I’ve been posting on one of the principal distinguishing features of character disturbed and character disordered individuals: their penchant for serious, sometimes highly “artful” lying (see also: The Art of the Lie and Why Some People Lie So Much). And while character-impaired individuals are notorious for having chronic problems with the truth, there are two types of deceptions in which they engage that present the greatest dangers to relationships. The first type of deception is the kind that prompted me to write my first book In Sheep’s Clothing. It has to do with what some theorists and authors have called the art of “impression management” (for an egregious illustration of this capacity, see the article: “I Am Not a Monster:” Impression Management Ariel Castro Style), and sometimes it can be carried to a highly pathological extreme. There are, unfortunately, people who are simply not who they appear – proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing who, while they know their own nature all-too-well, don’t want you to know who they really are so they can get what they want from you. But as I’ve mentioned before and illustrate in my book Character Disturbance, character disturbance exists along a continuum (for more on this topic see the series of articles on the character disturbance continuum beginning with: Character Disturbance Exists Along a Continuum), so the degree to which someone knowingly and deliberately misreprents themself and with truly malevolent intent can vary considerably. The second type of deception disturbed and disordered characters are known for is self-deception, which I’ll have more to say about in next week’s series concluding article.
I’ve told this story before, but I think it worth telling again: I was asked to mentor a colleague who had recently carved some time out of his private practice to provide psychiatric services to a women’s prison. It seems he’d been too often “conned” into prescribing several highly abusable drugs to inmates who in turn were selling them at a handsome profit and trading them for various favors. And when I first gently approached the topic of why it probably wasn’t a good idea to simply take an inmate’s word for things when gathering the information necessary to make a diagnosis he asked a question that stands out in my mind even today: “Why would they lie?” (Remember, this is a professional used to treating individuals who came to him in great distress and truly needed help). Of course, it would have taken an eternity to list all of the umpteen thousand reasons folks who virtually lie for a living would have for casting false impressions, but suffice it to say that I had to really make the point that some folks simply don’t want you to know who they really are or what they’re really all about simply because they know that if they’re straight-up with you, you probably won’t give them whatever it is they want from you.
The most disastrous relationships I’ve witnessed over the years all began with a “con” of some sort. Sometimes the deception was both knowing and deliberate as in the case of one severely character disordered woman who completely but artfully misrepresented herself to a man of incredible financial means merely to gain access to part of a fortune and a lifestyle most of us could only dream about and the case of a notorious user, abuser, and “hustler,” who made it his life’s mission to charm, seduce, exploit, and then callously discard women of great physical beauty. But other times the wool was not so calculatingly pulled over the eventual victim’s eyes. There are times in all of our lives when we simply don’t trust our better judgment – when we won’t let ourselves see what we’re afraid to see – or when we simply can’t accept what seems too unsettling or unimaginable to believe. And because the most skilled manipulators among us often know our vulnerabilities better than we do, if we’re “in denial” or put the mental and emotional blinders on for some reason or another, we unwittingly make a covert-aggressor’s quest to take advantage of us a whole lot easier.
We live in an age where character disturbance is certainly more prevalent and, arguably, more severe than it used to be. So it’s unfortunately quite dangerous to be too trusting a soul in our times. We simply can’t judge on appearance. And we have to be really sure about our own character health if we’re to fully trust our gut. We have to be particularly mindful, cautious, objective, and be sure to gather the facts. There are individuals out there who are not who or what they appear and if we take the way they present themselves to us at face value, we could easily be duped. Fortunately, a person’s track record will often betray them. So, offer all those contemplating a relationship the same advice I gave the good doctor I referenced in the story above years ago: do your homework – look objectively at the history – don’t just take his or her word for things – be mindful of your own needs and vulnerabilities, and then maybe, just maybe you won’t get the wool pulled over your eyes.