Compulsive lying – causes, symptoms and treatment

Compulsive lying – causes, symptoms and treatment

Compulsive lying is not only a moral weakness, but also and above all a psychological disorder. The people concerned constantly invent new stories to repress the traumas. They distort reality to suit their own feelings. The stories are often so close to reality that it is difficult to recognise the disorder behind them. In addition to trauma, the disorder has its roots in inferiority complex, isolation and loneliness.

Pathological lying – a psychological disorder

The technical term for pathological lying is Pseudologia Phantastica. The psychiatrist Anton Delbrück diagnosed this disorder in 1891 as a pathological syndrome. Those affected do not lie in the first place for the reasons usually given.

Karl May and Baron Münchhausen

Hieronymus Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen (1720 – 1797) went down in history as a lying baron. He was not, however, a compulsive liar, for his “bedtime stories” were in the tradition of fairy tales and legends; they were clearly recognisable as being made up.

It was quite different for Karl May. He grew up in Saxony in very poor conditions and found an outlet for his oppressive reality in the adventure novels in the local library. He was particularly fascinated by the stories of a Spanish bandit leader who robbed the rich to give to the poor.

Karl May later became a teacher, but earned extra income through scams in which he posed as a salesman or broker. For this he was sentenced to seven years in prison. It was there that he learned to use his storytelling skills legally and wrote his first novel.

The stories of Kara Ben Nemsi, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou became bestsellers and Karl the Hungry became a famous man. Despite this, he never stopped pretending: even at the height of his success, he pretended to be Old Shatterhand or Kara Ben Nemsi himself and to have lived all these stories. Only late in life did he admit that they were fictions. His readers believed him when he said that the author and the main character were identical.

This was also due to the fact that his novels were close to reality. Karl May was, what is lost in his fantasy glory, at the forefront of his time in ethnology and described in detail conflicts that were hardly known in Europe.

Two things become clear in the writer: on the one hand, the compulsive need to invent stories can also be used in a positive way, for example as an author. By writing, May cured himself.

On the other hand, a compulsive liar is not necessarily a morally depraved person. Even if the inventor of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand deceived others in his youth, he turned out to be a great philanthropist: Winnetou’s message is brotherhood across ethnic lines at a time when real Apaches were hunted like animals in the USA.

The anti-racist May became publicly committed to peace and understanding between peoples at the end of his life, and the Mescalero Apaches pay tribute to him today as someone who erected a monument to them as honourable human beings.

“Normal lies”

These include lies of necessity in situations that embarrass us or have difficult consequences. Such a lie of necessity would be, for example, suffering from extreme diarrhoea, peeing myself on the way to work, going home, changing my clothes and calling my boss to say I can’t come to work because of the flu. It also includes social lies to avoid telling unpleasant truths: When annoying relatives come to visit my parents and I pretend I have to work.

Everyone tells untruths on a daily basis: we lie to our wife when we tell her that she has hardly any wrinkles on her face, when we objectively see that they have become more numerous; we are not honest with our children when we tell them that we are going to briefly discuss something outside with their mum so that they do not see us smoking. We don’t say to our neighbour’s face that we think they are mentally deficient.

Lies have many faces: making nice speeches, trickery, not telling the whole truth, cheating, keeping secrets, embellishing, but also deceiving, cheating, slandering or denying. We are both aware and unaware of deception.

No external reason

Pathological liars are professional liars in that their stories usually contain a core of truth around which they invent stories that then develop their own dynamics, which the person concerned can often no longer control themselves. They then believe what they say themselves.

Unlike most ‘normal’ lies, pseudologists have no immediate external reason for telling their invented stories. A student who arrives late to school and lies that the bus was late has just as much of an actual motive, namely the teacher’s displeasure, as the shoplifter who says that he accidentally put the stolen goods in his bag.

In the compulsive liar, however, it is a compulsive need to be noticed that is at the centre of the problem. In this case, the pathological fabrication overlaps with pathological narcissism. Inwardly, the people concerned feel inferior and compensate for this with stories in which they play the main role and do great things. The purpose of lying is therefore to create a scene and to draw attention to oneself. For this purpose, compulsive liars preferably seek a naive audience that believes their stories.

