Seasoned liars can be very deceptive. They have learned to convince themselves that they are telling the truth, so their body language may not have the same tells as someone who tells the occasional white lie (ie, not habitual or pathological). Usually you find out someone is a liar once you get to know them – you start to see that their stories don’t add up. You realize that they get a kick out of deceiving people. Once you figure out one of their lies, all of the other ones usually come unraveled.

But there are a few ways to spot liars before they even lie to you. They’ve developed certain habits that spill over into all areas of their lives. If you know what to look for, you can spot them before they ever reel you in.

3 Characteristics to Watch Out For

1. A habitual liar is distrustful towards others and will regularly misread the motives behind your actions.

I used to have a hard time spotting liars or even accepting the fact that someone could lie to me. While I’ve told the occasional fib, it would be hard for me to make a habit out of deceiving people. Because I would never intentionally lie to someone else, I tend to assume that everyone else follows my value system and tells the truth.

Liar make a similar assumption: they assume that other people share their value systems and that the actions of others carry the same motivation as their. If their ‘kindness’ toward others is motivated by control or selfish gain, liars will assume that others’ kind actions have an ulterior motive. Their own dishonesty will lead them to feel very suspicious of others. They will have a very difficult time trusting people because they themselves are untrustworthy.

2. A habitual liar pretends to like people that he or she doesn’t like.

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.” Proverbs 10:18

If you notice someone acting as though they really like someone – to the point of artificially connecting with that person and treating them as a friend – and yet they talk differently about that person behind their back, beware.

Most of us recognize that someone who gossips to us about others will just as easily gossip about us, but it is also a sign of a liar.

The false kindness of deceivers reveals their ability to misrepresent themselves to somebody. This means that they are good at deception. It’s one thing to be kind to somebody even though you dislike them, but it’s another to engage someone you dislike in a false sense of friendship. This behavior tells you that they are comfortable with duping somebody else.

3. A habitual liar will utilize flattery to get what they want.

“A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him…a lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” Proverbs 26:24-28

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6

If someone is overly flattering toward you, that is also a red flag. Be careful not to assume that everyone who compliments you a lot is lying to you. There’s a huge difference between a real compliment and flattery. Here are a few guidelines to help you tell them apart:

Flattery tends to be impersonal praise, while a genuine compliment targets something about you that sets you apart.

Flattery will make you feel as though you are better than other people, while a compliment will make you feel like your identity has been noticed.

Flattery will attract you like a moth to a flame, but a compliment will lift your spirit.

Flattery will trap you in a spirit of pride while genuine encouragement carries a spirit of humility. ALL OF US are prideful from time to time, but people who are not self-aware about their pride are great targets for these flattering liars. When I feel my pride getting activated, I know that whatever that person is saying about me is not something that God would say.

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What Should You Do If You Suspect Someone Is Lying to You?

If you suspect someone is lying, you have three choices:

1. Say nothing, but observe the individual quietly to determine if you can trust him. This option is great for when the lying is harmless (ie, someone who fabricates stories to get attention, but isn’t malicious) or for when it’s spotted early on, before you’ve formed a deeper friendship with the person.

2. Test the liar to see if you can catch them in the lie. Ask them questions about the details of the story in question, listening carefully for details that don’t line up. This is a great way to catch a liar in a public setting – such as work or church – where you need to figure out who you are really dealing with but where confrontation could potentially make you look like the bad guy.

3. Confront the liar. The way someone reacts to confrontation shows you a lot about who they really are. In general, confrontation should happen in private, but if you suspect that the situation is more extreme and could turn abusive, you can ask a trusted mutual friend to come with you.

Someone who is truthful will generally react calmly and provide an explanation that makes sense and clears the air. Perhaps the person did lie, and when confronted they admit to it and apologize. This shows you that they can own up to their mistakes rather than hide them. Your relationship can be repaired if this is the case.

If the person is lying, his response may fall under one of the following:

  • His answer starts with, “Well…” or seems a little dodgy rather than straightforward.
  • He displaces the blame on somebody else.
  • He makes excuses for his behavior.
  • His reaction is explosive or abusive.
  • His response makes you feel guilty for inquiring or somehow spins the focus of the conversation back to you, such as, “How could you think I would ever lie to you?”

If the person’s reaction falls into one of these categories, proceed with caution. Share the situation with someone you trust and determine what action needs to be taken on your part to stay safe and emotionally healthy.

After getting burned in this area, I realized that I needed to start forming friendships more carefully. If your gut tells you something is off, it’s important to pay attention to it. Guard your heart by avoiding closeness with the person in question until you’ve had a chance to fully evaluate the individual’s behavior. If you remain kind but cautious, you can observe the person’s behavior over time, and eventually the truth will reveal itself. The truth always comes out in the end.