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Why do psychopaths lie?

How to Spot a Liar — that’s the title of TED talk by Pamela Meyer, author of the book, Liespotting. A Lovefraud reader recently sent me a link to the video.

How to Spot a Liar, on HuffingtonPost.com.

In my opinion, the tips and techniques that she suggests in the video are helpful if you’re dealing with normal people. I’m not sure how useful they are when you’re dealing with psychopaths.

Meyer does point out that people who think liars look away and don’t make eye contact are mistaken. The research, Meyer says, shows that liars tend to look directly into your eyes. In fact, they hold your gaze longer than would seem normal.

But Meyer also said that innocent people would be infuriated if they were accused of lying, and will stay infuriated throughout the interaction. Hello — has anyone seen psychopaths pull the righteous indignation act when confronted with their lies? Does that mean they are, in fact, innocent? I don’t think so.

Meyer’s conclusion is that if we are explicit about our moral code, and insist on honest interactions, “the ground will start to shift just a little bit.”

Maybe — as long as you’re not interacting with a psychopath.

Lie for power and control

All psychopaths lie. They tell big lies, small lies, outrageous lies. They lie when they would be better off telling the truth.

So why do psychopaths lie?

When normal people lie, it’s generally to escape blame for a failure or shortcoming (as in, “The dog ate my homework”), or to preserve social dignity, (as in, “No, those jeans don’t make you look fat.”)

In contrast, psychopaths lie in order to exert power and control over others.

Sometimes they have an agenda, such as trying to con you out of money. Once we realize that psychopaths have been lying to take things from us, we are outraged, but we can understand the purpose of the lies.

What is truly mystifying are the lies for no apparent reason. For example, I know of several cases in which psychopaths met someone online, showered them with attention, promised them the world, proclaimed their love, and when the targets finally fell head-over-heels, dumped them.

The psychopaths didn’t get any money. They didn’t even get any sex. So why did they go to all the trouble of seducing the targets?

For the thrill of exerting control over them.

This is called “duping delight” (which Meyer mentions in her video). Psychopaths literally feel a rush when they convince people to believe their lies.

Why lying is so easy for psychopaths

Psychopaths lie like they breathe. So why does lying come so easily to them? The answer is in some of the other traits of the disorder.

First of all, psychopaths feel entitled to get anything they want, when they want it and how they want it. If whatever they want is not quickly forthcoming, they feel entitled to use any means necessary to take it. Often, the easiest and most direct approach is lying.

Second, psychopaths do not have a conscience and have no sense of moral responsibility. Because they don’t feel the internal prohibitions the rest of us do, lying is easy.

Difficult to detect lies

This is why psychopaths can pass polygraph tests. A polygraph works by detecting autonomic reactions — changes in the body that are not easily controlled by the conscious mind, like heart rate and blood pressure. The basic idea is that someone who is lying will feel fear about it.

Guess what? Psychopaths usually don’t feel fear, especially fear of lying. So they don’t exhibit the short-term stress response that the polygraph is designed to detect.

Of course, you probably won’t have access to a polygraph during your regular conversations with a psychopath. So are there any “tells” that will indicate when he or she is lying?

Tips for spotting liars

If you look online, you’ll find articles like this one:

10 ways to catch a liar, on WebMD.com.

Here are the tips from that article — and my opinion of their effectiveness with psychopaths.

Tip No. 1: Inconsistencies

Yes, psychopaths are inconsistent — and they always have a reasonable explanation for the inconsistency.

Tip No. 2: Ask the unexpected

This might work for an instant — until the psychopath comes up with a plausible story, or accuses you of being paranoid.

Tip No. 3: Gauge against a baseline

The idea of this tip is to notice changes in behavior. It will never work, because a psychopath’s behavior is always erratic, so there are no changes to notice.

Tip No. 4: Look for insincere emotions

Psychopaths are experts at appearing to express sincere emotions. You may eventually catch on that they are faking it, but it will take a while.

Tip No. 5: Pay attention to gut reactions

Yes! This one is important. Your instincts or intuition will tell you something is wrong. You may not know what it is, but if you get a gut reaction, pay attention!

Tip No. 6: Watch for microexpressions

This is the basis of the TV show Lie to Me. I’m not sure if it works with psychopaths or not. What do you think?

Tip No. 7: Look for contradictions

It’s quite possible that you’ll see a contradiction with a psychopath. But the reason may not be that the psychopath is lying — it may be the result of other traits, like shallow emotions.

For example, a psychopath may say, “I stabbed the guy” with the same emotion that you would show in saying, “I sliced an apple.” The psychopath may very well be telling the truth — but the words don’t affect him.

Tip No. 8: A sense of unease

This means you’ll supposedly notice a sense of unease in an individual who is lying. Ha! Not if the person is a psychopath.