Compulsive liars are not at all like people with a communication disorder. On the contrary, over time they develop acting skills, they know how to express themselves with words and look friendly. Some of them “grow up” and become political demagogues.

At the centre of attention

Pathological liars are characterised by stories in which they themselves are at the centre of dramatic events. To do this, they invent all or part of their lives. For example, they pretend to have suffered from a disease such as cancer or AIDS. They have survived extreme events, participated in a terrorist attack or an earthquake. They do this in such a targeted way that they only tell these stories when no one is around to see through the lie.

For example, they will not tell the cancer lie if a cardiologist is sitting at the table and might ask which doctor they saw or what symptoms they had. Events that have been in the news and for which the liar knows the context well enough to continue telling them are particularly suitable for this kind of self-promotion.

Plausible stories

For example, in the early 2000s, an Italian-speaking punk called Marco appeared in Hamburg-Altona. In 2001, during the G8 meeting in Genoa, the young punk Carlo Giuliani was shot by a carabinieri, and this murder had a similar significance for the anti-globalisation movement as the murder of Benno Ohnesorg had for the soixante-huitards.

When a journalist who had visited Genoa recounted his experience, Marco intervened and told how he had slept on a mattress with him and his girlfriend the night before Carlos’ death. This was followed by a wild account of how he had had to flee Italy because of his close relationship with Carlo Giuliani, in order to escape persecution from the “fascist authorities”, as if he had arrived in Germany as a political asylum seeker.

The journalist then made an appointment with “Marco” to conduct an interview. “Marco” did not show up. Subsequently, several people from the social environment in which “Marco” had stayed in Altona told various lies that “Marco” had told them about his origins. After that, he had disappeared each time, spent the night elsewhere and told new stories.

The journalist was not a “greenhorn” who believed any story lightly, but he knew about interviews and distorting the truth. Yet he was fooled. Marco’s lie was well thought out: as a punk, he came from the same background as Carlo Giuliani, as an Italian, he could well have been in Genoa. The fact that the Italian authorities were after him because he knew Carlo also seemed plausible. Indeed, the police and carabinieri had tracked down the leftists throughout the region during and after their violent excesses in Genoa. At the same time, the framework was broad enough that even a journalist who had been present at the G8 protests himself could judge whether a story had unfolded in this way or not.

Building on other people’s themes

Typical lies of disturbed people also include saying that they are of famous origin or have a mysterious mission. Liars draw directly on the themes that circulate in the place where they are.

Christian (name changed), who sits in a café in Hanover-Linden every day from morning to evening, overheard a couple at the next table talking about a trip to Iran. He jumped into the conversation and told them that if he went to Iran, the death penalty would await him because he had openly criticised the mullahs in the course of his work.

When asked what he had done in Iran, he replied with a shrug and said: “It’s an old story I don’t like to talk about. Besides, he would not be safe in Linden, because the Iranian secret service has its men there and in alternative circles critics of Islam are considered right-wingers.

In this case, the lie was obvious to the liars, because the Iranian exiles in the neighbourhood are largely leftists who fled Iran to escape the mullahs, and his story related all too clearly to a real-life biography they had told before – that of a young Iranian who faced the death penalty in his country for converting from Islam to the Baha’is.

Christian’s motivations for such stories are not hard to guess. His schedule consists of cycling from his flat to a café in Linden, where he kills time by reading the day’s newspapers. It’s not very exciting, and clearly he has neither the fame nor the personal satisfaction he would like to have in his professional and private life. So he spices up this event-poor life with stories in which he has a special significance.

Lying or delusion?

The borderline between compulsive lying and delusional illnesses is not easy to draw, because mental disorders that are accompanied by delusions can also lead to the former. These include bipolar disorder, borderline syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, all affective and narcissistic disorders.

