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By November 17, 2016 10 Comments Read More →

Why our brains don’t see the truth about sociopaths

Husband Liar Sociopath

Every week, a chapter of my book, “Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned” (available via Amazon.com, just click on the title or book cover) will be published here on Lovefraud. To read prior chapters, please see the links at the bottom of the post.

Chapter 32: So Close And Yet So Far

Having validation that my perception of Paul was as real as any perception could be and not distorted by my bias and any personal baggage was inordinately helpful. Paul had always played the “I have no idea what you are talking about” or the “You must be jealous” cards with me when I broached the subject of his and Anne-Marie’s behavior. I was always too willing to see the grey in any situation, to give Paul the benefit of the doubt.

This is one of the reasons cults and abusive spouses isolate their victims. The world is not black and white; it includes countless shades of grey. To create meaning and clarity out of the grey, we use past frameworks (e.g., Paul is a good, honest person) to process incoming data (the fact that he’s working late constantly reflects his dedication to his career, loyalty to his firm, and commitment to support his family). The problem is that once this framework has been established, and once we create an explanation (accurate or not) for how an event fits into the framework, we have created a pathway.

At first, this pathway is weak and inconsequential. Yet, like all learning, if we visit this pathway repeatedly, what started off as a goat path in our brain, connecting “working late” to “Paul’s loyalty and dedication,” becomes a dirt track, a country road, and then a two-lane highway. Ultimately, the connection in my brain between Paul working late and the excuse I provided for him in my mind based on the false assumption that he was an honest, wonderful man had become a superhighway, allowing me to travel on it automatically, at lightning speed.

As discussed at length in the seminal book, The Talent Code, the same learning process that allows an elite athlete like Peyton Manning to throw a football accurately under pressure (i.e., lots of practice that creates super-fast neural connections) was likely at work in my brain, making an instantaneous connection between Paul’s behavior, such as working late, and the excuse I made for him in my mind when I was 100 percent convinced he was a great guy.

Here’s the scary part: The way our brains work, we cannot blow up that super highway even when we realize the assumption on which it was built is faulty (i.e., that Paul is not a good, honest, loving man). The highway remains. The best we can do is to erect a “STOP” sign in front of the highway’s on-ramp and start the difficult process of making other connections and methodically reinforcing them instead. Doing this is hard, because even when we get information that is screaming at us to put up that STOP sign, sociopaths are experts at dampening those screams and reducing them to faint whispers. Did I really hear what I thought I heard? Did I really see what I thought I saw? It is not always easy to tell. The world abounds with uncertainly. Consciously and unconsciously, we all attempt to validate our perceptions by seeing how they compare to others’ perceptions, and these adjusted perceptions become part of our unique reality.

Sociopaths, and others who strive to control people, fashion their victims’ world so that the sociopath is the main source of their victims’ continuous, automatic calibration. This is another reason why abusers attempt to eliminate or minimize their victims’ contact with other people. If you doubt that people can influence others so easily, a classic psychology experiment performed by Solomon Asch in 1958 may shock you.

In Asch’s study, subjects were asked to look at eighteen sets of cards. The first card in each set showed only one line and a second card in the set showed three lines of various lengths, one of which was exactly the same length as the line on the first card. The other two lines were of noticeably different lengths. These cards were shown to groups of eight to ten students, but only one of these students was an actual subject. The others were in on the experiment. For each pair of cards, the students in the group were asked to indicate which line on the second card was the same length as the line on the first card. The first two times, the confederates gave correct answers. This gave them initial credibility. Then, for later trails, the confederates all gave the same incorrect answers. The actual subject in the experiment always went next to last so that he or she would hear the other students’ faulty answers.

The disturbing result of the study is that we tend to see what others see. About seventy-five percent of the subjects conformed to obviously incorrect answers at least once. About thirty percent conformed on seven or more of the eighteen trials. This happened in groups as small as three to four people. Interestingly, if just one other person gave the correct answer, the subjects conformed to the false majority view only one-fourth as often as they did if no dissenter was present. In light of this, is it any wonder that sociopaths and others who seek control isolate their victims physically or emotionally? If we tend to see what others see, the sociopath wants to be the only other opinion available, since having just one other person who sees things the way we do gives us confidence in our observations and convictions. If you want to control someone, isolating him or her really helps, because even one ally can undermine the sociopath’s control.

Keep in mind that the confederates in the experiment were just students of a similar age whom the subject neither knew nor held in particularly high regard. Imagine the impact if the other members of the group comprised people the subject held in high esteem or viewed as an authority or an expert.