Tip No. 9: Too much detail

Yes, a psychopath may tell elaborate stories. But the psychopath may always tell elaborate stories. So you may be used to it — and only much later realize that the stories were all lies.

Tip No. 10: Don’t ignore the truth

Psychopaths are experts at mixing lies with the truth. You’ll know some parts are true, and because of that, assume the rest is true. Except it isn’t.

The bottom line

All psychopaths lie.

Psychopaths lie in order to exert power and control over others.

Techniques for uncovering lies may not work with them.

Your body, instincts and intuition do not lie. If you get a bad feeling about what someone is saying to you, that is your best chance of spotting the lie.

 



17 Comments on "Why do psychopaths lie?"

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  1. rgc112063 says:

    Donna,
    how many victims describe an experience where they have been convinced that the whole thing was their idea? that THEY were the ones who initiated things. maybe the biggest lie of all. It looked like my wife was convinced of that. he seemed to pull back in the beginning as if to get her to chase. he would strut around in front of her, remove his shirt, and claim that “HE didn’t NEED to have sex with anyone to get the prize”. like a tease taken to extremes.

    sincerely
    rgc



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  2. AnnettePK says:

    Excellent information; and excellent point that what works in detecting lies in normal people (a lapse in judgement in a teen or young adult, or a normal person who feels pressured to lie when it is really against his/her ethics) does not work in dealing with psychopaths. In general, normal people limit themselves to lies which they perceive don’t hurt others, such as ‘white lies,’ and things like cheating on taxes (because normal people may discern that this doesn’t really hurt anyone) or lying to someone perceived as an enemy in a warfare situation (believing that the ends justify the means). In general, normal people don’t lie to those they love and respect in valued relationships. If they do, they feel guilty and may confess the lie and try to make amends in some way. In general normal people try not to hurt others whom they love and respect.

    Lying is the hallmark of the psychopath, the definition of his existence, his MOI in every situation, his entire way of life.

    In my experience with my ex psychopath, the attribute that was most consistent was that he always lied, that his life consisted of nothing but lie. If something he said happened to be true it was a random coincidence because he said whatever he thought would work for him at any given time with absolutely no regard for whether it is true or not. It’s almost like truth doesn’t exist for him except as something that normal people pay attention to that presents for the spath an obstacle that he must work around to get whatever he wants at any given time.

    It is difficult to detect psychopath lies for all the reasons mentioned in the article, which is why most people spaths interact with are perpetually deceived. It is why spaths choose victims who don’t know them well yet.

    It took me about 2 years before I discovered my ex spath’s lying. I had no reason to expect him to lie, and I thought I had known him well and that others I know and respect had known him well. With the exception of me, his first ex wife, and his step sons, most of the people he interacts with still doesn’t recognize his lying.

    The red flags and the gut feelings that something was ‘off’ with my spath resulted from things not ‘adding up,’ rather than me recognizing his lies. For example, him telling me he loved me before we’d really gotten to know one another. Another was him not following through with what he said he would do with no explanation – a big deal invitation to Thanksgiving dinner with his family made way too far out (like sometime in the summer) and then not bringing it up again and him doing something else for Thanksgiving. Me asking him not to talk about his ex wife and not to compare me to her (though the comparisons were favorable to me), him agreeing with me and agreeing with my reasons, and then going on to talk about her to me even more.

    He sometimes spoke ‘word salad’ but I did not know how to recognize it at the time. I overlooked these signs and rationalized them away. I judged his words and actions under the wrong assumption that his motives were good, and very different than what his motives actually are. I overlooked a lot because I did not believe he could be an evil liar because of the context of our relationship.

    It was much later that reality overwhelmingly conflicted with my ex spath’s lies. I initially thought he would confess the lies I discovered and not lie again. Over a time I learned that when caught he did not at first confess lies – he would just tell more lies to cover for it.

    Sometimes his lying was ridiculous – he would lie about something that I obviously knew was a lie. Sometimes he would fake ‘confess’ lies that he knew I’d already caught him in. It got over the top crazy. Everything he said was word salad that made no sense.

    I finally realized what his motives really are, what he really wants to accomplish, and that he does not change because he likes doing and being what he is and what he does. I understood that there are no limits on what he would do and say if he thinks he would not get caught and he thinks it will benefit him in some way he thinks is important. It would not be a problem for him to murder his own mother or his own child.

    Microexpressions – I did notice these with my ex spath, but they are not expressions of emotions that a normal person experiences due to conscience and discomfort at lying or due to concern that his lie could hurt a person or relationship. With my psychopath there were microexpressions of contempt and disgust at me for bringing up an inconsistency. Then he would quickly fake patience and concern at hearing me discuss an issue. He also showed microexpressions of inappropriate boredom; and of fear of getting caught lying in a way that mattered to him – losing control of someone or losing a position in his church organization that he perceived as ‘important’ power and control.

