This consists in "falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, engaged in by a person who, at the time of observation, cannot definitely be declared insane, feeble-minded, or epileptic. Such lying rarely, if ever, centers about a single event; although exhibited in very occasional cases for a short time, it manifests itself most frequently by far over a period of years, or even a lifetime. It represents a trait rather than an episode. Extensive, very complicated fabrications may be evolved. This has led to the synonyms: mythomania; pseudologia phantastica." l
The following case is reported by Healy:
Janet B., nineteen years old, made her way alone to New York,
1 W. and M. T. Healy. Pathological Lying, Accusation, and Swindling. Boston, 1917 and there readily obtained employment. After a couple of weeks she approached a department manager of the concern for which she worked and related a long story, which at once aroused his sympathy. She told him that her father and mother had died in the last year and that she was entirely dependent upon herself. When she was about four years of age she had been in a terrible accident and a certain man had saved her life. Naturally her father had always thought very highly of this person and had pensioned him. Formerly he lived up in the country with his family, but at present was old, penniless, and alone in the city. Now that her parents were dead she was in a quandary about keeping up her father's obligation to the old man. Out of her $8 a week it was hard to make both ends meet. She had to pay her own board and for this man also. She found that he needed to be taken care of in every way; she had to wash his face and dress him, he was so helpless. She made no demand for any increase of salary and the story was told evidently without any specific intent.
The services of a social worker were enlisted by the firm and the girl reiterated the same story to her, even though it was clearly intended that the case should be investigated. Janet's boarding-house was visited and there she was found to be living with distant relatives whom she had searched out upon her arrival in the city. They knew she had run away from home, and indeed by this time the mother herself was already in New York, having been sent for by them.
She then acknowledged that this story of a man who had saved her life was purely an invention. Now she stated that in the western town where she lived she had been engaged to a young man who was discovered to be a defaulter and who had recently died. When this fellow was in trouble, his mother, while calling on Jsmet's family, used to make signals to her and leave notes under the table cover, asking for funds with which to help him out. This was a great strain upon Janet and even more so was his death. She could stand it no longer and fled the city. Her lover's stealing was a secret which she had kept from her own family.
Before we had become acquainted with the true facts about the family this girl gave us most extensive accounts of various phases of her home life which included the most unlikely and contradictory details. For instance, they had a large house with beautiful grounds, yet before she left home she bought a sewing machine for her mother, which she is paying for on weekly installments. Her $8 a week is very little for her to live on because she is paying this indebtedness. Janet wishes now to take out a twenty-year endowment policy in favor of her mother. She expects to take up French and Spanish in the evenings because they would be very helpful to her commercially. She has no desire for social affairs. She is only desirous of improving her education. She relates her success as a Sunday School teacher.
The most notable finding was Janet's facial expression when confronted by some of her incongruities of behavior. Then she assumed a most peculiar, open-eyed, wondering, dumb expression. When flatly told a certain part of her story was falsehood, she looked one straight in the eyes and said in a wonderfully demure and semi-sorrowful manner, "I am sorry you think so." Her expression was sincere enough to make even experienced observers half think they must themselves be wrong.
The story of this girl's falsifications and fabrications as obtained from her people is exceedingly long. Somewhere about twelve years of age, her parents cannot be certain just when, they noticed she began the exaggeration and lying which has continued more or less ever since.
The type of Janet's lying has been not only in the form of falsifications about matters which directly concerned herself, but also involved extensive manufacture of long stories, phantasies. Meeting people she might give them extensive accounts of the wealth and importance of her own family. She once spread the report that her sister was married and living in a fine home close by, giving many elaborate details of the new household. Such stories naturally caused much family embarrassment. Then she worked up an imaginary entertainment and gave invitations to her brothers and sister at the request of a pretended hostess. Just before the event she, simulating the hostess, telephoned that an accident had taken place and the party would not be given. An extremely delicate situation arose because she alleged a certain young man wanted to marry her. The truth of her assertion in this matter never was investigated. The parents felt it quite impossible to go to the young man about the facts on account of the danger of exposing their daughter. They were long embarrassed by the extent to which she kept this affair going, but it finally was dropped without any social scandal occurring.
In this and other affairs the family situation was at times unbearable because of the possibility that there might be some truth underlying the girls' statement. As the years went on Janet, of course, suffered from her loss of reputation, but still continued her practices of lying.