantastica – a disorder that is characterised not only by the quantity of lies, but also by their fantastical quality. The lies are typically harmful to the liar and are not part of a manipulative plan with a clear objective in mind. Instead they are motivated by internal psychological desires – to boost self-esteem or characterise oneself as a hero or victim. The person with pseudologia fantastica often struggles to distinguish between fiction and reality, but does not experience true delusions and does not have an organic memory impairment. Consistent with this, Lorraine did eventually confess to everything she’d done.

The authors concluded that through better understanding and more awareness of cases like this “…some of the exceedingly costly medical, legal, and social consequences often associated with it can be avoided. [In Lorraine’s case] improved awareness of pseudologia fantastica may have hastened the administration of justice and helped avert some of the attendant social tragedy”.

Birch, C.D., Kelln, B.R.C. & Aquino, E.P.B. (2006). A review and case report of pseudologia fantastica. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 17, 299-320.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

3 thoughts on “A case of pseudologia fantastica, otherwise known as pathological lying”

  1. I am a teacher ata high school There is a female pupil at the school who lies constantly and repeatedy about fictitious injuries and illnesses both of herself and family members – even pets. She may say that she broke her arm the previous evening when this is obviously untrue, she will say she feels sick or is dizzy several times each day, but then is seen to be eating healthily or having fun and is perfectly relaxed when she is unaware that she is being observed. She talks of deaths in the family, often of relatives that don’t exist. Sometmes, the only time she interacts with the staff is to report that she is injured or unwell. She also lies about other events in her life, such as meeting celebrities the previous evening, or accuses others of causing her some harm. On ne occaision she was seen to delibertely harm herself then blame someone else. What could be the reasos for this type of behaviour?

  2. Not qualified to make diagnosis but this could be a form of Malingering or Facticious disorder. It could also be a cry for help, an allusion to abuse. I would discuss this with school counslers seeing the potential severity of the situation.

  3. There’s this guy who seems to be continuously lying about himself. I would say rather boasting. He says he has done his Phd at the age of 24, I would say he has done some education but not to this extend, as his behavior is very immature. If we ask too many questions on it then he tries to avoid it saying another lie over it just to prove himself. He’s so good in doing this and that sometimes we never realize that he had really lied till we found it at last. And he’s clever in explaining it like saying thousand excuses and winning the heart back again. He’s been living in abroad for some time and there’s no way that we can cross check what he has done there and what he’s up to. He likes very much to be the centre of attraction and he likes a lot of attention. As heard he had not received much attention as a kid and that he had some bad experience as a kid and that he assumes certain qualities like bad temper has developed due to that. One good thing is he likes when he knows that we love him no matter what he does, thinking that we won’t let him go for any circumstance. But the question is for how long will he be doing this? And is it possible him to realize what he’s doing. Is this any form of a disorder? Can someone pls clarify this to me. What kind of treatment is available for a person like this?

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