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5 Ways To Spot A Pathological Liar, So You Don’t Wonder ‘Who TF Did I Marry’

This week, the internet was captivated by the “Who TF Did I Marry” saga on TikTok.

The question on everyone’s mind this week? Just who did poor Reesa Teesa marry?

Last week, Teesa, a TikToker from Atlanta, regaled the internet with an eight-hour tale about her marriage to a man she calls a “pathological liar” and “the United Nations of Red Flags.” (For brevity’s sake, she gives him the pseudonym “Legion” in her videos.)

There are 50 parts to the series ― aptly titled “Who TF Did I Marry” ―  and each have millions of views, so there’s no denying that people were invested in the saga. The videos have been picked up by Rolling Stone, the Washington PostTime magazine and many others.

HuffPost has a recap of the story or you can watch all 50 parts on TikTok if you have days to spare. If not, we’ll just say that Legion’s lies were, well, legion.

In the beginning, he told Teesa he was a former college football player (not true) who was employed as a regional manager at a popular condiment company in Georgia (also not true). One month after meeting Legion, Teesa allowed him to move into her home. When discussing buying a house of their own, he claimed he had a pre-approved loan upwards of $700,000 from Chase (later found to be doctored) and that he could put down $750,000 in cash for a property using money from an offshore account, which didn’t exist.

He promised to buy her a luxury vehicle, which would be delivered to their home, but it never arrived. He also lied outside the marriage, telling family members that Teesa had given birth to a son that she’d actually miscarried, just so that he could collect gifts.

Later, Teesa did some digging and discovered multiple ex-wives, reoccurring stints in jail and that Legion had used fake social security numbers.

Teesa’s reasons for sharing the story were altruistic: “If just one woman watches these videos and she’s like, ‘You know what? Something don’t sit right with me. Let me look into this,’ then it was worth it,” Teesa said in an intro video.

In an interview with NBC News, Teesa further explained, “Whether you agree with me and my decisions or not, I wanted it to create conversation about the things that we ignore because we want what we want or we’re in a hurry,” she said.

Interestingly and probably related, a Google trends report said that “pathological liar vs. compulsive” quadrupled over the past week.

Though Teesa’s story is high on the dramatics, it’s sadly not uncommon for people to ignore red flags in the early stages of a relationship.

Using Teesa’s story as a cautionary tale, we asked therapists to share the red flags that someone you’re dating is lying about their identity or otherwise conning you. (Since it’s also trending, we also asked what the difference is between a pathological liar vs. a compulsive one.) Here’s what they said.

Is pathological lying and compulsive lying the same thing? 

Although these phrases are used interchangeably, there are some nuances to them, said Marni Feuerman, a psychotherapist and author of “Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart About Healthy Relationships.

Pathological lying is based on just that ― pathology ― meaning it’s fundamentally abnormal and a departure from what is considered healthy or adaptive, she said.

“Pathological lying is often a symptom of antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. A pathological liar uses lying to get what they want in a self-absorbed, manipulative and cunning manner,” Feuerman told HuffPost.

Teesa’s husband was probably a pathological liar.

On the other hand, compulsive, or habitual, liars may not have an agenda, she said; they tell fibs without a core underlying purpose and bend the truth about everything, from minor things to substantial things.

“They are not as ‘sophisticated’ as pathological liars,” she said. “They may have begun lying in early childhood as a coping strategy and it became habitual. Some of the lies are for no purpose or to simply to look better. They may even feel bad about lying but it’s still more comfortable than telling the truth.”

"[Compulsive liars] are not as sophisticated as pathological liars,” said psychotherapist Marni Feuerman. <span class="copyright">JAG IMAGES via Getty Images</span>
"[Compulsive liars] are not as sophisticated as pathological liars,” said psychotherapist Marni Feuerman. JAG IMAGES via Getty Images

What are the red flags you’re dealing with a pathological liar?

As Teesa mentions, people in the throes of new love are often quick to cast aside concerns about a duplicitous partner. If you take off those rose-colored glasses and use some discernment, generally you’ll find a “United Nations of Red Flags” just like Teesa did.

