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The Pathological Liar: What They Are, Why They Do It, And How To Deal With Compulsive Lying

In the fifteenth year of my marriage, I stumbled upon a computer printout on my middle-aged husband’s desk of a girl who looked to be the age of one of the high school students I used to teach.

When I called him up to question who it was, he told me that since he had taken up drawing again, he had just been printing out photographs of random people from the internet.

I knew he was lying; I could feel it powerfully in my gut. Only after asking him nine more times did he then admit that the person in the photo was the love of his life, and although they had never met, he planned to fly her across the world and move her into one of his father’s apartments.

What bothered me almost as much as his delusion was the fact that he continued to lie, even when confronted with the evidence.

Over the next couple of years, I uncovered such a web of deceit that it felt like the past two decades of my life had been a complete facade.

Making it far worse was how every single time I discovered another lie, he would continue to evade the truth, later confess in the face of hard evidence, and then finally insist that I now “knew everything” and could start to “relax” since everything was out in the open.

Yet almost every weekend for the next couple of months, there would be more: a new slew of graphic email texts, another online affair from years back. It just didn’t end.

The fact that I was crying every day, exhibiting clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and experiencing daily panic attacks and insomnia didn’t phase him. I begged him to just tell me the truth so that I could make a clear decision and move on with my life, but he just kept lying.

One day, I asked why he lied so much, and I think he answered me honestly for once; saying, “It’s just easier than telling the truth.”

What a relief to hear something I could finally believe.

A pathological liar, often also called a compulsive liar, will lie habitually, so much so that lying has become second nature.

In the article “11 Fascinating Scientific Facts about Pathological Liars” by Carolyn Steber, psychologist Dr. Michelle Barton, Director of Psychology Life Well, claims “a pathological liar is somebody who lies without effort, someone for whom telling a lie comes more naturally than telling the truth.” She says that it has become such “a part of the liar’s everyday life to the point where their whole existence is a fabrication.”

Most people tell white lies to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings, but a pathological liar will lie for no apparent reason. We don’t really understand why people do this, but compulsive lying often occurs in people with personality disorders, such as narcissism and other toxic personality disorders.

It can also result from low self-esteem or anxiety. Experts seem to think that extreme lying could be related to the combination of a need to impress and a tendency towards impulsive behavior.

Dr. Barton claims that pathological lying can also be rooted in childhood trauma, as these individuals may have been raised by very strict parents who did not accept who they were. Therefore, the child had to create a persona as a coping mechanism to avoid punishment and vulnerability. While most children and teenagers outgrow normal lying, which she considers a normal part of development, pathological liars do not.

Barton says that anxiety and a deep-seated fear of rejection is always present. “It’s when they cannot handle the truth or they cannot handle presenting the truth or the consequences, they can quickly relieve their anxiety with lies as if believed.”

Adrian Santos-Longhurst in her article, “How do I Cope with Someone Being a Pathological Liar?” describes some textbook characteristics of these types, who often:

  • believe their own lies
  • tell detailed and dramatic lies, which have no clear benefit
  • don’t usually show common body language associated with lying, such as avoidance of eye contact
  • portray themselves as victims or heroes

She goes on to give common examples of pathological lying, which can include

  • creating a false history to impress or garner pity
  • claiming to have non-existent life-threatening illnesses as a way to get sympathy
  • providing different versions of the same story, because they have probably forgotten details from the last telling

Being in any kind of relationship with a pathological liar is unsteady, and extreme lying, which can become addictive, can destroy both personal relationships and professional careers.

You’d think there would be satisfaction in catching a pathological liar, but instead, as in my case, it is endlessly frustrating. The first reaction from a pathological liar is often absolute denial, which quickly can turn to rage and shock at being accused.

Don’t expect any remorse either, as pathological liars lack empathy and often have no sense of the consequences of their lies on other people’s feelings.

In the article, “The Truth Behind Pathological and Compulsive Liars” by Kathleen Doheny, Dr. Paul Ekman, author of Telling Lies, claims that compulsive liars “tell the stories they think want to be heard,” and that even after something is discovered to be untrue, will continue to lie. He claims that they usually get away with it because they say things that we want to believe.

It can be even more confusing when parts of the story are true, which is a common tactic used by pathological liars to build a foundation for their house of cards.

