Dear Barb,

How can you spot a chronic liar? Are there obvious signs I can watch for? I am sick of being the naïve person.


Very Wary of Liars

Dear Wary,

Chronic liars will try to say certain phrases that are giveaways to their deceit. If you are armed with this list of five common indicators, you won’t fall prey to believing them.

None of us tell the truth 100 percent of the time, but white lies to save someone from having hurt feelings are one thing; deception with the intent to conceal important information is another. I might also add that omission of information is deceit as well, so don’t be fooled.

The police have the benefit of lie detectors and detectives are trained to recognize deception. You, on the other hand, are less well equipped to know when someone is trying to make a fool out of you, or lie to you. Look for these signs in the language and body language from the person you suspect of lying.

The first phrase is “to be quite honest with you” — this is support for a story that is clearly a lie whereas people who don’t feel defensive don’t feel the need to say this.

The second signal is they will often tell you far too much detail as a result of trying to make their story seem realistic and cover their tracks.

The third is that a liar will automatically deny any wrongdoing, even if they weren’t accused of it yet.

The fourth is that they avoid ownership and accountability — liars try to explain themselves in the hopes that you will believe them. As a result, they use the personal pronoun “I” less often as they tell their story.

The last revealing sign is that liars will speak in short sentence fragments that don’t give a complete answer. They are trying not to reveal too much information.

There are also obvious, non-verbal cues that someone is lying, which you can observe according to psychologists at UCLA.

1. Frequent face touching, hair twirling, or picking at skin or nails

2. Sustained eye contact without looking away while they speak

3. Fidgeting, moving frequently and nervously

4. Feet pointed toward the door or away from you.

Sadly, compulsive liars bend the truth about issues large and small and many take great comfort in it. Lying feels right to a compulsive liar. Telling the truth, on the other hand, is difficult and uncomfortable.

Like any behavior that provides comfort and an escape from discomfort (i.e., alcohol, drugs, sex), lying can become addictive and hard to stop. For the compulsive liar, lying feels safe and this fuels the desire to lie even more.

Making matters even more complicated, compulsive lying is often a symptom of a much larger personality disorder, which only makes the problem more difficult to resolve. If compulsive lying is not addressed it can easily ruin one’s reputation as well as his or her relationships.

Compulsive lying can be dealt with through counseling or therapy. But like any addictive behavior (and/or personality disorder), getting someone to admit they have a problem with lying is the difficult part. They are also busy lying to themselves. Unfortunately, getting someone to recognize that he or she has a problem usually requires hitting rock bottom first. If rock bottom never happens, the behavior never changes.

Don’t be complacent and allow others to lie to you when you discover it. Call them on it. Catching them and rebuking them could be the best thing for them. Most of us know at least someone in our past who should have been called on their lying or their behavior long ago, but we simply roll our eyes.

The early years of childhood permissiveness and tolerating bad behavior and lying is what will manifest into bad behaving adults and liars. You cannot deny we are instinctively creatures of habit. I must convey the importance and lasting effect that parents can have on young children by demanding good behavior as well as honesty from their youngsters at an early age. When they are grown, they will thank you for having high expectations. My motto: Actual consequences are the only thing that changes behavior!

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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