1. It feels too good to be true.

Pathological liars are often expert love bombers: bombarding their partners with intense displays of affection ― lavish gifts, last-minute weekend getaways, premature promises of commitment ― very early on.

“Signs you may be dealing with a compulsive liar may emerge slowly in your awareness because in the beginning, the person may confabulate good, exciting things to draw you into their orbit. They love bomb you,” said Debra Campbell, a psychologist and the author of the newsletter Deb Does Therapy.”  (She also dated a pathological liar when she was younger, so she’s personally familiar with this stuff.)

“There’s a part of you that wants it to be true; you’re dazzled for a while,” she said. “Then gradually little inconsistencies emerge, maybe over ‘nothing’ things where you find yourself puzzled.”

2. It’s impossible to corroborate things they’ve told you about themselves.

Pathological liars almost always have a formidable resume and family history: They didn’t just go to college, they went to Yale and got their masters at a Public Ivy. Their parents aren’t just rich, they started a family foundation that lends major support to public television and the local arts.

It’s all very impressive ― and all too difficult to corroborate, since you’ve never met any of their college friends or their parents.

“You hear stories, but don’t see the real relationships, and they may even dodge questions about them or other details of their past,” said Kathryn Smerling, a psychotherapist in Manhattan.  “They may also claim to no longer speak to their family, which is a little suspect.”

Eventually, you realize their stories are riddled with details that don’t add up: How did they join the Peace Corp and travel at the same time they landed a six-figure entry level tech job in the city?

“In their stories, they may also change details when bringing them back up again – their narrative is inconsistent,” Smerling said.

"Pathological liars often play the victim,” said psychotherapist Kathryn Smerling. “In their stories, they may also change details when bringing them back up again – their narrative is inconsistent.” <span class="copyright">Westend61 via Getty Images</span>
"Pathological liars often play the victim,” said psychotherapist Kathryn Smerling. “In their stories, they may also change details when bringing them back up again – their narrative is inconsistent.” Westend61 via Getty Images

3. Something doesn’t feel right in your gut. 

When you think back on what your partner has told you, does something just feel overwhelmingly off? Sometimes we feel literally queasy when something is awry in our personal lives, said Erin Pash, a marriage and family therapist and the founder and CEO of Ellie Mental Health, a national community-based healthcare company. In instances like this, you should trust your gut.

“Our body sends us danger and safety signals all the time and it usually starts in our stomach. Are you getting more gastro issues than normal?” she said. “Our empathy centers can’t work when someone is lying and that shows up as nausea, indigestion and other just uncomfortable feelings in our stomachs that could be telling you a lot if you just pay attention.”

4. They get defensive or even angry when challenged on one of their lies. 

Pathological liars tend to live in a self-created fantasy world. Their fabricated narratives are perceived as reality, so when you confront them about their falsehoods, you rattle their world and sense of self. That doesn’t go over well: They typically respond defensively, vehemently denying any wrongdoing and lashing out at you, said Sheri Meyers, a marriage and family therapist and the author of “Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.”

“They turn the tables by shifting blame onto the individual questioning them, attributing fault and casting doubt on your judgment,” Meyers said. “This manipulation can induce a sense of gaslighting, leaving you questioning the validity of your reality and conclusions. Pathological lying can be part of an abusive relationship pattern.”

Pathological lying can be part of an abusive relationship pattern.
Pathological lying can be part of an abusive relationship pattern. Maria Korneeva via Getty Images

5. When you catch them in lies, they dismiss your feelings. 

If you express how hurtful it is to be lied to, pathological liars respond numbly: There’s rarely displays of remorse or any acknowledgement of how their compounding lies are affecting you or the relationship, Feuerman said.

“Once you discern a regular pattern of lying behavior in a partner, you’re bound to feel continual pain, stress, and insecurity,” she said.

A partner who’s dismissive or even disdainful of how you’re affected by their behavior is the ultimate red flag, Feuerman said.

“Truth is a basic requirement to build trust and safety in a relationship,” she said. “If your partner is incapable of telling the truth ― be it due to pathology or habit ― it’s time to move on.”

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