Would I lie to you?

Fact or fiction? You can never truly know with a compulsive liar. Peter Munro goes searching for the whole truth, and finds a fascinating conundrum.
March 27, 2014

Peter Monroe


Liar liar … telling the truth was hard work for Sarwath Ahmed Gafoor. Photo: Chris Blott

"I have a confession to make," says Sarwath Ahmed Gafoor. "I'm a bad guy." He sits in his bedroom at night and rattles off all the lies he has told: lies about his parents' jobs and wealth; the school he went to; the friends he never had. How he failed his first university course but told his family he passed with flying colours. How he concocted a two-year relationship with a woman he knew only briefly, then compounded the lie by pretending she cheated on him and broke his heart.

Lies big and small. Lies that made no sense at all. Smiling, he confesses that he lied a fortnight ago during a job interview at a department store. "They asked me what my hobbies were and to make myself sound a bit different I said I played the guitar," he says. So many lies that Gafoor, 22, who has a neat black beard, soft voice and bright smile, started counting them on a handheld clicker he still keeps in a drawer by his bed. In a single week, he says, he told 103 lies. So many, in fact, that one day he realised the truth: he had become a compulsive liar. "It got to the stage where I didn't know why I was doing it," he says. "Telling the truth would have been easier."

We all lie, of course, but few disregard the truth with such abandon. Gafoor calls it an addiction, like smoking. Compulsive liars are infamous, often obsessive, dissemblers. Think Lance Armstrong or Bernie Madoff.

American con man Frank Abagnale - who pretended to be a pilot, a paediatrician, a solicitor, a sociology professor and the supervising resident of a hospital - wrote in his autobiography Catch Me If You Can that he was "driven by compulsions over which I had no control".

"Their lifestyle is simply a lie in a lot of ways," says Donald Jefferys, a psychology professor at Deakin University. "They can lie about anything: lying they have an illness, lying about their job, lying about their wealth. I had one [patient] lying to his wife that he was working every day when he was in the pub drinking. It was only when the credit card bills got to a certain point and the house had to be sold that he got caught out."

Compulsive or pathological lying was first classified as "pseudologia fantastica" by German psychiatrist Anton Delbruck in 1891, after he studied the case of a woman who wandered through Europe pretending alternatively to be a Romanian princess, Spanish royalty or a poor medical student.

Gafoor, who lives in north London, tells me on Skype that he started out telling "little lies". In a polite, matter-of-fact fashion, he says he was 15 when he started exaggerating his parents' occupations and wealth to fit in with friends. He told classmates his father was a cardiac surgeon and his mother a GP. Another time, he claimed his father owned a taxi company and was friends with famous footballers who would visit the family at home. In truth, his dad drove a cab and his mum was an unhappy housewife.

He says he was bullied at home and school. Desiring a better life he built one, based on lies. "Ultimately, it was to help me escape the reality of who I was," he says. "To try to keep up with the stories about whatever lie I had told, I would make up another story. You do it for so long, it becomes an impulse or addiction." His lies stretched from the mundane to the bizarre: he once falsely claimed he was going on a parachuting holiday.

Studies show that compulsive lying usually starts in adolescence, often in response to abuse of some kind. Brain scans of compulsive liars also reveal an excess of white matter, which might predispose them to manipulating information and words. Their lies are often unplanned and impulsive. Oddly, despite their experience in lying, compulsive liars are often caught out. Their stories are often too dazzling or fantastical, casting themselves centre stage in a concocted adventure.

The magnitude, callousness or consequences of their behaviour are irrelevant to them, says Charles Dike, a leading expert on pathological liars. Their fabrications often have no purpose or are counterproductive. "Some people think it's some kind of wish psychosis. Others say it is an unrecognised addictive behaviour," says Dike, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University.

"The most likely reason is that lying is enough gratification for them. It gives them such a rush inside that it makes them want to tell more. The urge to lie is almost overpowering."

Sarah Burke (not her real name) was married for several years to a man she now calls a "chameleon". "Even now, I have no idea who I was married to," she says, shaking her head while sitting in her hilltop home in northern NSW. Her ex-husband once told her that while working for an Australian catering company in Indonesia, he was kidnapped at gunpoint and his fellow hostage killed. I call the company to check the tale. A spokeswoman denies any such incident occurred.

Burke still can't be certain what was true or a lie. She went through 18 months of IVF, resulting in a daughter, because he claimed to have had testicular cancer and to be infertile. But he kept his medical records hidden and told her his diagnosis was a secret, even from his own family. Later, when she tried to end the marriage, he claimed his cancer had returned. "It was this constant manipulation and telling lies to keep me there," she says. "It was just a way of being for him.

"I look back at it now and think how on earth could I have swallowed it ... But it was just so completely out of my realm of understanding. Who would lie about having cancer?"

