We’ve all been burned by psychopaths largely because we fell for their lies and their lines. The better informed people are with their techniques of deception, the more they can recognize them and protect themselves against them. A psychopath gets you within his power largely through deception. As Cleckley noted in The Mask of Sanity, the main reason why people are easily taken in by their lies is not because the lies themselves are that convincing, but because of the psychopaths’ effective rhetorical strategies. What are those?
1. Glibness and Charm. We’ve already seen that these are two of the main personality traits of psychopaths.
2. Analogies and Metaphors. Because their facts are so often fabrications, psychopaths often rely upon analogies and metaphors to support their false or manipulative statements.
3. Slander. A psychopath often slanders others, to discredit them and invalidate their truth claims. He projects his faults and misdeeds upon those he hurts. To establish credibility, he often maligns his wife or girlfriend, attributing the failure of his relationship to her faults or misdeeds rather than his own.
4. Circumlocution. When you ask a psychopath a straightforward question that requires a straightforward answer, he usually goes round and round in circles or talks about something else altogether. .
5. Evasion. Relatedly, psychopaths can be very evasive. When you ask a psychopath a specific question, he will sometimes answer in general terms, talking about humanity, or men, or women, or whatever: anything but his own self and actions, which is what you were inquiring about in the first place.
6. Pointing Fingers at Others. When you accuse a psychopath of wrongdoing, he’s likely to tell you that another person is just as bad as him or that humanity in general is. The first point may or may not be true. At any rate, it’s irrelevant.
7. Fabrication of Details. In The Postmodern Condition, Jean-François Lyotard shows how offering a lot of details makes a lie sound much more plausible. When you give a vague answer, your interlocutor is more likely to sense evasion and pursue her inquiries.
8. Playing upon your Emotions. Very often, when confronted with alternative accounts of what happened, psychopaths play upon your emotions. They’re as dangerous to their partners as any hard drug is likely to be. If their partners know about their harmful actions and about their personality disorder, then at least they’re willingly assuming the risk. Everyone has the right to make choices in life, including the very risky one of staying with a psychopath. But at least they should make informed choices, so that they know whom they’re choosing and are prepared for the negative consequences of their decision.
Deception constitutes a very entertaining game for psychopaths. They use one victim to lie to another. They use both victims to lie to a third. They spin their web of mind-control upon all those around them. They encourage antagonisms or place distance among the people they deceive, so that they won’t compare notes and discover the lies. Often they blend in aspects of the truth with the lies, to focus on that small grain of truth if they’re caught. The bottom line remains that psychopaths are malicious sophists. It really doesn’t matter how often they lie or how often they tell the truth. Psychopaths use both truth and lies instrumentally, to persuade others to accept their false and self-serving version of reality and to get them under their control. For this reason, it’s pointless to try to sort out the truth from the lies. As M. L. Gallagher, a contributor to the website lovefraud.com has eloquently remarked, psychopaths themselves are the lie. From hello to goodbye, from you’re beautiful to you’re ugly, from you’re the woman of my life to you mean nothing to me, from beginning to end, the whole relationship with a psychopath is one big lie.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness