Last week Lovefraud published an article by Eleanor Cowan entitled, When sociopaths use righteous indignation to exert control. In it, Eleanor relates how her fiance twisted her comment about a pedophile priest into an opportunity to establish his moral superiority over her. The fiance, of course, was disordered and a pedophile himself, but Eleanor didn’t know it at the time. He convinced her that he was a righteous, religious man.
A Lovefraud reader commented on the post:
This article really is a perfect example of how they manipulate you – what I want to know is HOW is it they are so believable? How come they are such good actors?? I would think the average non sociopathic person would be unable to lie as convincingly as an actual sociopath because a sociopath has no conscience, but what I want to understand is how come they are SUCH great actors?
In answer to our reader’s questions, keep in mind what acting is. It is lying. Actors try to convince us that they are the people they portray, and that they really mean all the things they say in their lines. This is exactly what sociopaths do. The difference is in the intent. With actors, everyone knows that they are just telling a story for our entertainment. With sociopaths, we, the targets, are being duped.
The difference between acting and lying, on differencebetween.com.
Here are five reasons why people with antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy are such believable actors. Four of them are about the disordered individuals, and one is about us, the targets.
- Lying without anxiety
All antisocials lie. This is a cardinal trait of the disorder. They tell big lies, little lies, outrageous lies, stupid lies. Of course, we all lie from time to time, perhaps to spare someone’s feelings or get out of trouble. But most normal people do not lie with anywhere near the fluency of an antisocial or psychopath.
The key to antisocial success in deception is that they do not feel anxiety when they lie. How can they do this? It’s rooted in their sense of entitlement. These people feel entitled to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it. If lying is required to meet their objective, that’s just fine with them.
Therefore, antisocials and psychopaths do not show any of the physical symptoms of lying. Their heart rate and blood pressure do not increase; their breathing does not change; they do not sweat. These are the physical changes measured by polygraph machines — which antisocials and psychopaths routinely beat.
All those “tells” that people are lying — like looking away or failing to make eye contact — do not work with antisocials and psychopaths.
- Glibness and superficial charm
Most antisocials and psychopaths are born with silver tongues. They always have an answer; never miss a beat. The ability to talk smoothly is simply a trait of the disorder. In fact, the first item in Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised, the prime tool for diagnosing psychopaths, is “glibness and superficial charm.”
Those of us with normal verbal skills may hesitate or reach for words when trying to express ourselves. Antisocials and psychopaths speak without hesitation, whether they’re love bombing us or coming up with an excuse. Because their words come so smoothly, we interpret their statements to be true.
- Changing like chameleons
Antisocials and psychopaths have no internal core. They have no real values, no ideals beyond going after whatever they want in the moment. This is what enables them to be chameleons. They can change their colors, totally reinventing themselves, depending on whom they are interacting with.
Again, this makes them great actors. What do actors do? They take on a role, and try to get us to believe their portrayal.
Disordered individuals who are pursuing romantic partners typically figure out what the target is looking for, make themselves into that person, and then proclaim that they are soul mates. The targets believe they’ve met the partners they’ve been waiting for all their lives, when actually the antisocials and psychopaths are just mirroring their own traits.
- Practice makes perfect
Exploitative personality disorders typically emerge during the teenage years, although sometimes traits like lying can be seen in young at-risk children. Therefore, most antisocials and psychopaths have been manipulating others — by lying and acting — all their lives. The more they do it, the better they get at it.
As they get older, antisocials may realize that they aren’t like other people. But they also know that in order pursue their agenda, whatever it is, they need to fit in. Sometimes they actually study how people react in situations requiring empathy so they can learn what to do.
By the time you meet adult antisocials and psychopaths, they’ve perfected their craft.
- Humans are lousy lie detectors
According to a meta-analysis of 253 research studies, human beings can identify a lie only about 53% of the time — not much better than flipping a coin.
Detecting deception, on APA.org.
I imagine that those 253 research studies involved mostly controlled environments with college students lying to each other. What happens when skilled antisocials and psychopaths are lying to their romantic partners?
We are biologically programmed to trust people. Whenever we share intimacy with someone — and a hug or conversation qualifies as intimacy — our bodies release a shot of oxytocin. This neurotransmitter facilitates trust. It makes us feel calm, trusting and content, and it alleviates fear and anxiety.
So if your disordered partner is putting on an act, he or she is naturally talented and has years of practice. You, being a normal, trusting human, are primed to believe it. That’s why it all seems so real.