By | March 9, 2015 27 Comments

How sociopaths make us believe them

The Impostor, a documentary, tells the story of a 13-year-old boy from San Antonio, Texas, who went missing and turned up three years later in Spain.

At least, that’s what his family believed, and authorities in multiple agencies and countries believed the family.

Nicholas Barclay, blond and blue-eyed, was last seen playing basketball on June 13, 1994. In October 1997, authorities from Linares, Spain called to say that he had been found.

“Nicholas Barclay,” the young man from Spain, claimed that he had been abducted by a child sex ring. “Nicholas Barclay” had brown hair, brown eyes, and spoke with a European accent.

The missing boy’s older half-sister flew to Spain to bring him home. The now 16-year-old was very different from her brother, but she, and the rest of her family, rationalized that the abuse he endured in the child sex ring had profoundly changed him.

It’s an unbelievable story, told really well. In 2012, The Impostor was a standout film at the Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection at multiple other international film festivals.

“This film is as gripping as any white-knuckle thriller,” wrote film critic Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian.

This outstanding documentary about a French conman is pure suspense from start to finish,

The Imposter: Bart Layton: ‘You find yourself sucked in by his twisted logic,’ on

Wanting to believe

The Impostor captures how desperately the Barclay family wanted to believe that their missing son had been found alive — and that’s what I found so fascinating and instructive for Lovefraud readers.

How many times were we asked, “Why did you believe that person?”

How many times did we ask ourselves, “Why did I believe that person?”

The answer is that we wanted to believe.

And how do the sociopaths make us want to believe?

Actually, they don’t.

Sociopathic tradecraft

Here’s the real “tradecraft” of the sociopath:

  1. Figure out what the target wants to believe
  2. Promise to make what the target wants to believe come true.

That’s why sociopaths ask so many questions, and listen carefully to our answers, in the beginning of an involvement. They are listening for our hopes and dreams, so they can promise to make them come true.

Usually it’s easy. Most normal people simply want to be loved. So sociopaths who are looking to exploit a romantic partner simply look deep into our eyes in a show of sincerity and promise to love us forever and ever.

When they make this promise, offering the opportunity for our lifelong dream to come true, of course we want to believe them. And that’s a big reason why we fall for whatever they are telling us.

The impostor posterI believed my ex-husband, James Montgomery, when he told me that was a Vietnam war hero and successful entrepreneur who would build a new type of theme park on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Why did I believe him? Because he told me I was the woman he’d been waiting for all his life, and we would share this glorious adventure together.

The fake “Nicholas Barclay” told the family of the real Nicholas Barclay that he was their long-lost boy. Rent the film from Netflix to see who he really was it’s shocking, and many may wonder why they fell for it.

But I have great empathy for the family. The lies I fell for were almost as preposterous.



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Donna you may already have guessed this about me but I’m a huge movie buff!! I saw this one about two years ago (maybe longer). At that time I was still in my spinning stage and had my entire life crash around me. I read ALL the time and those were the days when Oxdriver posted regularly; what I heard from you and from her was that recovery ultimately has to happen around your own vulnerabilities. That was so underlined by this movie!!!…. those @#[email protected] can get to us only if we are not defending our vulnerabilities and being very cognizant of old wounds that may have caused these.
Enjoyed this one and would highly recommend it to my LF family!!


Excellent entrance. And that’s also why people believe in religion… they all want a happy life that never ends, and a superpowerful creature who loves them. Our hopes and dreams are definitely our most vulnerable spots. That’s why it is important to use our rationality to separate hopes and reality, and only to believe once we have proves. This is definitely one of the best lessons of having had a sociopath in my life. And it is a valuable one 🙂

Take care and open your eyes! We should learn a lesson only once 😉

Best wishes for you all!


I had a completely different take when I watched this movie ***spoiler alert if you have not seen it***. It was some time ago that I watched it and I’m not sure I got this from the movie or from further reading on the subject, but I believe the family pretended this boy was their long lost brother and son because they knew the real Nicholas Barclay was dead, and they knew who killed him (the older brother who sounded to me like the true psychopath in the movie). By all accounts this boy looked nothing like the missing child, not only eye color but height and build. By his own account when the sister came to visit she coached him to remember certain family members and events. I think this family knew he was not their missing relative but they used him to cover up and protect the older brother, just as much as he used them to start a new life. I did not come away with any sympathy for anyone in this movie, except the long lost (likely dead) little boy. Of course I watched this before the fallout from my sociopath, so I might have a different take if I watched it now.

Strangely enough, it was my ex-sociopath who made me watch this movie. He also gave me the book The Sociopath Next Door. In hindsight he was almost obsessive about watching movies and reading about sociopaths and psychopaths. He gave me all the information I needed to know what he was, I just wasn’t interested and didn’t pay attention at the time.


Watch the film again. You missed the part where the older brother was the reason why his bro was missing and presumed dead, presumed murdered by a pedo. Imagine that boy’s guilt, watching his mother’s suffering, and then here’s this imposter who his mother is so desperate to believe is her returned kidnapped son. The older brother KNOWS and the movie even states that he said it wasn’t his brother but what is he going to do? Do you think he wants to be the one to take the child away from his mother AGAIN? The older son was then accused of murdering his brother. WHY? Because he knew the imposter was a fake and they said he knew because he had killed the original. Gee, NOT because in HIS grief, he saw through the imposter and could tell the brown eyed man wasn’t his blue eyed brother? Wt…
And after being accused of murder, in that kind of bind, I do understand his suicide. His suicide was driven by the authorities, NOT by being the true psychopath in the movie.

No. The true psychopath was the imposter. And the FBI agent used her authority to further the scam because SHE, in her Frickin EGO, couldn’t accept that she had been scammed by the imposter. So she persecuted the family, all to cover her pride that she’d been scammed.


Donna, you have summed it up perfectly:

Here’s the real “tradecraft” of the sociopath:

1. Figure out what the target wants to believe.
2. Promise to make what the target wants to believe come true.

This is EXACTLY what was done to me. And yes, the whole thing was preposterous, from day one up to promising me my biggest dream less than 24 hours before discarding me for the final time. The whole 7 years together was calculatedly leading me to that final slaughter.

F**k him, indeed.


Yes HanaleiMoon


NWHSOM, thanks for the link to the link to the movie on youtube! I had just added it to my Netflix queue! Now just to get in the frame of mind to watch…


I was able to watch it because it reveals the thinking of a predator. Plus my sensitive spots are rape/pedophiles/ridiculing cheating husbands…. absent in this story.

In this film, it is assumed the boy was kidnapped by a pedo but no detail about it. Just thinking of the brothers guilt, he’s the reason the younger brother was walking on that road, his survivors guilt must have been suffocating, so lost in his grief that he couldn’t admit to having because of his guilt for being the reason there was grief. Have you ever spoken with a family whose one child was the reason the other child was murdered. Even if no one says so, the surviving children are emotionally tortured by their own thoughts.

Vicki Kuper

Another tradecraft of a sociopath is to find out what your fears are and when you end the relationship, attempt to make sure all of your fears come true.

As far as this movie goes, I just couldn’t get over the eye color issue. I kept thinking as soon as everyone saw his eye color the gig would be up.


I am still shocked when I read stories which mimic my own! I think it must be the horror of recognizing ourselves in a brutish scenario where we are the targeted victims. I still am waiting to wake up, arrive in a new world, where intimacy and abuse are not fused. Have you ever heard of the “double bind” syndrome? Well, we do and we don’t want to wake up. Unless we can use our moral imagination, things will continue to spiral out of control. Only this time we will be poorer, and older, and less confident than ever before. For those of us who have lived our whole lives as and with imposters, loosen up, “it’s going to be a very bumpy ride”, Kalina


I think that at some point the best is to let go the past, to keep the lessons and begin from zero. But for that, you have to want to wake up 😉


??? It sounds like you are telling an abuser survivor to let go of what was done to her, and challenging her to “wake up”?

Surely I am mistake about such a message?

The process of recovery of abuse is not to “let it go” or “have to want to wake up”. In fact, such advice is not not accurate and not nice at all.


NWHSofM, I agree here with what you said. To say that we have to WANT to wake up or that we WANTED to believe the BS (as if we KNEW it was BS?) is ignoring the fact that we were manipulated into going to sleep in the first place and the many, many layers of deception and manipulation that were involved. THAT is what has to happen for us to “wake up”, it’s the peeling away of the BS we didn’t know was BS. It’s the ripping away of the falsehoods that for one reason or many reasons were not known to us to be falsehoods. Once you are out from under their manipulations and the tactics they used to _______ fill in the blank, the truth begins to reveal its self and then it’s time to swallow the bitter pill of reality.