Is there a way to tell if someone is a liar when you first meet? In the article, “How to Recognize Pathological Lying,” author Nadia Khan recommends a few things to look out for:

  • behavior and body language, including excessive eye contact or a penetrating stare
  • inconsistencies in their stories
  • a history of unstable relationships, substance abuse, and frequent loss of jobs which are often indicators that do not match up to the grandiose stories

Excessive charm and a heightened sense of intimacy that occurs too soon are other warning signals.

In the article, “6 Subtle Characteristics of the Pathological Liar” by Tamara Hill, what resonates is her statement that a pathological liar “believes they are smarter than everyone and will never be found out. The very fact that the pathological liar’s work life, home life, and reputation could be in jeopardy as a result of the lies, does not phase them. Guilt, shame, or regret does not affect the liar. Consequences also do not seem to affect the liar.”

Why? No one can say for sure, but we do know that most pathological liars feel pleasure at confusing others. According to Hill, the following personality traits are included within the scope of pathological lying:

  1. Narcissism or self-centered behaviors and thought patterns
  2. Selfishness
  3. Abusive attitude
  4. Obsessive, controlling, and compulsive behaviors
  5. Impulsivity
  6. Aggressiveness
  7. Jealous behavior
  8. Manipulative behaviors
  9. Deceptiveness
  10. Socially awkward, uncomfortable, or isolated
  11. Low self-esteem
  12. Tempermentalness
  13. Anger

So what to do now? How does one deal with a pathological liar? Hill suggests keeping the following things in mind:

  • know that a pathological liar will study you, and often use sexual or emotional arousal to distract you from the truth
  • remember that the liar lacks empathy and is manipulative
  • all liars do not exhibit the same body language

One of the most important things you must understand is that pathological lying is a problem that does not get better over time and certainly does not just go away.

In the final moments of our marriage, I remember asking my ex, “Whatever did you think would happen when I found out?”

His admission was another truth: “I didn’t think you ever would.”

If you suspect that someone you know is a pathological liar, the root cause could be a toxic personality disorder, like narcissism. Been There Got Out has a free toxic personality quiz you can take online to find out.

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35 Responses

  1. Thanks this information was very helpful a lot and everything that is written in there its same as how my ex is .he lies so much that at times he forgets that he told me that.and he lies about everything we are expecting a baby boy and he is not interested at all i get told he changed because of my shouting and fighting with him one of his girlfriend called me and told me to stay away from him cause he told her that our son its not his child when i asked him about it i was told if i treat him well he will be a good boyfriend if i dont i can forget about being his girlfriend i dont know what man think i dont want him near my baby when he is born.

    1. Hi Aletta, so sorry to hear that he is being this way, and unfortunately, not surprised with the details you gave, because they match the behaviors of what we are familiar with!

      Being told that “he changed” because it’s your fault is so common; it is very typical for a person like this to play the victim while it sounds like he’s the one doing the cheating! I don’t even know the rest of the details, but isn’t that, in itself, bad enough?

    2. I was married to a very mentally ill. Women. That I found out after many years. Was a Narcissist.
      Not only did she. Get rid of our kids. To cps. From lies. But wrecked my relationships with my family.
      I am now going through a divorce and she goes around saying that I’m a narcissist and I’m. A liar.
      The truth is I got so use to the abide it became normal.
      I now. See. All of her. Gross behaviors. That. Keep coming. Up. When I set alone in quiet.
      The funny thing is I got a girl friend. And she is even more of this.
      I’m getting ready to. Break it off. But. This girl. Just keeps. Breaking. In to my house. And limes to. Blame her problems on me as if I good control her. Bottom line is. That I need to find couciling and. Try to start my life over again
      I’m not sure I will ever trust another person again. .

  2. OK first thing why did you stay when you found out your husband was having affairs and I know pathological liars and that’s not pathological lying they make up these grand lies that they do things like you see in movies and things I’m not trying to discredit what you went through most people that are in affairs lie about it.

    1. Way too complicated to address in this format, and movies are not accurate pictures of the nature of most people’s relationships, including my former marriage.