Unfortunately, we know from the disturbing but revealing Stanley Milgram experiments conducted at Yale in the early 1960s that human beings are influenced strongly by those viewed to be in authority. In this experiment, subjects were asked to deliver an electric shock when a person in another room did a task incorrectly. (The person in the other room was a confederate of the experimenter and no shock was actually administered.) At the direction of a man in a white lab coat, someone who was viewed by the subjects to be in charge and knowledgeable about the experiment, subjects were instructed to increase the voltage as punishment for wrong answers, ultimately reaching dangerous levels (if the shocks had been real). Even with screams of protest coming from the person being “shocked” in the next room, over sixty percent of subjects continued to deliver high level shocks for incorrect answers. The experiment is considered a disturbing classic in demonstrating how easily most of us are influenced by someone we consider an expert or authority.

The sociopath’s inflated, grandiose view of himself, the extreme confidence and clarity in his convictions (because he lacks doubt and fear), and the sociopath’s ever-present self-confidence and self-assurance tend to elevate the sociopath’s status in other people’s minds. Undermining the credibility of other potential sources of influence also enhances the relative influence of any sociopath. To this end, Paul encouraged me to question the motives of any threatening source of information (e.g., “Don’t listen to your brother; he’s always been jealous that we make more money than he does.” “Your father just doesn’t know how things work in the real world’.” “Your mother is too sensitive; she gets over emotional.”). These are just some of the reasons why living with a sociopath like Paul made me question my perceptions, lose confidence in myself, and fail to come to obvious conclusions—even when relevant information was staring me in the face for prolonged periods of time. As these experiments demonstrate so dramatically and shockingly (no pun intended), it is likely that the same fate would have also befallen many other smart, capable people under similar circumstances.

Prior to overhearing that conversation in the park and talking to Sally, I lacked external validation of my feelings. The mockery of our marital therapy only added to my self-doubt and paralysis. The discussion with Sally and the one I overhead in the park gave my deflated confidence a much-needed boost.

I was not too sensitive. I was not controlling or jealous. This was simply unacceptable. How had it taken me so long to see what had been in front of me all along?

Paul was leaving on a short business trip (with Anne-Marie, of course) that afternoon. It would give me time to regroup. If I was honest with myself, I didn’t even care if Paul came back. In fact, I wished he wouldn’t. I was scared of him.

  

Start from the beginning:

Chapter 1

Go to previous chapter:

Chapter 31

Notes

Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.



10 Comments on "Why our brains don’t see the truth about sociopaths"

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  1. DoneWithThat2 says:

    Evil to me, was the concentration camp guard who was sadistically cruel or the serial killer that enjoys the torment of his victims. These archetypes are very far away from an average day to day life in the suburbs. When you finally get that this evil is not far away, it is sleeping next to you, the tsunami of terror is overwhelming. The realization that you DON’T know this person at all. That you don’t know the how far they will take things. That you and your children are in harms way. That is bone chilling. It is like finding yourself in a horror movie where you are just told, “The calls are coming from inside the house!”.

    Acknowledging that they have systematically taken our personal power away and unknowingly in the throws of our codependence, we have let them, is the first step. Getting your power back, setting boundaries, reclaiming your life force is the gift in all this madness. Knowledge is power. Thank you Onward for telling your story.



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  2. uhlen47 says:

    I absolutely believe that these pathways are created, and act as grooves which are almost indelibly stamped. My ex- spath husband made n error by giving conflicting information to a pathway that had been created from infancy. My family had always told me that I was smart, and I’d pretty consistently gotten A’s throughout school. When he started questioning my intelligence, calling me pea brained, or something synonymous, I had a breakthrough. Thank god he did. Those words helped to liberate me!



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    • regretfullymine says:

      that is why I believed EVERYTHING he told me, about me, my family, who and what I am. I just swallowed ALL of what he said, seldom questioned much of anything he said/did. I think now, I could have or should seen through all this, but I had to get away, spend years away, before I know what I know now. When you’re with this person, you are SO blinded, so deluded, so believing..you wont know the TRUTH, until you see something for yourself, trust your own judgment (if you have any left) and ACT on your own beliefs. Other people cant convince you (others tried, but I refused to believe them)..you HAVE to do this yourself. Its tough work, Im still rooting out old lies from my memory banks. Im stronger now, but it took a LONG time and NO CONTACT.



