George Santos is not a pathological liar, says the psychologist
- Christian L. Hart co-wrote the definition of pathological lying in 2022.
- Hart said pathological liars feel bad about their lies and it creates anxiety.
- George Santos, who has been accused of lying to Congress, has doubled down on his claims.
George Santos lies so much it’s hard to keep up.
The New York congressman said his grandmother was a Holocaust victim (she wasn’t); he said his mother, who died in 2016, was in the Twin Towers on 9/11 (unlikely); he said he had a degree in business and finance from Baruch College (he doesn’t) and that he was a star player in volleyball there (George, please); he claimed to be “a proud American Jew” (he’s not Jewish, and now says he was joking). It is not clear whether he was a drag queen in Brazil, or if he was the victim of an assassination attempt, and it appears that he was not actually a Broadway producer.
In May, he was indicted on 13 federal charges, including fraud and lying to Congress. Prosecutors say he lied to collect unemployment benefits, he lied to donors and he lied to Congress.
But surprisingly, that doesn’t mean you can call him a “pathological liar.”
“It doesn’t really seem to meet our clinical criteria for pathological lying,” Dr. Christian L. Hart, the psychologist who co-wrote the book on pathological lying, told Insider. “There’s a difference between pathological lies and bullshit,” Hart added.
Pathological liars feel bad when they lie
The term “pathological liar” has been around for over 100 years, but there was no consensus as to what it meant, beyond “these people lie a lot.” “It’s a term that’s always used in sort of a popular vernacular,” said Hart, a psychology professor at Texas Woman’s University.
Hart and his co-author, psychologist Drew A. Curtis, PhD, decided to take it upon themselves to define it in their 2022 book, “Pathological Lying: Theory, Research, and Practice,” drawing from scientific literature and clinical experience .
The goal of psychopathology, the study of mental illnesses, is to provide a framework for the identification and diagnosis of mood disorders. This way you can differentiate between depression and feeling down, or schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Here is how pathological lying is defined in the book:
- Abnormal behavior. This means much more or much less frequent than usual in the general population. (For example: It’s natural to wash your hands, but washing them 500 times a day can be a sign of OCD.)
- Lies cause the individual distress.Hart said that someone exhibiting pathological behavior typically wishes they could stop, but they can’t. “They have negative thoughts and don’t want to feel that way.”
- Lies cause dysfunction in their lives, disrupting their social life, work life and so on.
- “Finally, it it puts them at some sort of riskwhether it is the risk of lost opportunity, the risk of harm or death in some cases,” Hart said.
George Santos has doubled down on his lies
Hart, like any psychologist, reserves his clinical diagnoses for the people he examines himself. But, he said, Santos “has put enough out there in the public space that I think people can draw some general conclusions from.”
“Part of being a pathological liar is that the person has heartache and dysfunction and wants to quit,” Hart said. With George Santos, “there’s just no proof of that.”
In fact, Santos actually spoke about “being a terrible liar” in a February interview with Piers Morgan, who told some of his most high-profile lies one by one.
Santos said his lie about being Jewish was “a joke” and doubled down on his claim that his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11. While she said she “regrets” one of his lies (that he had a college education), she justified his actions by saying, “It wasn’t about fooling people. It was about being accepted by the party here at local level”.
Why does George Santos lie?
There are many reasons for compulsive lying.
Low self-esteem is common. “If someone is pervasively lying, the core could be that they are trying to hide their true selves because they see themselves as not very valuable or desirable,” Hart said.
Lying is also common in people who exhibit what are referred to as dark triad personality traits: narcissism (an inflated and entitled sense of self), Machiavellianism (seeing other people as tools to get what you want out of life), and psychopathy . (an insensitive contempt for others).
According to Hart, Santos exhibits “something like antisocial personality disorder” (ASPD) by being “bold” and “fearless,” “with a sort of irresponsible lack of impulse control.” People with ASPD “tend not to have remorse or guilt,” Hart added.
Politics is a profession that favors bold, fearless and impulsive action and requires a tough skin. It seems that Santos has crossed that line: on June 30 he appears in court, risking the loss of his job and up to 20 years in prison.
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