    2. I’ve known for a long time my current partner had problems , years on sincearrival of ice “being a long time meth user .things became outa my control . I waz put in a set up position by her Infront of family snapped hit her , went to gaol , she slept around in a small country town destroyed my reputation inside out , came out strong partner still not being a mother , abusing family at home ,disapeareing with face book double life , so I gave up she chased harder then ever now pregnant n all’s out n scared , she Haz became evil like , help

  3. This is a brilliant article. We are raising three children who.xomoulsiveky lie all the time. They’ve been with us 7 years but have a developmental trauma background. However we no longer believe this is an excuse for the persistent and continued lying they do. They are all beyond the age of it being just a stage and they do alot of the things you describe in your article. They have no empathy or care for the way their lies make someone else feel, they have no remorse, they look you dead in the eye and lie like second nature without thought. Consequences have no effect in them. In fact it’s like any consequence is like a challenge for them to just out up with it, and they do, and they don’t care, and they continue lying. It’s really discouraging for us, particularly me, their kinship mum. They then evoke a (fake) emotional response towards me when caught out, in order to get me to “feel sorry” for them. It’s blows my mind how determined they are to lie, get us to believe their lies and then out up with any outcome to that, then turn on the tears as if they had no choice but to lie! It’s stubborn determined-ness on a massive level. I often wonder why they don’t use the same determined stubboness to be truthful. ?
    Unfortunately I do take it personally. I feel they don’t give a rat’s about my feelings at all, or how it is breaking down trust and relationship between us. When it’s chronic, daily, 20 times a day, you can’t help but feel like it’s doing your head in.

    1. Hope,

      This sounds chilling…I’m wondering if they all came from the same family / experienced the same trauma?

    2. I have a 9 year old that does the same things and very nasty to her younger brother, it’s so draining!feel for u having 3 ????

  4. Pathological liars are the scum of this earth, always causing pain and grieve. Drop them when it becomes apparent what they are – get a restraining order if they start to threaten you.

    1. Bobby,

      Yes, indeed, and their reactions when the lies are exposed are startling.

    1. I’ve been in a relationship for 20 years. An after 3 years in the relationship I found out he was having sex with other girls. One turned eighteen an I had no idea she was under age from the start let a lone he been sleeping with her. Then he totally denied it. Then I confronted both of them an she said yes they had been in a relationship before me. Mind you he was 50 years old. He denied it an as he denied they others. Well I stayed don’t ask why. Got everyone out of his life an everything seem good. Up until I found out something wasn’t right when I seen his phone bill with 448 unavailable calls in a 7 mth period. An for sum reason at that time he was taking Saturday drives then Sunday drives. Well let me tell you when someone tells you he has no idea who called him 448 times there’s your sign. I’ve have found so much more evidence an yes he will lie till he dies. Nothing I can do to admit it even with the proof. I’m sick , I drink, he has brought out a person in me I never knew existed. An I’m still here.

    2. Dear Ginny,

      I can SOOOOO relate to your story personally. Ex-husband in his fifties was also involved in some very similar, inappropriate activities, and I drove myself insane trying to make sense of it all.

      Your statement, “He has brought out a person in me I never knew existed” is so true – it’s inspiring me to write something about that, because I think many people can relate to such an awful feeling.


  5. My boyfriend I have had for 6 years cant keep a job. Hides the Bill’s said there paid but find out never got paid.

  6. I have to take exception with one part of the article.:

    “The very fact that the pathological liar’s work life, home life, and reputation could be in jeopardy as a result of the lies, does not phase them. Guilt, shame, or regret does not affect the liar. Consequences also do not seem to affect the liar.”

    I was in a marriage to a professional con artist (liar) and when I began to find out some of the untruths thanks to hiring a PI, he realized his world was crumbling. He became angry and aggressive. I moved out. I am glad I did not stay…combine that with any form of substance abuse and violence cannot be far behind.

