Monday, June 21, 2010

Lies, lies, and manipulation

A reader asked: "Why is it that sociopaths are natural manipulators and expert liars? How can an everyday person acquire such skill?" My response:
Interesting. I posted a little about this a few weeks ago. I think the main skill in lying is to discover how people are able to determine what is truth and what is lie and always make your lies look more like truth and less like lies. I guess that sounds simplistic, but what I mean is that there are certain tells, certain aspects of a lie that alert the listener to be suspicious. If you could figure out what these things are and give the listener more what they are expecting to see when someone tells the truth, then you are a good liar, right? It's the same with any lie detection system -- find out how it works, then game the system. For a polygraph system you know that it establishes a baseline of stress levels and then looks for spikes. The game that most people try to play with a polygraph is to keep your stress levels high when telling the truth, thereby establishing a high baseline level of stress and making the lies more difficult to detect. I think sociopaths are particularly expert at lying because they are very used to being what is expected of them, particularly in wearing masks to become someone or something else in reaction to what people want to see.

Manipulation probably works the same way -- you read people, you really learn what makes them tick, and then you adapt in such a way that they are almost compelled to do what you want them to do. But everyone is a natural manipulator, not just sociopaths. We learn it when we are babies. As babies we fussed for the things we wanted, sometimes we were honestly upset, but sometimes we did it just to make people jump. Look at this site for a hilarious explanation of that.

I don't know whether sociopaths are necessarily better at manipulation than all of the other natural manipulators. If they are maybe it it just because they have had more practice. Sociopaths use manipulation because it is quick and easy and they can't see any reason why not -- they do not have the same respect for personal boundaries and individual autonomy that neurotypicals do.

I personally try to avoid it. I feel like particularly in interpersonal relationships, it is not worth the distrust and bitterness that are its byproducts. I guess in some ways that makes me like an industrialized nation version of a sociopath. When I was younger I was more like China, undeveloped and eager to get an edge anyway I could, even if it meant polluting my sky and water sources. Now I am more like Hong Kong -- at least willing to consider some of the negative externalities that my actions produce, partly because I have the luxury to do so (I have sufficient resources and stature to get what I want without getting my hands dirty all of the time), and partly because I at least half believe that polluting my relationships is probably not in my best interest.


  1. The actual answer: they aren't, and in answer to how an ordinary person could become that way, practice and disregarding shame or guilt.
    Psychopaths are not born manipulators - they RELY on it. They cannot risk others knowing that they do not have empathy, so they must lie to protect themselves. Naturally, it gets better from there, combined with the fact that their lack of social norms means that they feel no shame in lying.

  2. your truth can be the "lie" that others don't want to hear, and often it's just easier to tell people what they want to hear than keep pushing the truth down their throats (a thankless task).

    in a way, an expert liar is also an expert truth teller. it's all about managing the information exchange.. you have to start by understanding your audience.

  3. Its easier to lie if there is a goal that needs to be met. Sometimes its just a small goal, like getting somebody to pay your rent. Sometimes its a larger goal, like wanting to control somebody completely. The thing with sociopaths is that they do not feel bad while telling the lie, which is why its so convincing. Normal people feel some shreds of remorse or guilt, which are huge tails. So, when your dealing with somebody who you dont realize is a sociopath you see no sign of any tails at all, they are completely off the red flag radar (for the most part). This makes it easier to lie to you and for you to accept the lie. Besides, you have by now learned to trust them, even care for them. You want to please them. You want to help them, or rescue them or whatever image they have set up for you to believe. Lying and manipulation go hand in hand, i think. To truly get all you can from a person by lying you have to be able to get into there heads, to see there weakness and there desires. Then you play on that. Whats really interesting is when you have two people who dont know the other are sociopaths try to con the makes for interesting conversations.

  4. Just makes me laugh how sociopaths see their behaviour as so clever and superior, whereas they really are just sad empty bastards who always self destruct in the end, even if it takes some time. They always brag about how their scams as if they truly believe that other people would actually want or even envy their pathetic lifestyle.

    1. Actually, you're the sad empty bastard.
      Sociopaths are clever and superior. You're in denial.
      Hey, I'm not a sociopath, and yet I realize that they are superior!

  5. Anon: "Just makes me laugh how sociopaths see their behaviour as so clever and superior, whereas they really are just sad empty bastards who always self destruct in the end, even if it takes some time. They always brag about how their scams as if they truly believe that other people would actually want or even envy their pathetic lifestyle."