I watch this on CNN a few years back, the whole show just made me extremely uncomfortable…my gut instinct was kicking in telling me to turn the channel as I was so sensitive to the sociopaths behavior, manipulation and control and how this family was reacting to the whole situation. Glad my gut still works well.

Reflecting on this sociopaths & all sociopaths, people are easily mind controlled….when you think about it we are raised for 18 years following our parents & teachers/school rules = their mind control, their rules…..then we either go off to college, the military or the work place and follow more rules & societies rules.

A sociopath knows this and zeros in quickly to take control of a persons time and to implement rules which we follow without questioning even when it goes against our gut feeling….we just naturally kick into being controlled and following rules because of our up bring. Also we dont want to be an outsider going against the grain we want to fit into a group.

This is one of the major lessons learned that you must always follow your gut feeling and if it is sending out strong signals that a person is very controlling or manipulative dont be polite just leave the situation asap then analysis the situation (but dont talk yourself out of how your feeling ie I over reacted etc no your reaction was just like a herd in Africa running away from a potential predator). once you remove yourself, you are clear to think on your own without any outside influences. You must always ask yourself Why am I feeling this gut reaction about this person.


I have not seen the documentary, but I will. It’s amazingly true that we want to believe, we want to trust. The “tradecraft” noted in this article was so dead on true it’s scary! The lies, the manipulations are so good it’s difficult for someone who is trusting and hopeful about a new relationship to recognize a sociopath’s true motives. It’s only after living with my husband for the first 5 years, his cheating on me and seeing how believable his lies truly were that I started protecting myself. Now 3 years after that episode I’m in the midst of a divorce. I’ve lined up as many of my “duckies” in a row to protect me and make a clean getaway!


I just watched this documentary on Youtube.
It’s available for free.

This is so very tragic, because the boy was kidnapped probably by a pedo predator, and because a brother told him to walk home. He wasn’t far away, and the mom who worked night hours was sleeping. So the brother suffers enormous guilt, lives a life where he cuts himself off from feeling, escapes by doing drugs and commits suicide by drugs when authorities accuse him of murdering the brother whom he carried such guilt for failing him.

Why did authorities accuse him of murdering his brother? Because the sociopath con artist who was caught told authorities more lies, that the family had murdered the missing boy and that’s why they were willing to have him, the con artist, in their home. NOT that he, the con artist, had preyed upon the grief of a family who wanted so DESPERATELY to believe they’d found their missing boy… no one considered that possibility. Nosireee.

That a sociopath, who lied and scammed to get into the US, to be cared for by a mother who desperately wanted to love her missing boy… and when the sociopath was caught, did he confess? NO, he doubled down and gave a new set of lies, which the FBI believed, and it focused blame not on the sociopath, but on the grieving family.

I am so bereaved to say, this is typical of living with a sociopath, who by his own admission “BRAINWASHED” his victims…that he was very good at convincing others of anything he wanted to… this behavior is typical, the scam and when caught, to not have remorse but to double down on the lie, make bigger lies. These behavior professionals who are so ego bound that they think a sociopath would confess to lying when he was caught? That’s not the behavior of a sociopath and I know it.

IF a sociopath confesses to anything, it is part of adjusting the scam, they always have another angle. My ex would always have 3-4 scenarios running, which is why his lies were so crazymaking…. I was trying to make sense of what he would tell me, only there was NO SENSE to be made because it was a SCAM.

People look at the victim who tends to be freaked and emotional and they look at the conman, who is calm and charming and so very helpful in directing their inquiry.

God help the victim when the authority is also disordered and has their own agenda to make the victim guilty and let the sociopath escape. Which was what I finally figured out what happened to me when I went to law enforcement after my near deadly assault. When law enforcement not only assisted my ex/family to avoid charges for the crime but he told them HOW to complete the crime and get away with it the next time. After all, who questions the murder of a “crazy” wife? Right?


Yes, impostors take profit from the fact that everybody has their own agenda and believes too much on the superficial image. No time to dig further and no interest in doing so. This also means that we are all a little responsible of their actions, we prefer to look somewhere else, unless we are the victims, then we have no choice. But what about the next victim? That is why Donna’s work here is so valuable.


No parent who has lost their child is thinking from an “agenda”. They are not to blame for suffering grief and guilt and loss.

This family realized they had been conned and being caught, the scammer turned his con from them to the FBI agent.