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  3. Stargazer says:

    Sociopaths are cut from a different cloth as the rest of us. Their games are not anything we could imagine. They are sweet and charming, all the while lying very convincingly about all kinds of things. And their motivations are different than ours – so much so that they are hard to spot without a trained eye. There is no form of interaction with them that is of any true benefit to us of them.



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    • NotWhatHeSaidofMe says:

      They are mindboggling good at lying very convincingly. I remember having one specific conversation with my ex and he said something I knew without a doubt was a lie. Somehow I was able to observe him. He was so completely authentically sincere and loving and soft spoken and precious. I searched for a clue in his face, in his behavior and in his words that would reveal his lie. There was NONE. If I hadn’t known beforehand that it was a lie, I would have sworn than man loved, adored me, was totally committed to me.

      To all who wonder what part was True? The answer is NONE of it. Even if a word or sentence was factually true at the moment it was spoken, there was ALWAYS a hidden agenda to scam you.



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  4. jm_short says:

    Sociopaths intrinsically understand how “belief perseverance” works. They’re good at establishing impressions through framing. The more intensity associated with the initial impressions, the more difficult they are to refute.



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  5. texasfooled says:

    I knew something was off for a long time, but I never realized how bad it was until we had an argument, something I desperately avoided and even avoided him in the same house. But he said something that was so incredibly off that I was shocked. And I felt like God slammed a door in my heart and said “that’s enough” and I just stood there while he railed at me, knowing he was insane or something worse. He dug at me until I was in a rage screaming at him and I saw something I’d never seen before. A deep satisfied look on his face that he drove me to that kind of anger. Had it always been there and I never saw it before? I believe so. After this I talked to some dear friends he had tried to keep me away from and they knew what he was. I was told to seek counsel from a battered women’s shelter, even though he’s never laid a finger on me, he’s destroyed me emotionally and mentally. I finally got counseling and I’m on the road to getting rid of him. I’m trying to figure out what to do. I own the house we live in. He doesn’t work, hes a complete parasite pretending to have health problems. I see that now. We have a daughter who I cannot allow this to continue for her sake. I thought to keep a family together for her was best, but now I see we both need to be rid of him. Any advice to run him off? I have read that its best to just cut him off, no contact, cold turkey. I am afraid for us. I don’t know what he’s capable of once he’s kicked out. I feel I need to get prepared to have restraining order at a minute’s notice. It’s my own house, but I almost want to flee, anything to get rid of him.



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    • jm_short says:

      I’m sure you would not want anything but reality…. the house may not be yours and yours alone. Did you purchase it while you were married? Do you live in a community property state?

      BEFORE you do anything, speak to the best divorce attorney you can find. It is money well-spent!

      You will only be able to get a retraining order if there is physical violence, theft, or threats of physical violence.

      Your daughter could easily become a pawn in this break-up. Particularly if he is playing the illness card, he will try to make you look like a heel. Be very careful. Be sure to get professional help before you put yourself in a bad situation.



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      • texasfooled says:

        Thank you for being frank! That is what I need! The house we live in was my parents and I inherited it from them, when my mother died, the will was read as the house being mine, but my problem is i never have gone to the courthouse to have it actually put in my name, its still listed as “estate of”. At the time, the lawyer told me the house could not be taken as payment of medical debt, etc. But I don’t know exactly what legal conniving could be done. At this point, whatever. I hope I can keep the home I inherited but I just need this monster out of our lives. If i had to start anew, so be it. Yes we live in a community property state. He may force me to sell house and split the funds. He may just slither off and find another victim. I dont know what he’s capable of. Should I contact divorce lawyer before I make a move to secure the house is in my name? Will my attempt to secure it be construed as bad on my part?
        See this is why I have some “friends” I’ve confided in who are acting like I’m not serious about getting him out of my life since I didn’t just throw him out at first realization of his manipulation. I have to protect my daughter first, myself second and hopefully keep this house to live in, but I cannot just throw him out immediately without some legal protection. I would not be surprised if he tried to make me look bad as a parent just to hurt us. When I realized he is a sociopath, everything became clear. I thought I was a savvy woman, but I was completely reeled in.



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  6. jm_short says:

    Texas-

    Good news…. insurance awards and inheritance are not usually included in community property. But yes, before you take a single step…. like tomorrow morning…. really!!! Call the best divorce attorney you can afford.

    Divorces don’t always settle along the specific lines identified by the state. Sometimes, to avoid nastiness, people pay to get rid of the problem. There could be other assets involved. He could fashion himself to be more or less dependent. Child support is involved. You need to know what the state calls for, what you’re dealing with, and what your attorney thinks is possible and recommends.



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