Most of us lie to escape punishment, to impress someone or protect their feelings. We welcome some lies and shun others. "When my [new] partner says to me, 'You look good', I will probably look like a pork sausage in a skin, but I prefer to hear him say that," Burke says. "That's different to telling a lie that is malicious and hurtful and has real consequences."

American psychology professor Robert Feldman, author of The Liar in Your Life, says we often seek out people who tell us what we want to hear. "Everyday lies that we tell are part of the social fabric," he says. In one study, he found two people meeting for the first time lied an average of three times in 10 minutes.

"People lie largely because they can get away with it. We are raised to think that people who tell the truth are iconic figures ... Yet we tell our kids that when Grandma brings you a gift to tell her you like it. In a sense, we are socialising our kids to be liars at the same time as socialising them to always tell the truth. It's a confusing picture."

To chart a course through this confusion, I enlist the help of "human lie detector" Steve Van Aperen, a former Victorian police detective and now expert in polygraph testing. "Deceptive people often hedge, omit crucial facts, feign forgetfulness and pretend ignorance," he says. "Often it is very difficult to get them to admit or acknowledge they are lying. Some compulsive liars actually believe what they are saying is truthful, because they have lived the lie for so long."

Look for cues, he says. Are they answering the question or being evasive? Do their words match their body language? Are their statements littered with 'ums' and 'ahs'? While speaking, do they cover their face with their hands?"

I think about all this the next time I speak to Gafoor. He tells me he has stopped telling lies.

"How do I know you are not lying to me now?" I ask. He looks out his bedroom window before answering. He puts his right hand up to his chin. He looks down. He scratches his cheek. "Aha!" I think. But then he says: "I have made a conscious decision not to lie any more." And I believe him.

Compulsive liars are rare beasts - one study of 1000 repeat juvenile offenders found only 1 per cent were pathological liars. Highly successful people are not immune, says Charles Dike. More work is needed on what causes compulsive lying and how best to treat it, he says. "It's very hard to recruit people to do research in this area. You don't know whether what they say is true or not true," he says. It's a fascinating conundrum."

I find Gafoor through an online forum on psychiatric disorders, where he had posted a long confession describing lying as an addiction he was starting to overcome. Sitting in his bedroom later, he tells me he all but stopped lying about a year ago (barring the occasional job interview). His conversion was sparked by "a big emotional trauma", he says. One day, while sitting with his girlfriend in a shopping centre, he froze part way through telling a lie. "I couldn't keep up with the lies," he says. "I shat myself. I started crying in front of her."

He found the truth, but lost the girl. The breakdown of their relationship was the catalyst he needed to stop lying, he says. To force himself to face the truth, he began tallying his lies, first in a diary and then on the clicker. "To break the impulse of lying was difficult ... I needed to make a conscious effort to come away from doing it."

Telling the truth was hard work at first, but he feels good now, he says. "A lot of the time when I lied was for acceptance, I wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere ... Now I have grown a lot of self-respect in the past six months.

"I don't have the mental stress of having to live up to my lies. I am who I am."


Commentary by the Ottawa Men's Centre
There are a number of organizations that actively recruit those who show all the potential to be "molded" who will "fit in", conform
to the norms of telling lies, that they are brainwashed is part of their job.

The worst pathological liars in Ontario work for the Children's Aid Soceity and in a host of similar occupations with absolute power.

Take Ottawa Police Detective Peter Van Der Zander, not just a pathological liar, but a fabricator of evidence and a abuser of victims of abuse, about one of the lowest forms of humanity around it is still working for the Ottawa Police be it no longer in partner assault.

The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa is a good place if you are looking for a large number of professional fabricators of evidence and or
pathological liars.

Phillip Hiltz-Laforge is a classic case of a rogue Child Protection Worker who fabricates evidence to keep his bosses happy where getting another
child for year provides $266,000 in income to "The Society", that's what they call themselves. The local
 lawyers don't call them CAS, they have another name for them "The Gestapo" who of course were also experts and pathological lies and mixing a small dose of facts with a large amount of fiction.

Then there is Lawyer Marguerite Isobel Lewis who personally fabricates evidence in the courtroom to keep children wrongly in care. She is a professional child abuser and has ended up with the nick name "The Babysnatcher".

This is a lawyer so vile that if you walk the corridors of the Ottawa Superior Court House you have a good chance of overhearing lawyers complaining about her ethics and wishing they had any other lawyer from the CAS.

Don't expect any final accountability in the court room.  A large number of judges are former CAS lawyers who got annointed to the bench
where it is most unlikely that they will make a decision that the CAS do not like.

One of the Worst pathological liars in Ottawa is "hired Pen"  D r. David Alexander McLean, who while being a psychriatst , writes reports to order
to abuse children while keeping his masters at the CAS happy. The fact is, "hired Pen"  McLean, derives most if not all his income from doing
work almost exclusively for the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa aka "The Gestapo".