    Were you damaged by a sociopath, lil guy? It's okay, you can tell us about how this sociopath ruined your life and makes you now post angsty comments on internet blogs.

    Your friend,

  6. Firstly I am a woman, and yes I was involved with a sociopath, which led to my interest in them, but damaged, no. I am far too strong for that. I healed from my experience and can now laugh about it, I have re-trained successfully in therapy and my only wish is to help others. The said sociopath, however, has now caught genital warts and has been rumbled by his wife, and is about to be kicked out of his home, and lose his family(the second he has lost).Oh and he hasnt got a pot to piss in thrugh having no direction in life, whereas I am comfortable. So maybe you can tell me who got it right!

  7. PostmodernSociopathJune 26, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    It's cute that she puts up such a strong face behind her mask of anonymity.

    In response, however, I'd like to ask what your evidence is that you're any less empty than I am. Are you truly fulfilled? Your life is so full, but you still need to lash out at those like me. You describe your life as "comfortable". To me, a comfortable life is a stagnant life, and stagnation is death.

    I submit that you are just as empty, your life as bland and meaningless as my own. The difference is that you make of yourself a victim, but I have chosen the life of a predator. Was this man of yours a predator? He sounds quite desperately ineffective, if he was.

    Finally, though, I would like to answer you. You "got it right", as you put it. I say that without a shred of doubt or sarcasm. You made the better decision. He allowed himself to be ruled by something else, and he suffered for his foolishness. You made your decision based on pure, selfish rationality, and you prospered, comparatively. I applaud you.

  8. The reason I post anonymously is because I dont know who the hell I am talking to on this site, and surely dont need to point out the obvious risks of talking to someone devoid of a conscience, sociopaths are dangerous. Yes the man was a predator,and a good one. He had it made for a long time, he chose me because I am attractive and a trophy for him, and he had relationships with other women at the same time, as he is a charmer and it was easy to do, but time caught up with him and I explained previously about his tragic downfall, such a shame. Just to clarify I meant comfortable as in financially, my life is far from dull. I have a great career, social life, holidays and as many lovers as I want, sometimes for short term liaisons, the difference is I dont lie to them or anyone, as I dont need to, I dont have anything to hide.Sociopaths have to win so even if I said I was a multi millionaire with a stable of toyboys you would have to try and rubbish me in some way,as that is typical behaviour. So clever, yet unable to recognize their own mental illness.

  9. PostmodernSociopathJune 30, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    I'm the Duke of Normandy.

    But in all seriousness, your story smacks of desperate rationalization with a liberal dash of fabrication.

    And what you failed to recognize, despite your attempt at deflection through condescension, is that in order to defeat him you had to bring yourself to his level.

    You suggest I do not recognize that I observe the world differently from the majority. Allow me to assure you that I do. On the other hand, your prose, in addition to being rife with comma splices and run-ons, seems indicative of the sort of willing obtuseness you project on me.

    And, as a special morsel to chew on, consider your own words.

    "Yes the man was a predator,and a good one."
    "...he is a charmer and it was easy to do...."

    You practically defend this beast of yours. Could it be he still holds a piece of you? Or perhaps you cling to a piece of him?

    "...he chose me because I am attractive and a trophy for him...."

    A trophy? Is that your attempt to cling to what self-esteem he left you, or perhaps a seed of narcissism he planted in you, coming to fruition as you let your instincts take control?

    I am not trying to "rubbish" you, whatever that's supposed to mean. I am trying to show you that you are not as innocent as you think. Casting yourself as a victim does not wash away your sins, my dear. The lies you tell yourself are just a defense mechanism. You know the truth, you just can't face it.

    He saw your illusions, and fed them to take control of you. Your weakness is the very thing you use to bring yourself strength.

  10. So hang me for my dreadful grammar, I will live with it. You've missed the point. I am not a victim, I am ok, the sociopath and any sociopath, yourself included, is not ok, however. I think my sociopath respected me as I was like a good version of himself, vain, manipulative, charming and persuasive, but without the evil intent. I more than stood up to him, and if anyone suffered the loss of us splitting, it was him. I can only imagine that willing victims become rather tiresome and tedious, and that challenges are a welcome change to the sociopath. You always like to think that you have the upper hand, but sometimes you just dont, no matter how difficult that is for you to accept.