  7. This article is helping me to open my eyes. Trust your gut when it screams at you. I’ve considered why I continue to allow this monster to return into my life over and over and over again. It literally makes no sense to me. I’m sure it’s somewhere along the lines of a trauma bond and the fear of abandonment. I was lied to my entire childhood, have very little memory of my childhood and the memories I do have are filled with pain. My biological father I was told on my 19th birthday was someone I had known my entire life but I was lied to when. Asked even the most general questions such as color of his eyes. Was he tall? Just curiosity basically. My very close childhood friend ended up being my half sister. My birthday that year fell on Father’s Day. So every year I am reminded of how I wasn’t even considered enough to be able to ask why I wasn’t considered. I was told it would be better if I just didn’t interfere in his life. Well I think this has some impact on why I allow an insidious person to be so diabolical in his actions. He spent the last 4 days with me. Then on the last day he went home for some reason and something told me he was up to something. He lives with an ex and they are known to be intimate. Even though they both deny it. Everyone that knows them and myself tell me she’s the one that he has sex with. I even found a video and he dismisses it and says it was just one time what’s the big deal. Well he made up this incredibly destructive lie that involved someone supposedly breaking into his landlords room and stealing thousands of dollars in cash. His landlord recently was sent via emergency service to the hospital. As he was exhibiting symptoms of a stroke. No one in the household would call for days even. He asked me my opinion and I told him if he didn’t call emergency services I would. In any event this entire lie was so diabolical in nature that i saved it and am trying to get in touch with the person he said did the breaking in. When I confronted the liar with the lie he flew off into a rage calling me a **nt and bi*** and how I’m so insensitive and he has been through so much the last few days. Going on and on and avoiding the facts then of course twisting it around and bringing up things that happened over 7-8 years ago. Then I knew. He was 100% lying. He is predictable now. The narcissistic pathological liar will have a pattern. When it starts to show you must get out. I struggle. I struggle more and I become obsessed with the truth and wanting closure. I must learn that I will never get the truth from someone so twisted and evil. Any suggestions for what I can do to try to move forward and let it go. I struggle so much with how someone can be so incredibly deceitful and deny the actions they take.

    1. Diana,

      I, and so many others I’m sure, can absolutely relate especially to much of your story, as well as your feelings of wanting to get the full truth, as well as closure. It took me a very long time to realize that I never will. Instead, I discovered, in the tail end and aftermath of my long-term toxic marriage, that my ex had been leading a double life for over 20 years, and the more I looked, the more lies continued to surface, so many of which were shocking beyond belief. I totally understand what you are going through.

      We are on the verge of beginning to launch our Lifeboat course and membership program, and part one will cover exactly some of the issues you are struggling with, including common manipulative tactics, and how to stop repeating the cycle. Keep your eyes peeled for emails from us in the next couple of weeks if you are subscribed to the mailing list.

      When you start realizing what’s actually going on, it makes things MUCH easier…and when other people’s experiences echo your own is also very freeing. I know we can help with this, so hope to stay in touch!


    2. I was with a man i honestly thought he was my soulmate my love of my life. So did he!
      I have ptsd(abusive relationship) but only got diagnosed last year.
      He was there for me throughout the whole treatment BUT I started to notice his lies. Like a stupid white lies ( he made up a story of accepting a parcel from a postman who asked after me but in reality my flatmate signed for the parcel and my ex was nowhere near the parcel) then bigger lies about NOT talking to anyone but he was talking to multiple women while his relationship status on Facebook was hidden. Etc
      But i caught him and he wasn’t even sorry he said he HAD TO DO IT DUE TO MY MENTAL HEALTH.
      So he was blaming my PTSD for his constant lies!
      Was everything a LIE? Did he only pretend that he loved me even tho I could feel/see he truly loved me?!
      Its been 6 months since i kicked him out but i am still hurting.
      Its been 8 months since i was discharged from my therapy too.
      How can i move on i feel so betrayed i still cry and feel anxious.
      Will i need another therapy for it?
      Thank you

    3. EJ,

      The whole thing doesn’t make sense, and this is exactly why it so hard…how and why could someone do this to you, especially having known what you already went through? How could someone be so cruel?

      These are questions many of us here have asked ourselves, because it’s just the same story with different details.

      If you were in an abusive relationship, and then got into this (other abusive) relationship, you appear to have one of the most common issues that others do in this community, which is “repeating the cycle.” I’m not sure how long you have been familiar with us, but we are about to launch our first “Lifeboat” course and guess what..the NUMBER ONE issue we will cover is “how to stop repeating the cycle,” as it was voted as being top priority.

      In my opinion, therapy is certainly helpful, but it’s not enough, and often doesn’t work for situations like these. What DOES help, in our experience, is having an emotionally supportive community of people going through similar experiences, and especially the guidance of those who have already been through stuff like this ourselves (as Chris and I have), because we not only have empathy, but practical solutions.

