Deceit and Character
Deceit is the hallmark trait of manipulative characters. In fact, all disturbed characters practice deception of some type in their relationships. But as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, there are many ways to lie. And some disturbed characters are particularly skilled in the subtlest forms of lying. So skilled in fact, they have raised lying nearly to an art form. (For more on this see: The Art of the Lie.) No wonder someone coined the term “con artist”!
Now, the “fourth commandment” of sound character is all about revering truth. But in a world full of deceit discerning just what the truth is can be quite a challenge. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible. That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us to revere it. Moreover, honesty necessarily begins with ourselves. We’re more likely to be honest with others when we have faithfully self-reckoned. (For more on this see: The Power of Admitting the Truth.) And we’re more likely to be discern deceit when we’ve reckoned with the myriad of ways we all know there are to deceive.
Does Everybody Lie?
The fictional TV character Dr. Gregory House famously asserted that “everybody lies.” House is also notorious for saying or doing whatever he thinks he must to achieve his mischievous ends. He’s a cantankerous yet somehow lovable character. Most of the time, he’s doing a world of good for folks in desperate situations. But he doesn’t always have the best intentions. Still, whether he’s up to good or no good, he’s always the consummate manipulator. He’s a truly artful liar, well-versed in the varied and subtle forms of deceit.
House was shooting straight when he said we all lie, at least at times. And research tells us we lie for two principal reasons. We do it to avoid the unpleasant. And we do it to get something desirable that we don’t think we can’t get honestly. (For more on this see: Why We Lie – Even to Ourselves.) Sometimes the lies we tell are pretty innocuous. We tell “little white lies” when the unvarnished truth might needlessly injure. It’s the civil thing to do. But being untruthful can be really problematic at times. And it can invite many unintended consequences. That’s the point Sir Walter Scott’s makes in the famous quote:
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Malignant narcissists practice deceit with the most malicious intentions. These strictly self-serving folks are always looking for a position advantage. As I point out in Character Disturbance, it’s always about position, position, and position! And some lie so habitually, egregiously, and convincingly they begin believing their own falsehoods. But most of the time, they know full well how dishonest they are. It’s not so much that they’re unaware. Rather, it’s that they simply don’t care. They don’t care about the truth. And they don’t care about the impact of their deceit. They only care about getting what they want. (See also: Seeing the World as They Want to See It: The Self-Deceptive Thinking of Disturbed Characters and Manipulators: Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?).
Deceit and manipulation are, and always have always been, close partners. Covertly aggressive individuals know that to successfully advance their hidden, nefarious agendas, they not only have to conceal their true intentions but also cast themselves in a way that seems benign. (This is called the art of impression management.) This leads manipulation victims to doubt themselves and their suspicions. And, accordingly, it makes them feel a little crazy. These days, we refer to this crazy-making dynamic as gaslighting. Although we didn’t have a name for it then, I first wrote about this phenomenon in In Sheep’s Clothing. I wrote the book primarily so manipulation victims wouldn’t feel so crazy anymore. But I also wanted folks to see manipulators and their tactics for what they really are. Knowing what these types are really up to and how to respond to their tactics is the key to personal empowerment.
Recognizing and Responding to Artful Deceivers
Over then next few weeks I’ll be talking more about the many ways disturbed characters deceive. And I’ll be talking more about how to best spot their deceit before it’s too late. More importantly, I’ll be talking about what each of us can do to engender more reverence for the truth. Our character depends on that. And the integrity of our society depends upon it, too.