However, even in the case of these psychic disorders, the lies of pseudologia fantastica can be distinguished from delusions. Firstly, the liar consciously invents his or her stories, even if they then take on a life of their own. Secondly, unlike delusions, his stories have nothing to do with a distorted perception of reality.

A schizophrenic who says that Angela Merkel is working with the mafia and that invisible demons are pouring poison into her coffee believes what he is saying, and suffers from his false reality. A compulsive liar, on the other hand, would instead tell the story that the federal government systematically puts poison in coffee to enslave people in Germany, and that he is being prosecuted for researching the subject. What distinguishes him from the conspiracy mythomaniac is that he does not believe in his fantasies himself, but only wants to draw attention to himself.

Alternative biographies

Compulsive delusions are not based on visual, haptic or auditory hallucinations: pathological liars do not hear voices or see ghosts, like schizophrenics or borderlines who dissociate.

In the case of the borderline syndrome in particular, there are usually real traumatic experiences that are one of the causes of the persons concerned reinventing whole lives and moving in elaborate fantasies that redraw their traumatic biography and serve as a substitute for a perceived empty life. Thus, there may be actual sexual abuse in childhood as well as loveless parents, upon whom the affected persons then place a so-called parentage because of which they were rejected by their (non-biological in their imagination) parents. The line between conscious lies, life lies that serve a disturbed orientation in the world, manipulation and delusions is blurred in borderlines.

Borderlines can lie so convincingly that their statements have even led to the conviction of innocent people. For example, a defendant was convicted ten years after the unexplained death of her adopted daughter, because a relative with borderline personality disorder said that she had seen the woman directly at the scene of the alleged crime, but had kept it to herself out of fear.

As the adoptive mother had an obviously distant relationship with the deceased and appeared cold in court, the liar’s statements seemed plausible. It was only when the proceedings were reopened that the construction collapsed. The informant had described buildings that had not yet been built at the time of the girl’s death. She had researched the scene of the tragedy shortly before her false statement.

On the one hand, she was lying to put herself in the centre of attention, on the other hand, she was creating an alternative biography with a story in which she had witnessed a crime and then spent her life in fear and flight, which deceived her about her life as a failure.

How can we recognize pathological liars?

1) Compulsive liars put themselves on stage in front of an audience or impose the role of victim on themselves.

2) Their statements contradict the facts. But beware: the more professionally the impostor acts and the more ignorant those present are, the more difficult it is to notice.

3) The story lacks witnesses who know the people present. The framework of the story is knitted in such a way that it is difficult to prove or disprove. If the liar tells, for example, how he heroically fought with a Russian drug dealer at Hamburg’s main station, it will be difficult to verify this, because firstly, this clientele hangs out there, but secondly, they do not leave a business card and thirdly, they probably do not frequent this environment.

4) When asked concrete questions, the liar loses himself in swear words, generalities or supposed secrets. He avoids questions because it would cost him too much effort to find a logical explanation that would be “admissible in court”.

5) He has difficulty telling his story with chronological jumps as soon as he is asked what exactly happened, when and where.

6) Variants of a story follow one another with contradictions in content and chronology. Here again, beware: in each person, the memory is not an objective chronicle, but a system of coordinates adapted to the current reality of life. In the compulsive liar, however, these contradictions appear in connection with the fact that he or she presents these stories to a changing audience.

7) Are they familiar with the story? Many notorious liars do not bother to invent their own stories, but simply tell the experiences of others as if they were their own. Pathological impostors often alter other people’s stories in small ways. These may be episodes from TV shows or stories told by their relatives. Sometimes a quick search on the Internet will turn up exactly the same story, with different people and a different location.

8) Do you suspect that the person you are talking to is a notorious liar? Then don’t make the mistake of looking for popular but false signals. The people involved are not nervous or embarrassed when they lie. They do not avoid eye contact, quite the contrary.

During an ordinary conversation, our thoughts wander here and there, we look at the other person, then at the wall or the window. But a notorious liar will not take his eyes off them during his story, because he reads their reactions to see how he develops his plot.