      We hope to have our technology issues resolved THIS WEEK (fingers crossed!), so keep your eyes out for emails in the next week or two with more information on how we can help.

      In the meantime, please try not to beat yourself up. Of course you are still hurting, and feel so betrayed, and time alone will not make it better. Help is on the way…


  8. I was with a man i honestly thought he was my soulmate my love of my life. So did he!
    I have ptsd(abusive relationship) but only got diagnosed last year.
    He was there for me throughout the whole treatment BUT I started to notice his lies. Like a stupid white lies ( he made up a story of accepting a parcel from a postman who asked after me but in reality my flatmate signed for the parcel and my ex was nowhere near the parcel) then bigger lies about NOT talking to anyone but he was talking to multiple women while his relationship status on Facebook was hidden. Etc
    But i caught him and he wasn’t even sorry he said he HAD TO DO IT DUE TO MY MENTAL HEALTH.
    So he was blaming my PTSD for his constant lies!
    Was everything a LIE? Did he only pretend that he loved me even tho I could feel/see he truly loved me?!
    Its been 6 months since i kicked him out but i am still hurting.
    Its been 8 months since i was discharged from my therapy too.
    How can i move on i feel so betrayed i still cry and feel anxious.
    Will i need another therapy for it?
    Thank you

  9. I read and all of it I could relate too. My step daughter has that stare that just goes right through you and plays her father like a fiddle. Her father doesn’t want to see it but all the females in her life can and she will lie and say that others are not telling the truth, it’s a daily struggle and getting worse. I’m at the point of leaving! She makes up things that others do to her and will stand toe to toe with her father and argue until she gets her way. Scared for what she might do next!

    1. Dear “Help,”

      Yes, it sounds frightening…especially because it’s clearly creating such friction in your own relationship. This is a really tough one. I’m curious hold old she is….


  10. Very informative article. My 19 year old daughter is a compulsive liar and exaggerator. I’m at a loss as to what to do and whether there’s any success in treating or changing this.

  11. This article has given me hope in regards to my mindset towards my current (horrific) breakup.
    A 5 year relationship where I started off so young and innocent always felt in my gut my partner was a liar. After years of just constantly catching him out, even with small unnecessary stuff that I do not understand as to why it needs to be lied about, he’s always managed to crawl back in (even after attending sessions with a physiologist for 1.5 years after our break up before this)

    He’s had a bad upbringing with family and living out of home since 17, drug abuse in the past and I’ve always felt this guilt to give him the benefit of the doubt holding onto the amazing things he has about him. His main trait has always been the need to get attention from older women. It’s been since day one of our relationship and I have recently caught him out with messages that any person would believe they have slept together, but he just continues to deny and shift the blame onto me that I never trust him. HELLO!? The evidence right in front of our god damn faces.

    It’s so frustrating and I love him for all other things that he is, the fact relationships can be jeopardized because of such compulsive act and failing to ever admit is actually killing me. He thinks there’s no wrong in what he does and that I’m just suppose to move on and forgive and forget everything everytime because he “wants to be with me forever”. It’s taken me years and still don’t completely understand. I’m not even the same person I was, I just feel exhausted. Is it normal to not be able to imagine life without them or feel like all those GOOD things, someone else will get and he will just not be a liar to her? There’s so much blame from my end and I don’t even know why!

    1. Dear Kate,

      WOW! You could be me writing this years ago – I felt the EXACT same way, and I mean EXACT.

      I do know that it is COMPLETELY NORMAL to not be able to imagine life without them….as well as all the blame on you. This is one of the most common feelings people have in the midst of these relationships, and I remember it so well.

      The difference is that I NOW KNOW why it happened, and why it’s happening to you, and this is exactly the sort of thing we will be getting into more deeply with our emotional support community membership and Lifeboat Course, which we hope to launch sometime later this week, if we can get our tech stuff worked out.

      Please know there is hope for you, and life is going to get much better than this; with the right support (especially from people who have already gone through exactly what you’re experiencing), so that you will get the clarity you need. Both Chris and I were able to get out of our toxic relationships, and find healthy, true love, as were so many other people we know…even though we ALL felt as terrified and confused as you feel now.

