To deal with sociopaths effectively, you first need to open your eyes. In The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson, two weavers promise the emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are stupid and unfit for their positions.
When the emperor parades before his subjects, all the adults, not wishing to be seen in a negative light, pretend they can see the clothes. The only truthful person is a child who cries “But he isn’t wearing any clothes!”.
You, too, need to see sociopaths as they really are. We are conditioned to keep quiet, which often means turning a blind eye to or putting up with abuse.
The boy in the tale represents those who see the problem behavior for what it is and find the courage of their convictions to make a stand. Sight becomes insight, which turns into action. Awareness is the first step in limiting the negative effects of contact with a sociopath.
All abusers are in denial and they tend to be comfortable lying. With a lifetime of practice (and no qualms) they have developed the skill to sound believable when making baseless statements. The abuser presents himself as a sincere, respectable person; which gains him credibility and makes people feel uncomfortable about asking for substantiation. They may fail to look closely at evidence—if not ignore it—because of his charm and convincing manner. He may show a hint of aggression to intimidate others from challenging his position. The liar also benefits when people are overly self-confident and believe they can “just tell” who is lying and who is telling the truth, and so fail to adequately investigate. The confidence of the duped believers then has the power of convincing others who are more uncertain … and the lie becomes “truth.”
Sociopaths have a profound lack of empathy for the feelings of others.
They lack the internal feedback system by which normal people monitor themselves. (Most people call this “conscience,” which is probably as useful a term as any.) Sociopaths do not have this and don’t feel bad about abusing other people. It’s not that they feel bad and ignore it—they don’t feel it at all.
Sociopaths understand that they are different from normal people and learn to mimic normal behavior. This mimicry has a purpose: It gets the sociopath what he or she wants.
The sociopath hides his or her difference. After letting it show a time or two—and probably being punished by a parent as a result—the sociopath covers up the truth and keeps it covered. But the reason for hiding it is not embarrassment (the sociopath doesn’t feel embarrassment), but because it hinders him from getting what he want.
Since sociopaths have no empathy for others, making use of normal people feels just fine to them. Likewise, they feel no remorse.
Empathy, as viewed by the sociopath, is a weakness, and he considers himself superior because he isn’t burdened by it.
Because they lack an internal feedback system, sociopaths are excellent liars. For example, they can often pass lie detector tests, since those tests register the effects of our internal feedback system, which they don’t have.
A sociopath is likely to maintain a group of people who believe wholeheartedly that he is a good, kind, honest person. He’ll work in calculated ways to create and maintain that opinion in them.
By David Robson
7 September 2015
This story is part of BBC Future’s “Best of 2015” list, the greatest hits of the year. Browse the full list.
How does one go about detecting a liar? One approach would be to focus on body language or eye movements, right? It would have been a bad idea. Study after study has found that attempts – even by trained police officers – to read lies from body language and facial expressions are more often little better than chance. You might as well just flip a coin.
According to one study, just 50 out of 20,000 people managed to make a correct judgement with more than 80% accuracy.
There are other more effective ways to identify the fakers in the vast majority of cases. The secret? To throw away many of the accepted cues to deception and start anew with some startlingly straightforward techniques.
When it comes to spotting liars, the eyes don’t have it.
Most previous work had focused on reading a liar’s intentions via their body language or from their face – blushing cheeks, a nervous laugh, darting eyes. Bill Clinton touching his nose when he denied his affair with Monica Lewinsky is a famous example – taken at the time to be a sure sign he was lying. The belief was that the act of lying provokes emotions – nervousness, guilt, perhaps even exhilaration at the challenge – that trigger unavoidable tiny flickers of movement known as “micro-expressions” that might give the game away. The problem is the huge variety of human behaviour – there is no universal dictionary of body language.
In The Lies of Sarah Palin, Geoffrey Dunnprovides the first full-scale and in-depth political biography of the controversial Republican vice-presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska.
Based on more than two-hundred interviews—many of them with Republican colleagues and one-time political allies of Palin’s—and more than forty-thousand pages of uncovered documents, Dunn chronicles Palin’s troubling penchant for duplicity in grim detail. The Lies of Sarah Palin is a journalistic tour de force that vividly reveals the Queen of the Tea Party movement as a vengeful and manipulative empress without clothes.
Because they are either in
denial, or they simply deny.
Abusers regularly deny the abuse ever took place, rationalize their abusive behaviors, or use tactics to cover themselves—and each other.
Sociopaths are skilled deniers. Where the rest of us would stutter or blush, they can lie with a convincing confidence. They pose as authorities and, to discourage questions, they act “offended” if their audience shows doubt. An arrogant manner indicates a lifetime of “successful” manipulative control tactics and contempt for other people, who they regard as inferior.
Abusers tend to be comfortable lying, having years of practice (and no qualms,) and so can sound believable when making baseless statements. The abuser benefits when people feel too uncomfortable to ask a seemingly sincere, respectable person to substantiate a claim, or fail to look closely at evidence—if not ignore it—because of his charm or perceived authority. He also benefits when people believe that they can “just tell” who is lying and who is telling the truth, and so fail to adequately investigate.