I am looking for the right word(s) to describe a person who lies and invents stories/scenarios to elicit sympathy in order to manipulate and further their own advancement at the cost of others. Think along the lines of a psychopathic social climber, consumed by bitterness. Highly vindictive and vengeful due to an invented notion of unrequited love. Someone who has taken a twisted private fantasy and used it to try and gain both attention and allies against their perceived rival, regardless of that person's actual innocence. Thanks in advance for any input.


11 Answers 11


Such a person likely has Munchausen syndrome:

Munchausen syndrome is a factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.

  • 3
    This is possible, but technically only if the lies relate to illness of some sort. The OP is a little thin on detail, but I don't think stories of "unrequited love" would usually count.
    – 1006a
    Jul 15, 2017 at 2:22

I don't think a single word could encapsulate all of that :)

The following words cover some of the behaviour you described:

  • manipulative
  • scheming
  • Machiavellian

Another idea might be "Ripleyesque" in reference to Tom Ripley a literary character who shares many of the characteristics you described.


fantasist (fæntəzɪst) /countable noun

  1. A fantasist is someone who constantly tells lies about their life and achievements in order to make them sound more exciting than they really are.

Source: Collins English Dictionary

This term can also be used in reference to someone who is referring to tragedy to gain notoriety; see use in the article "The fantasist of 9/11: The story of Tania Head's escape from the Twin Towers captivated America and made her a heroine among survivors... Just one problem - she wasn't even there that day"


edit: My experience is that someone who exhibits this form of behavior is setting up a swindle of some kind. The goal is to be confident until people are confident in you in order to swindle. It fits the first definition of con artist. Synonymous is confidence man, and con is short for confidence as the goal of the confidence man is to exhibit an aura of confidence and trust around him on a venture which relies on trust.

From dictionary.reference.com

con artist

noun Informal.
a person adept at lying, cajolery, or glib self-serving talk.
a person adept at swindling by means of confidence games; swindler.
  • The "con" in "con artist" is often considered short for "confidence". Other terms heard in such a context are "confidence trickster" and "conman". Jul 14, 2017 at 22:53
  • We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – tchrist
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:44

The first part of your question --

a person who lies and invents stories/scenarios to elicit sympathy

-- sounds like a form of Munchausen Syndrome (as others have mentioned):

a factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves [Wikipedia]

The next bit,

in order to manipulate and further their own advancement at the cost of others

is well summarized when you use the term "psychopathic social climber". Finally, the rest of the elaborations in your post sound like hallmark traits of someone with narcissistic personality disorder:

a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes [Merriam-Webster]


Think along the lines of a psychopathic social climber,

I think you answered your own question. "Psychopath."

People tend to think first of violent psychopaths, but your use of the adjective form is equally valid.


If you want to stick to one word (and you should!), try:

1. Pseudologist (Oxford Dictionaries)
Pseudo = Fake, Logos = word
- More scientific

2. Fabulist (Merriam-Webster)
A creator of fables, a liar
- More useful in a non-scientific context

  • 4
    Welcome to ELU! I like your suggestions, especially fabulist. Your answer would benefit from some actual definitions, with links and very brief citations. Something like "From Oxford Dictionaries: fabulist 1.1 A liar, especially one who invents elaborately dishonest stories." Plus perhaps a sentence or two explaining why/how these words would be appropriate. This is more in line with site standards and, possibly more to the point, would help others see how great your ideas are and get you more upvotes ;-). Good luck!
    – 1006a
    Jul 14, 2017 at 21:55

I believe one option you could consider is the word "histrionic." Histrionic, besides being a usable word by definition it is also associated with a clinical personality disorder and as such carries with it the connotation or at least begs the question of a diagnosis.

British Dictionary definitions for histrionic Expand histrionic /ˌhɪstrɪˈɒnɪk/ adjective 1. excessively dramatic, insincere, or artificial: histrionic gestures 2. (rare) dramatic noun 3. (pl) melodramatic displays of temperament 4. (rare) (pl, functioning as singular) dramatics


As already suggested in previous answers, 'narcissistic personality disorder', 'scheming' and 'manipulator' are most suitable for your case, but if the person uses unusually (deceptively) passive or indirect tactics, you might consider passive-aggressive personality:

passive–aggressive : being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way

It is passive-aggressive behavior, the donning of a mask of amiability that conceals raw antagonism toward one's competitors, even one's friends. — Hilary De Vries


Passive-aggressive behavior is fundamentally deceptive aggression, where the inner resentment is cloaked by an outer pretence of placidity or neutrality and antagonism is expressed not through open hostility but through manipulative behavior (whuch can even include subtle lying, turning people against somebody, and feigning hurt or illness to elicit sympathy). It is not so easy for others to recognize or identify passive-aggressive behavior. Here "donning a mask of amiability that conceals raw antagonism" is possibly the part that fits your case.


As a single word description, I think you could use munchausenian. This is modified from Munchausen syndrome, as also mentioned in jwodder's answer.

I am unable to find it listed in a dictionary, but have seen it used as a descriptor for someone that has or appears to have Munchausen syndrome.

A link of examples of usage has been supplied by Mari-LouA, wordincontext.com/en/munchausenian

The last years of his life were spent at El Tovar, regaling the tourists with his colorful and imaginary incidents of the wild and woolly days. He was quite proud of his Munchausenian abilities.
Dama Margaret Smith - I Married a Ranger

  • @Mari-LouA Please note that I did refer to that answer. Also note that this is not a duplicate. The original question asked for a single word, though that has now been expanded. Munchausenian is a (potentially unofficial) word that refers to someone with Munchausen Syndrome or with something related to that disorder. Jul 17, 2017 at 13:23
  • Apologies, my brain hadn't registered that it was adjectival, I read it as Munchhausen. I'll delete my comment. Here's a link you could post: wordincontext.com/en/munchausenian
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:23
  • Note that the tags have not been edited, they are the same ones Michelle used at the beginning.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:26

I would refer to such a person as a pathological liar, though it may have a connotation that there is no actual motive involved, not even sympathy.


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