Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sarah Palin - Pathological Liar?

In Politico this morning Sarah Palin is quoted as saying:

“I want him [Obama] to acknowledge the sacrifices that these individual men and women — our sons, our daughters, our moms, our dads, our brothers and sisters — are providing this country to keep us safe.”

 Can anyone say Dover? Fort Hood? The fact that President Obama has taken weeks to be thoughtful and deliberative before making a decision to send our troops into harms way.

It is called pathological lying. There is no need for the lie, there may or may not be any tangible gain resulting from the lie, and you tell so many of them, that you usually cannot remember them to the point that you are caught lying. According to the Psychiatric Times, "... pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible." 

Pathological lies are distinguised from compulsive lying by the motivation. Compulsive liars are usually goal-directed. They lie to avoid consequences, to get out of trouble, to gain some benefit, to make themself look better in the eyes of other, or for some tangible reward that is evident to others. The motivation may not be apparent initially, but there is a motive.

A pathological liar has no motive. They lie because they are a liar. Many of their lies do make sense and appear to be motivated for personal gain, but it is accidental. In the case of Sarah Palin, the confusion set in when she lies for no apparent reason. She lies when there is voluminous evidence that she is lying, and she know that this evidence exists. She lies about her lies, and then lies again, and when confronted, claims that red is green and that up is down. What is remarkable, is that her followers believe her, but that is their delusion and this is not about them. Sarah Palin has no motivation for most of her lies, and would likely have achieved her goals without them.

There is dramatic evidence that President Obama has demonstrated, recently, how much he cares about our troops. Why did she lie about it? Perhaps because this week she is visiting military bases so the thought occurred to her. Perhaps if she were visiting department stores, she would give a speech about how the president needs to show how much he cares about the workers who make our shoes. Or that Michelle Obama obviously does not care about American department store workers because she shops from the J. Crew catalog and not at department stores, or something. Whatever pops. By the way, this is called lack of impulse control and I won't go into the population I work with in which I usually find that particular disorder.

Anyway, once again, Sarah Palin is on the front page. Once again she has said something controversial. Once again she has said something that is demonstrably not true. She is truly pathological.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.


  1. Thanks for another very interesting post. I've been in a situation where I am forced to have dealings with somebody who lies all the time. I had thought of this person as a pathological liar. However, after reading your post, I think on reflection that I am dealing with someone who is goal directed with a motive for lying. Fortunately I don't have to be around the this person so I don't know if there are additional lies for no reason.

    Family members say this person has a very skewed view of reality... Definitely a person who is externaly oriented. Never own fault for anything. Doesn't seem to understand why people are upset if screwed over by this individual. I never cease to be amazed at whatever the new lie is that this person comes up with to cover for the last incident or lie. But finally starting to be able to predict somewhat what they may do next because of what they need to "fix" or explain for. This person often makes me think of Palin, except I think Palin is actually more erratic, despite Palin being far more financially and professionally successful. But I supposed that might be different if the person I am having to deal with looked like Palin and used it...

  2. When you have to interact with someone that lies frequently, I'm not sure why they lie is as important as that they lie. In the case of Palin, it just adds to the factors that we need to try to figure out what she's all about. Based on the totality of what I have observed, my best guess is that she is pathological.

    In our day to day lives, a mental health professional would need to find the root of the lying - is it rooted in delusion? a personality disorder? Or is this simply someone with a different moral compass than you or I with no mental health component involved?

    I would say, that when you are around a chronic liar, unless it is your child (in which case you would have some responsibility to effect some change), all you can do, and should do, is protect yourself as best you can.

    As in the case of someone with a personality disorder, which is immutable, there are certain behaviors that we must think of our own protection first, and chronic liars certainly fall into that category. That is why Sarah Palin is (or could be) so dangerous if she is successful in her endeavors.

  3. Kyra,

    Excellent post. This is one point I take out of it. Chronic liars are strategic and their lies further their goals. They think about their lies, even if they are doing it on the spot. Pathological lairs lie constantly over the most trivial things (and the larger ones) that they can be checked up on and refuted. For them lying is like breathing, so consistent and flagrant that it could be viewed as almost involuntary and unthinking. Each of these conditions can happen on their own. There can be pathological liars that get nothing substantial out of their behaviour. (I am thinking here of people who maddeningly always tell you untruths or stories for no purpose, but are not bad people on the whole - just infuriating.)

    The pathological liar, however, can also tell strategic lies that furthers their goals on top of their base behaviour of purposeless untruths. The two types of lies are not exclusive.

    One of the reason Sarah Palin is so confusing to people is she does this combo behaviour - people are expecting one or the other. Todd Palin, on the other hand strikes me as a compulsive liar, by the definition your describe above. He seems to tell the truth when asked about trivial things which don't matter and will even correct the record on what Sarah says. At least he did that with the McCain team, where he became their go to person to see if what she said was accurate. Strategic indeed, because then, when he did lie to cover up what he and Sarah were doing, they trusted him and didn't suspect. He is the one that gave her the credibility and they didn't check the source of their fact checking.

    Do I have the lying part right?


  4. Vera,
    Yes, although a pathological liar rarely worries about consequences - they simply don't exist in their world. I think you're right that Todd follows along and tries to "fix" things and his lies are not so much compulsive lies, as strategic lies. Both pathological and compulsive liars need to lie, I'm not sure Todd has a psychological need to lie, no compulsion there other than to cover up for his wife.