      Keep checking your inbox for more details in the next week or so, and remember that this nightmare is not going to last forever…really.


  12. Wow! This article really touched home. I’m married to a man that lies to me and others constantly. It’s honestly exhausting. I feel like I have to be a private investigator just to feel like I have some idea of what the truth is. The constant lies and twisting of facts have made me feel like I am the crazy one in the relationship, which I know is not the case. I’ve been dealing with this for 10 years. I’ve caught him in SO many lies but he continues to do it. I’ve begged for honesty and explained the consequence to our relationship of his lying. But like you mentioned, he lacks empathy and he has an inflated ego which makes him feel he is smarter than me. Being with someone who continually disrespects my feelings and intelligence has played havoc with my self confidence and sucked the life out of me. Hopefully in the future I will be able to regain it when he is no longer in my life.

    1. Dear TC,

      So glad you can relate.

      I think you can start working on confidence building even before he is out of your life – and it starts with recognizing when you are being played with emotionally, which it sounds like you’re already doing!

      Building confidence was one of the top areas that people in our community said they need help with, and will be an area we cover in our Lifeboat course, which we hope to launch this week, if we can get all our tech stuff worked out. Check your inbox for more details – and please stay in touch,


  13. My husband fits this article to a “T”. It was scary reading it. But to actually get some understanding to why he lies helped a little. My emotions have been up amd down for several years. And he makes me feel like the guilty one. He gets made at me when I confront him in a lie. I don’t know how to get away from him. He uses sexual behavior to draw me back in and I hate that I keep allowing him to do that.

    1. Dear Aisha,

      Yes, it is scary, and amazing that so many people do the same things! His ability to make you feel like the guilty one is very common, as is so much of what you’ve written.

      Keep in mind that people who lie all the time are excellent manipulators – that’s why they get away with it, so please try to stop blaming yourself for not being able to resist patterns of behavior which are deep-rooted and familiar.

      Did you know that “common manipulation techniques” are one of the top three areas that people in this community asked to know more about? So you are dealing with an issue that so many people struggle with, and which we will cover in our first Lifeboat course, which we hope to launch later this week, if we can get all our tech stuff fixed. Fingers crossed!

      Keep in touch and realize that there is a way out of this, and the first step is to start recognizing what’s going on, which you are already doing!


  14. Wow, as I am reading this article I am getting chills. My 17 years old daughter lies all the time for no apparent reason and with nothing really to get out of the lies. She just lies. I got goose bumps when I read about how the pathological liar reacts when confronted: aggressiveness, shouting and screaming denying, sending me abusive text messages threatening to run away, and telling me to stop communicating with my neighbor (who told me the real truth). Then the characteristics of the pathological liar just blew me away: charisma, being liked by anyone (who hasn’t yet figured out), no empathy or sympathy for what the lies caused.
    I am about to get divorced with my husband of 18 years because he refuses to believe me and thinks that the daughter is an angel. He says in front of her that he only takes her side and that I am crazy ( I even started believing it and started doubting myself – I started to think maybe I am overacting and she is just a teenager). She is about to destroy the whole Family over lies and it does. not. face. her. for a slightest second. It scares me how she will handle her life and at this point I just want to be away from both of them far far away to regain my own self esteem, to not have an anxiety attack every time I receive a text message (as majority are those from her threatening me that she will run away and I will never find her). I just want to get myself together and hopefully I still have time to believe in happiness of life (I am only 44). I really really hope I see the light in the tunnel.
    After the article I started blaming myself , as I thought I was that demanding parent, who expected her to do well in school, in swimming, in music. She was making small lies even then and I tried to be right on it to nip the lies in the butt. I did give her the best of what I could do – private schools, big birthday parties, Family travels, but I also was expecting her to do well. Maybe if I wasn’t expecting much out of her she wouldn’t learn to lie… I don’t know. It could be that I contributed to lies, but there are parents way stricter than I and their children don’t lie, they are accountable for what they do.

    1. Dear Alana,

      Yes, it’s chilling, especially to see these developing traits in a young person.

      I hope you don’t keep blaming yourself, though..I don’t remember anything about it being a parent’s fault when a child lies like that.

      Please keep in touch, and hope you are able to navigate through what sounds like such a disturbing situation within the family,

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