9) Professional writers know how to build a good story. Most people, however, have only a vague idea. So ask yourself the following questions: Could the narrator have been in the place in question at the time? What was he or she doing there? How did he or she get there? Instead of asking the narrator directly, it is better to ask people you know.

An essential element of a fictional story is that it builds events around characters. For example, a novel might have corruption as its theme and build a story around a mayor who secretly visits forced prostitutes, gets caught by the police and cools down the policeman involved. A compulsive crook now tells such fictional stories, giving himself a decisive role.

Please note: there are people who have experienced spectacular things and who have done special things. For example, if someone says that a gangster ambushed him at night in Hamburg Altona and rammed his fist into his larynx, this may be true.

There are also people who experience exciting things particularly often, because it is in their nature to put themselves in such situations. Therefore, they should pay attention to what the narrator is doing elsewhere: does he work as a journalist, for example, and is he therefore needed in situations that are sensational for ‘normal citizens’? If so, does this indicate that the events narrated are more real than if the person concerned works in an arcade, where he/she experiences little in the outside world, but has all the more time to indulge his/her fantasies?

10) Do the stories of the person concerned correspond strikingly to events that seem spectacular to the public and constitute a theme? Are they at least exaggerated? Do listeners approach the narrator and tell him that he is from Hanover, then hear the term “days of chaos” and he immediately jumps on it to “tell” how the police searched for him for months because he was leading the defence of the squats on the Sprengel site?

This is not necessarily a compulsive lie, it may be a simple exaggeration. But we recognise compulsive fabrication by the fact that the person concerned can come up with a story on various topics that are in the news and in which he or she plays the main role.

Caution should be exercised with stories that in theory could still correspond to reality, but are already highly improbable. This is how good novelists work. In everyday life, such stories are extremely rare.

11) Look for errors in areas you know well. It may be a misunderstanding. But if such mistakes appear frequently in stories and also lead to a punchline, then it is legitimate to suspect that it is staged.

12) Beware of manipulation. Notorious liars are professionals who clarify exactly what they can tell to whom. They play on sexual stimuli to get you to turn around and divert your attention if you are suspicious.

If you are already suspicious, watch what they say to you and to others. If the liar is playing the victim, for example, he or she will tell you a story that seems credible because you do not know the subject well.

For example, if he is a Lebanese immigrant and you know that you are anti-racist, he might tell you that he is suffering psychologically because neo-Nazis are terrorising him, but he does not tell you about physical suffering because you are also a doctor and could check on this. Instead, he tells another acquaintance that he has cancer.

13) You already know he is lying? Then watch him while he does it, without telling him that you know. Most people look nervous when you are making up lies. Compulsive liars, on the other hand, remain relaxed.

14) Observe his reaction when he is caught. If a “normal neurotic” is caught lying, common reactions are shame and discomfort. A pathological liar, on the other hand, might apologise verbally on the one hand, but without appearing emotionally involved. On the other hand, he takes on a new role as a liar, that of the repentant sinner. He does not apologise himself for the deception because he is sorry, but realises that he has made a mistake in which he has been caught and will refine his methods.

Notorious liars immediately shift the blame. Someone else takes the blame, and the liar usually combines this leak with other untruths. If asked, he tells that it is his wife’s harshness, his “insolent son” or his “cruel boss” that makes him do this. He then tells lies about who is supposedly responsible.

Or he relativises: “It’s true, I didn’t tell the truth. But think about what happens in my job. They all lie much worse. I, at least, try to keep it real.

Most of the time, convicted liars camouflage their lies with other untruths. The con man says that he has now found a permanent job in a cocktail bar. You went there and the employees said “no, he doesn’t work here”? The liar might then say that everything was clear and that the boss had already signed the employment contract, but cancelled it at the last minute.

Pathological liars try to destabilise their perception. For example, say “what you told me yesterday is not true” and then reply “you misunderstood”, “you were probably too drunk to believe it” or “I never said that”.