  11. As a non-sociopath (believe me, guilt is waaaaay too familiar an emotion to me) I find myself thinking, "no, wait a minute." First off, if you revel in a sociopath's pain, you're just a sadist. I can see it if you're reveling in the pain of a particular sociopath, fine, but sociopaths in general?

    Look at it another way: a kid grows up his whole life unable to feel empathy. He lacks this circuitry, or gets it burnt out of him somehow, or it never develops. A self-conscious sociopath can now, still, if he chooses, develop a reasonable moral code that will give him more functional relationships and better long-term results in life--which is in his self-interest to do!

    For example, here's a scenario: a sociopath becomes a brilliant surgeon. What is his desire? To be known as the best surgeon alive. What undoes a lot of surgeons? When one of their patients inevitably dies, feels terrible, may need time off, may even quit the game concluding "I just can't do it anymore." Or he loses his nerve and botches his next surgery, or next one, because he's obsessed with guilt; the sociopath will likely respond to the (inevitable) death of a patient by just working harder so he doesn't suffer further reputation loss, and his (admittedly predatory) goal of being better than all the other surgeons. If he's stupid, he might sabotage other surgeons, but if he's smart and self-aware, he knows that's only likely to screw up his career and won't do it. An empath might try to sabotage other surgeons purely out of irrational spite, but sociopaths DON'T DO SPITE--you have to care how people feel to want to hurt them emotionally.

    Even in a romantic relationship: a confused sociopath who doesn't even realize why and how he's different can be a fucking train wreck, messing up HIS OWN life and not just those of his erstwhile lovers. But what if he had been aware of his condition, this emotional color-blindness he has, and was up front about it? He wouldn't have an angry ex- who hated him or wanted to see him fail in life. He probably woudln't even have a trail of broken hearts behind him--or would at least have a much smaller one, "You know what? This is who I am. I lack empathy. I cannot feel other people's pain. I tend to put myself first in all things. You and I can have a great relationship, if you understand and respect that I am this way and I always will be." It's in the rational self-interest for the sociopath to do that, I would argue; many women would run from such a relationship, but others might say, "Oh, OK, I get it." And either way they were warned up front.

    Honestly, before I started reading much about this I assumed "sociopath" equated to "evil." Now I see, no, it really doesn't have to. It would tend to move toward evil very quickly, especially in the unselfconscious, un-self-aware sociopath. But an aware one? You know you can't appeal to his empathy because he doesn't have any. He knows it too. But if he calculates that brutal HONESTY about this state of affairs will lead him to a better life, it PROBABLY WILL.

    Or so my theory would be.

    1. No it won't lead them to a better life because their behavior, no feelings towards others that DO have feelings, kills that person on the inside but the sociopath doesn't care. Not even when they start to effect their own children. Hiding their favorite toy and watching them heartbroken for weeks knowing that they had it all along. What type of messed up parent/human being does that? Mess with my emotions all he wants, I'm an adult and I am way past believing a damn thing that comes out of his mouth but leave my children alone. That is probably why he has turned his aim towards the kids. I am no longer a challenge because I see him for what he is, a lying piece of $#@%.

  12. Maybe we can look at sociopaths from a slightly different perspective. From a fraud examiner's analysis, about 30% of our population is hopelessly criminal, about 30% is hopelessly honest, and the middle 40% are situationally criminal/honest. That tells us if the environment is honest, the 40% will be honest, and vice versa. The ones we have to always be on the lookout for are the 30% hopelessly criminal.

    Most of us, being either hopelessly honest or part of the 40% in the middle, don't think like the 30% hopelessly criminal, but we can be trained to see them and their signs. Cops know how to detect frauds and sociopaths. They know well that givers are not likely to be criminal, but takers are often frauds and sociopaths. And, like alcoholics, it seems the frauds and sociopaths (often, maybe usually, the same thing) are almost always charmers. They do get their way through life by lying and manipulating the honest people. And as noted above, their success depends on how well they can blend the truth with lies. It's an art form.

    The best defense? Short term: take a good fraud examination course. Long term: become a cop, a prostitute, or a psychologist.

  13. Postmodernsociopath, you're interesting.

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  15. It amuses me how sociopaths are defined as evil in general when philosophy dictates that evil is a moral term born of conscientiousness; something we lack. Empathy is not a problem. Justification is as anyone can use that, sociopath or not.


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