NO ONE is responsible for the behaviors of a sociopath but the sociopath.


My experience with liars is that they mumble when they are laying the plan in place. I can’t quite hear what they are saying and, by this point I’m so tired of saying What? every time; that I just ignore. And, that is how they pull a fast one.

But, when they want something from me; they are articulate. Loud and clear.


Jeannie812, my ex h did this!!! So crazy to look back at all of his planned chaos. One of the times that still stands out is him mumbling “create a distraction”….I remember thinking “What the heck” but I ignored it because it was just so odd & crazzzzzy.

He also hummed when he eat.


Jan7, your comment about your ex humming when he ate reminded me of a habit my ex had. He chewed on his knuckles. He had smooth shiny callouses on all his knuckles from chronically doing this. He did it everywhere – driving, having a conversation, it didn’t matter who was around. Nom, nom, nom, almost like a dog with a bone.

At some point, I started shoving his hand away from his mouth when he started up in public.

Disgusting and weird. I felt sorry for him at the time, thinking it was nerves or something (due to how poorly all the women in his life had treated him, haha).

Now that I think of it, HE mumbled too, and then got mad at me when I didn’t catch what he said.


Hi HanaleiMoon, their behavior can only be described as Crazy. No other word real fits. The original term for sociopath/psychopath was “morally insane” which is really good description of their con artist manipulation.

My first impression of my ex h who I met through a mutual friend was he was a “tornado” the second time “crazy”. They have this way about pushing your boundaries when you say no…like a little kid pushing his parents to get what they want at the time. My ex called & would leave 8 to 10 messages on my answering machine even though he knew I was at work…this was when he was just in the “friend” category which I wish I would have just left him there to watch his manipulation with other woman. I thought his behavior was bazar he would also just show up without calling often and come into my condo as if he owned it.

I look back and all of the RED flags where there…my gut was correct instantly about him and everyday of my marriage I just wanted out of the relationship. Wish I would have listened to my gut but I had just never allowed someone like him in my life, I do believe in collage I met two in college but I cut them out of my life quickly because of their controlling, belittling & manipulative behavior. These two individuals were grad student lab instructors. So I was forced (or at least at the time as a young college student) to deal with their behavior for one semester each.


Jan7, I know what you mean, I wish I had never allowed someone like my ex in my life either. My pendulum has now swung over to the side of extreme caution.

I met him at work, and just seeing him around, before the relationship happened, I saw him as either sullen and sulky or a kindly bumbling joker. I now know both of those personas were acts he used for his own devices. I have NO idea who he really was, other than a predator.

My ex rushed me into a relationship and called me way too often. He would get so bitchy and angry if I didn’t answer. One time I tested it and he called 12+ times in about a 20 minute span – cell phone, house phone, cell phone, etc. At the time it was just annoying, now I see it for the insanity that it is. And compared to what came later, it was nothing.

I wish I had listened to my gut too.


The moment I read this story I wondered if the name TICHBORNE still meant anything to anyone after a century and a half. It was a celebrated case in its day. At stake was not just a vast amount of money, but the title to a baronetcy as well.

In one respect only it presented a contrast with the Barclay affair described here, since the family of the disappeared Roger Tichborne were aristocrats, while young Nicholas Barclay came from a dysfunctional household in the opposite echelons of society. But in other respects the Tichborne case presented a perfect parallel: a mother so desperate to get her vanished son back that she was willing to accept an obvious impostor in his place. Lady Tichborne’s son Roger was almost certainly lost in a shipwreck in 1854 when he was 25. But she never lost hope that he had survived, and when an impostor returning from Australia more than a decade later claimed to be her son, Lady Tichborne accepted him as soon as they met, even though this grossly fat man was nothing like her real son. In fact he was a butcher named Arthur Orton, originally from somewhere around Wapping Dock in London (read “working class East End”).

After years of legal wrangles Orton finally lost his claim to the baronetcy and its money and was sent to prison. But the lesson is exactly the same as the one Donna pointed out. Many people have a dreadful tendency to believe what they want to believe. Con artists can easily exploit that trait—even impostors as outrageous as Frédéric Bourdin and Arthur Orton.


Redwald – interesting story from history of the same thing.

I’d like to add that “dreadful tendency” isn’t accurate. It’s a normal tendency — a healthy one developed from having healthy relationships. That normalcy is exploited. People can’t imagine the level of calm lying that is so abnormal… so it’s logical to believe…

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