It is precisely when there are co-morbidities such as jealousy or borderline delusions that the liar also attacks them personally when he is convinced of fabrication. This is where it becomes dangerous for them: the more you are in the right, the more massive the attacks and slander become.

The liar might report you to others, question their credibility, shout at you or blackmail you with new lies. For example, they might start crying and say “I’m only lying because I’m desperate, and if you keep this up I’ll end up throwing myself under a train”.

You should not react to this. If you don’t want to break off personal contact completely, make it clear that you will only maintain the relationship and that you will only talk to the person concerned again when they start serious psychotherapy.

15) Be aware of subtle physical signals that are difficult to manipulate. Notorious liars are as focused on what they say as professional speakers. That’s why you usually change the tone of voice when making up passages. Increased adrenaline levels cause thirst, which is why the person licks their lips.

16) Pay attention to other features. The people concerned almost always have co-morbidities. These may include bulimia, alcoholism or strange “secrets”. A typical characteristic of compulsive affabulators is that, although they constantly tell exciting stories and appear to be open, they hide large parts of their real life.

And for good reason. If someone visits him at home, they will probably come across Erich von Däniken’s books or the tabloid press from which he draws his inspiration.

17) Does he tell stories that take place in a specific place where he is, but always finds excuses not to take them there? This is not a sure sign, but an element of suspicion. The excuses are then used so that “witnesses to the crime” can tell that the stories of the person concerned never happened.

18) If people the victim knows appear in the liar’s stories, he or she invents reasons why their common acquaintances should not know that he or she has told this. For example, a patient told a story about being in bed with a woman who was in good hands. The story had to be kept secret, as the friend was not to hear about it.

Compulsive liars also enjoy supposed involvement in secret service activities, organised crime or explosive political issues. Here, he only tells ‘in the greatest secrecy’. On the one hand, this demonstrates to the angelic the presumed importance of the person concerned, but on the other hand it offers a ‘plausible’ explanation why the angelic cannot tell the story to other people under any circumstances.

You can find out more if the liar has told the same or a similar story to other people in ‘absolute secrecy’.

Narcissistic lying

Compulsive lying is often associated with narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic lying is fundamentally different from “classic lying”. People with “normal neurosis” know when they are telling untruths, for example to avoid trouble.

In their system of ethical coordinates, they know that untruths are not good. Their “moral self” is in contradiction with their “amoral self”. If the “inner pig” wins, we say, for example, that someone stole the bicycle we received as a present instead of saying that we don’t remember where we left it. We feel guilty about such a deception.

Narcissistic lying has another origin: the narcissist builds his false self-image on lies and therefore has no attachment to the truth. He is never real, which is part of his disorder, but it makes his lies effective. For a person with the disorder, the “truth” is what is useful to him. Contradictions in his statements do not irritate him, and so they overwhelm people with a social ethic. Narcissists do not understand why they should have scruples, and victims unconsciously assume a conscience that he does not have.

Narcissists invent “reality” and cheat reality in order to preserve their illusory world. They often succeed in this. Thus, at the beginning of a relationship, they promise their partners blue skies, embark on these fantasies themselves, take their partners with them, only to end the relationship suddenly when the partner has understood the illusory world. They then devalue their partner just as they had previously idealised them and look for the next victim.

Narcissistic lies are thus compulsive because they are lies about life, with which the sufferers build a false self against reality. These untruths can take the form of overt threats and subtle insinuations, devaluing the narcissist and the other person. The person concerned constantly invents new stories in which he or she makes the victim partner impossible and values him or herself.

Causes of pathological lying

Compulsive lying functions as a defence that arises from feelings such as fear and shame. The disturbed behaviour usually begins in childhood and develops in adolescence as a compulsion, creating its own reality.

Those affected are overwhelmed by reality and compensate with fantasies. Especially for traumatised people, those who have been sexually abused, whose parents have separated, who have suffered violence or who have lost a significant other, compulsive lying is a way of coping.

If the children are rejected, this can trigger narcissistic tension in those involved. Compulsive lying is now accompanied by shame and a sense of isolation. In addition, they feel not only unloved, but also worthless.

