The fictional TV character Gregory House is famous for unabashedly asserting that “everybody lies.” He’s also notorious for saying or doing whatever he thinks he has to do to achieve his ends. He’s a cantankerous yet somehow lovable character who often doesn’t have the best intentions but sometimes does a world of good for folks in desperate situations. He’s also the consumate manipulator, and the writers behind the character knew well that a master manipulator like House would have to be a truly artful liar, well-versed in the many subtle ways to deceive.
House was right about one thing: we all lie from time to time. Sometimes the lies we tell are pretty innocuous. It’s not necessary (and many would say it’s unwise) to be perfectly truthful about how hideous we think someone looks in a particular outfit, or how “lame” we think the joke a friend of ours just told really is. Sometimes, it’s a mark of civility to be less than fully candid. But as we all know, being untruthful can be a real problem, too, especially when we do so with malicious intent, when the truth would do just as well, or when we do it so habitually and convincingly that we begin to believe our own falsehoods (for more on this see the articles: Seeing the World as They Want to See It: The Self-Deceptive Thinkin of Disturbed Characters and Manipulators: Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?). And we also know that ardent, troublesome liars often try to justify themselves by pointing out the truism that we all have flaws.
There’s been a lot of research on lying in recent years, and when you closely scrutinize the 12 or so reasons science now tells us people generally have for lying it boils down to 2 basic motives: to secure something we find desirable but don’t think we can get honestly, or to prevent something we find undesirable from occuring. Lying, in a scientific sense, is an instrumental behavior, a purposeful, goal-directed act of will.
Lying and manipulation are, and always have always been, close partners. Covertly aggressive individuals know that if they’re to succeed with their hidden, nefarious agendas, they have to be able not only to deceive but also to do so without being readily detected as being conniving. And, as I first pointed out in In Sheep’s Clothing, this strategy is at the very heart of manipulation.
Manipulative people are among the most skilled liars. As masters of deception, they know the many and subtle ways to lie. Perhaps the biggest single reason their tactics of manipulation and control work is because their surface-level behaviors can easily have you believing one thing while underneath the surface something else is really going on. That’s why in my first book I stressed the importance of getting intimately acquainted with the most common tactics covert aggressors use and why I stressed even more in Character Disturbance how important it is to recognize above and beyond all else that when someone is using any of these tactics, they’re primarily fighting for a position of advantage, looking for ways to get something from you without your fully realizing it or to take advantage of you in some way without being uncovered as someone out to abuse or exploit you.
In the current series of articles, we’ll be taking a deeper look into the “art” of deception. I’ll be presenting vignettes that illustrate how craftily covert aggressors use various tactics to deceive and thereby manipulate and control. The examples along with my commentary will be designed to help you attune yourself to clues that someone’s trying to put one over on you before they succeed in doing you in. I’ll also be presenting some examples that illustrate what can happen when a person’s incapacity/unwillingness to be truthful reaches a level that they begin to believe their own lies. I hope the commentators will also share some examples of how dishonesty on the part of a relationship partner dealt a death blow to that relationship by eroding all sense of trust (for more on trust and relationships see the series on trust, beginning with Trust: The Foundation of Any Relationship).
Sunday’s Character Matters program at 7 pm EDT will be a live broadcast, so I can take your calls. The topic will be on narcissism and especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder and some prime examples of this character disturbance in our political arena.