    My ex spath’s microexpressions of an inconsistent or inappropriate emotions increased towards the end of the fake ‘marriage.’

    In my experience, the best clues that he was not an honest man who cared about my well being came from gut feelings/my intuition that something was not right. Over time inconsistencies with reality proved his lies.



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    • Remembertoforget says:

      Annette,

      I can relate to nearly everything you said, about the lying and not knowing at first for a while and the things they lie about.

      It truly just makes no sense. They just don’t.

      He would get mad anytime I questioned his inconsistencies. I must have drove him nuts….or he had dupers delight maybe?

      If they really enjoy watching us go crazy- or me rather, then I was the perfect victim in that department. My head was spinning daily. And my gut cried out the whole time!



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  3. amille2 says:

    The only time I recall noticing micro expressions is when I asked the unexpected and when he was surprised about something else…something I now know could have exposed his lies/his double life to me.

    It was the most odd, eerie expression. I can only describe it as literally the mask slipping. It was quick and I would have missed it had I not been looking at him during the conversations.

    When I asked him about it later, he said he didn’t deal with surprises well.

    I will never forget that look.



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  4. Remembertoforget says:

    Donna,

    Thank you again.

    Yep, inconsistencies, contradictions, and lies mixed with truth, lies for no reason, and lies for a reason.

    You can’t have a relationship with that.



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  5. Jan7 says:

    Donna, I would love to see you do a Ted. com talk on sociopath traits/abuse. There are a few talks on sociopaths (do a search on their site) but none specific or really tell the story about how many there are on this planet and how abusive they they are to their victims. Also there is a talk on domestic abuse but never does it mention sociopath abuse which would be eye opening to the audience and I am sure a lot of ahh ha moments for many women listening to the talk by you.

    I hope you will seriously think about this then send a request to Ted. com.

    Just a thought 🙂



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    • Thanks Jan7. There is a TedX day near me – I could look into that.



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      • Jan7 says:

        Donna, I hope you will seriously consider approaching Ted X with the topic of sociopath abuse i.e. gas lighting abuse, brain washing, how many there are, in all walks of life etc.

        Millions of people watch their lectures so the exposure would be wonderful for you & your business while at the same time educating so many including victims who are currently in a sociopathic abusive relationship without even knowing it.

        I have been watching Ted X videos for several years now and I think their site and what they do is wonderful. You would be a great addition to their lecture series. (Btw you have to do a search on their site under “psychopath” not “sociopath”).

        You have been preparing yourself for a larger stage for years with your lectures on college/high school campuses, radio programs & even your own videos on LF. It’s time for the bigger stage now 🙂 🙂 🙂



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  6. AlmostLost says:

    Jan7, I think that is a great idea! I think it would provide much-needed exposure about spaths to many people, and could easily be used in schools and colleges, too!



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  7. HGBeverly says:

    Donna,

    I absolutely agree with you.

    Such important points! You can’t catch a lie if a psychopath/sociopath shows none of the expected signs. You have learn new ways of detecting.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Best,

    HG



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  8. Delores says:

    And why do people want to believe their lies and subterfuge? When we planned our daughter’s wedding she my husband and I met with the psychopath. We agreed to split the costs in half and daughter and I would do all of the work. When Spath summed it up he said, “So you will do all of the “girl stuff” planning and I will just write a great big check.” Everyone was smiling and agreeing and I asked him if he meant he would write a “great big check for half and so would we”. Total silence from everyone like I had passed gas. Finally he said yes that what exactly what he meant without a blink. Everyone was upset at me for calling a ruse a ruse.



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    • AnnettePK says:

      If your situation is anything like my ex psychopath, he has told everyone all kinds of lies about you so they see your comment in context of his lies which mischaracterize you in such a way that they aren’t seeing nor thinking straight.



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      • NotWhatHeSaidofMe says:

        AnnettePK
        YES to your very astute observation of why it seems so easy for the sociopath to smear us. My ex characterized me to people that I had never met, so they were biased a certain way. ANd then he’d say something to set me up.

        I remember one time that he’d obviously said something. We’d gone to a social event and I accepted an adult beverage. He whispered in my ear that my breath reeked of whiskey and people didn’t want to talk to me because of it. So I sat in a chair and just smiled at people and tried to appear friendly, but crying inside, confused what it was about me that no one wanted to chat. I thought, well they are having an adult beverage too so why criticize me for having one. I only had ONE because I was driving. I didn’t understand why people would be so mean, they obviously enjoyed chatting with my husband.

        It NEVER occurred to me that he was smearing me, and that’s why people barely tolerated “the drunk” wife… I only realized it in hindsight.



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