In many ways, relationship deception defines our character-disturbed age. So, just what is phenomenon? In short, it’s deliberately casting the nature of your relationship with someone in a way you know to be false. These days, folks form relationships of all kinds and for all kinds of reasons and purposes. Sometimes, it’s a matter of convenience, such as access to sexual gratification. Other times, it’s a matter of other self-serving purpose, such as easing one’s financial burden.
When it comes to relationships, a person can be open and above board about intentions and other matters. That allows a potential relationship partner to make an informed, free choice. But some folks are deceivers from the start. They’re not who they make themselves out to be. And their intentions with regard to you are not what they claim. Unfortunately, all too often relationship partners don’t learn the truth until they’ve already been exploited.
It’s been years since I wrote In Sheep’s Clothing. I wrote it in part to describe a particular kind of relationship. I knew there were folks skilled in the art of what we now call “impression management.” Such folks know how to present a convincing, benign, even amiable facade. They know how to look good without actually being good. Self-serving and entitled, some individuals only want to possess, control, and dominate in a relationship. And they can be quite crafty in the ways they go about things. So it’s easy to misjudge them on the front end of a relationship. I call some of the more pathological of these types covert-aggressives (See pp. 96-134 in Character Disturbance).
Relationship deception is one of the major reasons marriages and other intimate arrangements fall apart or end in heartbreak. I’ve heard story after story over the years from persons who came to loathe someone they once thought hung the moon. But by the time they figured things out, they’d invested much and lost much. This made them quite angry. But it also led them to question themselves. How could they have been so wrong about someone, they wonder? In fact, their experience led to a host of troubling feelings that took much time to sort through. And only a handful were able to get the right kind of post-trauma counseling.
Some Related Reading
Some other articles on the blog examine aspects of relationship deception.
Here are just a few:
- Deception and Manipulation
- Deceit Can Take Many Forms
- Seeing the World as They Want to See It: The Self-Deceptive Thinking of the Disturbed Character
Next week I’ll be beginning a series on how to best vet character in a character-impaired age.
7 thoughts on “Relationship Deception in the Age of Character Disturbance”
The first thing that occurs to me when I read this is that deception in relationships is manipulative by definition. And those kinds of habits are ones I learned at the crib. Sad to think that what was demonstrated was things like not even being honest with myself. Makes it hard to have an open and healthy relationship that will work over time. Romantic relationships and otherwise.
The behaviors you learn with a narcissistic parent are ones that are hard to unlearn-when you realize how damaging they are both to others and to yourself. I’ve said it before, a narcissistic parent teaches their child to act like the person they like the best: themselves. But what sets me apart is that I can grasp the spirituality critical for recovering from a narcissistic relationship of any kind. There is a God and not only is that not you-it’s not your narc either.
A narcissist raises an emotional cripple. And I would imagine that a narcissistic spouse produces one.
I agree with your statement of “A narcissist raises an emotional cripple.” I have found that the many narcissists I have dealt with one of or both the parents were narcissists. On the other hand a child of a narcissist parent may learn the victim mentality thus becoming attracted to narcissists. I also agree in part with your statement “I would imagine that a narcissistic spouse produces one.” I think the spouse may learn behaviors mirroring the narcissist out of survival instincts.
The world these days are full of impression management individuals who purport to be something they are not. To counter this, I have a list of what I call “Red Flags” I look for. I know we all have our faults and quirks, flags are a whole different ballgame. Until proven otherwise, I use caution.
Good to see you again. I think there is more than one possibility when it comes to having a narcissistic parent (or parents). One is you learn the victim mentality. And you choose a narcissist for a partner, sometimes over and over again. Or until you recognize you pattern and work to change it.
Sadly, I feel the other possibility for a child of a narcissist is you also learn to victimize others. With or without becoming a narcissist yourself. I know in active addiction (I found my way into addiction so I did not have to feel the turmoil of emotions or to process the more painful ones), I certainly may have had a combination of the two. But then, in comes the gift of a 12 step program. Unlike my NM, I have the ability to recognize the error of my ways, grasp a spiritual program and begin the process of change.
My best advice when it comes to a relationship of any kind with a narc: don’t do it. Walk away, much as it may seem like a painful choice, you will find yourself being able to let go of the anger and pain that motivates the dysfunctional behaviors on your own part.
What a narc does to someone is horrible. What you wind up doing to yourself is worse.
I know how I was deceived by my ex who was a narc. He was charming, and fairly intelligent regarding how he went about manipulating people, but I believe anyone who had healthy boundaries would not have been deceived like I was. I was raised in a family who didn’t have boundaries and I had no idea about them either. Even now I have a hard time determining when a person has overstepped because I still do not trust my judgement as much as I need to, but I am working on that. I don’t want to be a judgmental person so I try to “live and let live” as long as nobody is being hurt by another person, their defects of character are probably just something they are blind to, but judging their motives as to whether or not they mean to harm is where the confusion comes in. But it is a red flag to watch out for and time will tell. Now if I believe that person intentionally means to harm I can simply choose not to be around that person if possible.
I understand what you mean. When I encounter people who are aggressive, I tend to fold very quickly and I run from conflict. Or I will overreact. I’ve allowed myself to be manipulated by people other than my NM, and had a recent friendship where I was used and allowed it to continue for way too long (I have since cut that person out of my life as well).
When I even have someone in regular conversation say something like “I don’t know what you mean, or I don’t understand” the anxiety I feel is intense. I’m better now at recognizing that the person often simply needs clarification and is not necessarily gaslighting me presently.
Anyone who messes with your reality is a very sick and twisted individual.
Thanks for the kind welcome.
I think a lot of people have the same problems with new relationships as we do, that is, in meeting and dealing with people, interacting and ascertaining their character.
I find this is a world of very self centered and shallow people and I believe the age of electronics and the smut on TV has further deteriorated a persons ability to form healthy relationships.
I understand the difficulty of the family of origin beginnings that taught us early on, unhealthy boundaries or none at all. I agree a 12 Step program is a very healthy step in the right direction of healing oneself and also a relationship with Jesus has been my rock.
Aggressive and self absorbed people seem to be a norm these days and as I said I look for the little red flags. I too, have a tendency to get anxiety around these kind of people and actually embrace that feeling as it steers me away from harmful people. I do have to be careful as those old tapes that at times can pull me into dealing with the disordered as a feeling of familiarity or wanting to help a person that doesn’t deserve my help.
Relationships can be difficult and I agree it is a healthy on my part to always clarify what one is saying if I don’t understand or they don’t. Open communication is critical for a heathy relationship to flourish. On the other hand questioning or asking for clarification can be the window to seeing what ones intentions truly are and if in fact the are capable of a positive relationship.
What is the “right kind of trauma counseling”? Trying to help a deeply wounded friend heal from a marriage full of Secrets an lies