They now create a false sense of self-worth by telling false stories: their invented stories allow them to manipulate others and compensate for their inner emptiness. Compulsive lying is accompanied by anxiety disorders and other personality disorders. Depression can be a consequence, especially when others exclude the person concerned because of their behaviour and they become socially isolated.

Medical treatment

Compulsive liars should always consult a doctor, but very rarely will they do so on their own. This is a psychological disorder that needs to be treated by a psychologist, and in severe cases, a stay in a closed institution is required. In such cases, the persons concerned are a danger to themselves and to others.

In most cases, psychological treatment is also necessary, because the persons concerned do not admit that their lies are pathological. They lie about their obsessive behaviour, put it into perspective or deny it. Or they rationalise their invented stories, blame others or point to concrete triggers. In other words, they turn compulsive lies into the lies of psychologically healthy people.

Progressive development

Pseudologia phantastica belongs to the narcissistic personality disorders. Like other narcissists, those affected often have good verbal skills and over time build up their stories into increasingly complex structures. After a while, many of them can no longer distinguish between invented and untrue stories. People with severe disorders have big problems at work, because employers and colleagues cannot trust a liar.

The invention of alternative biographies prevents compulsives from developing a real professional biography and thus real skills to which they can refer in their work. This causes problems for the disturbed: they suffer from headaches and often do not know what is right or wrong in everyday situations.

Their telling of untruths has negative consequences in their relationships with friends, relatives or partners. Some notorious liars have a whole collection of broken relationships and are always looking for new people who do not yet know who they are dealing with.

They fall into a negative spiral: they invent their lie because of feelings of inferiority, of not being liked or of not being recognised. They lose real friends who really recognise them for who they are and surround themselves with false admirers instead. This admiration is false because it serves the invented construct and not the person who makes up the stories in their psychological distress.

Therapy for compulsive lying

Compulsive lying is a concomitant symptom. That is why the therapist always addresses the underlying illness, trauma, narcissistic disorder or anxiety disorder. As with most psychological disorders, the person concerned must be willing to change their behaviour.

Even if they do, they often try to lie to the therapist. Many sufferers even “measure” the quality of the therapist by his or her ability to foil the invented stories. Most compulsive liars feel little pain, because their behaviour is a successful strategy for dealing with other people.

The therapist’s first task is therefore to motivate the patient by clearly explaining the benefits of stopping lying. In doing so, the therapist should refrain from moral judgement. The aim of therapy is not to make the person concerned feel ashamed because his or her behaviour is wrong, but to stabilise his or her ego and strengthen his or her self-esteem. A rule of thumb is that the stronger the patient’s self, the less he or she lies.

Since lying is a behaviour, behaviour therapy is effective. It is not primarily a question of examining the causes of untruths, but of simulating an alternative behaviour in situations where the patient tells one.

The therapist and the patient go through specific stories invented by the person concerned and analyse the needs expressed in them. What is the context of a lie? What was the reality? What can the patient do to satisfy the need behind it?

What can the patient do to satisfy the need behind it?

It is difficult to defuse this behaviour in a preventive way. The roots lie in childhood trauma and neglect. Compulsive lying developed as a survival strategy. Therefore, an authoritarian “thou shalt not lie” does not help at all.

People who are concerned about their survival tell untruths to survive, and for a traumatised person it is a matter of his or her psychological survival, or so the trauma suggests. Prevention here is first of all about children who suffer from isolation confiding in someone and creating a bond with a responsible person. The good news is that trauma and feelings of fear and loneliness in children can be treated effectively.

The earlier such therapy is initiated, the more likely it is that those affected can give up the notorious lying valve that is their way of dealing with distressing experiences. The therapist now addresses the real experiences and not the notorious fabrication.

Case study –  Jan

Jan grew up in a small town near Hanover, with a domineering father prone to cholera attacks and a submissive mother. In junior high school, he entered a high school. Jan suffered from obesity and some classmates made fun of him.

