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.”
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.
You, too, can start a blog and share your experiences. Your voice will contribute to educating the public and spreading awareness about psychopathy. We can diminish the powers of evil-doers hiding behind “masks of sanity” by exposing them. Our combined voices will empower potential victims and future generations to guard themselves against abuse, improving their chances to live happier, more productive lives.
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