He lived in constant conflict with his father, which at the age of 14 escalated into constant verbal jousting and fights, during which Jan once pushed his father down the stairs of the house next door. When Jan was in grade 10, his father died of throat cancer. For his mother, this was a relief, but she had no control over Jan.

Jan’s school results dropped dramatically, he dropped out of high school, got a secondary school certificate, started an apprenticeship as a cook, broke it off and financed himself with his grandmother’s money and as a hashish dealer.

Already in junior high school, Jan had imagined stories in which he was the main character and which fed on adolescent fantasies. When he left school and “somehow” found his way in the outside world, these stories became almost arbitrary creations, the setting of which changed according to the environment in which he moved.

The common thread in these stories was a real paranoia that Jan developed, partly out of fear of being caught by the police, partly out of fear of his creditors. Jan now told that he knew Christian Klar’s brother and that if the BKA found out, they would show up at his door tomorrow. He replaced his missing sexual experiences with imaginary stories. In addition to the deliberate lies, there was a role-playing game in which Jan constantly tested new models, from “antifa activist” to “esoteric magician”, in which he partly believed himself.

The example of Johnny

Johnny is a Northern Irishman who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and probably a borderline disorder with narcissistic features, he is also an alcoholic and compulsive liar. He still doesn’t know his exact diagnosis, as he has started a few therapies in the past, but has broken them off each time.

He grew up with an insensitive biological mother and an overbearing father with sadistic tendencies. His parents separated and he stayed for a few years with his stepfather, who sexually abused him on several occasions. This was compounded by Johnny’s short stature, which was mocked by his classmates in Belfast.

The taunts caused him to build up anger and a desire for revenge at an early age. He also tried to ‘compensate’ for them by increasing his aggression. As a “big man” he tried to gain the status that others denied him. At an early age he trained with knives, bullets and other weapons.

At 15, his father convinced him to join the British Army. At 16 he was stabbed in the chest by an IRA activist and at 19 he was shot in the stomach in Bosnia. Johnny fought in a special force in Rwanda and Serra Leone and experienced terrible things. He left the army because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

He worked in the prostitution business as a bouncer, bartender and receiver of stolen goods. He had moved to Germany and worked in an environment where invented biographies were part of the job.

As a child he had already lied and was now living in stories in which messages about his traumatic experiences, brutal survival practices and compensation for feelings of inferiority were mixed. He partly believed it himself and spread right-wing conspiracy theories.

His stories were about constant street fights in which he was involved, which was partly true, sexual escapades, which were also partly true, and stories of which he was the victim, which he made up.

When he didn’t check in with an employer for weeks and spent his time getting drunk, he told his boss he had cancer and would soon die. When he lost his EC card while drunk, he told a friend that a “punk” had attacked him in the morning at the ATM. As “evidence” she found a white T-shirt in front of her washing machine, which he had probably prepared with cherry juice to make it look bloody. He was wearing an improvised bandage around his stomach.

His lies consisted of projecting his own abyss onto others. For example, he said that he had entered a friend’s neighbour’s flat during the night. In the kitchen, the neighbour pulled his penis out of his trousers and masturbated. Johnny then allegedly punched him in the face. The accused had not seen Johnny for months.

Johnny is often confused about the truth, and different patterns of lying emerge. On the one hand, these are lies in which his trauma comes back. These are the stories in which he is in the middle of a large German city in the middle of a civil war and is fighting imaginary enemies.

Then there are the concrete lies to gain an advantage or to conceal his disastrous professional and private situation. There are also various constructions in which he blames others for the massive problems he causes.

At other times, he lies to appear sexually interesting to women, is promiscuous and suffers at the same time from delirious jealousy. He is constantly seducing women, especially younger ones, and successfully plays the role of the purified man with a dark past, abused by life, who now wants to take his life back. Relationships break down every time his soap bubbles burst and it becomes clear that he is avoiding psychotherapy.

At 47, Johnny is once again at his lowest ebb, living in an old farmhouse in isolation from his former friends and still avoiding long-term psychotherapy.