“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words.”
– Phillip Dick
Words are more real than reality. Of course they’re not really more real, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Manipulators know this; it’s how they’re able to do what they do.
When involved with a psychopath, we all experienced situations where words took precedence over what we saw and experienced, probably too many times to count. Their words made us doubt our own perceptions. In one glaring example, the psychopath I knew said “The problem isn’t that I don’t love you — it’s that you don’t believe I do.” No, actually the problem was that he didn’t act like he loved me because he didn’t love me. There had been a drastic change in his behavior (actions), but he was able to keep me hanging on with only his words.
At that time and all the others, I never thought I might be dealing with someone who was fundamentally and astoundingly different than I was, even though he often acted like it. He was able to talk me out of what I saw right in front of me, because of the way my mind worked.
How can psychopaths be skilled manipulators when they aren’t like us at all and have no firsthand experience seeing life through our eyes? They don’t share our emotions, our thoughts, our motivations, our needs, or our minds.
Are they good manipulators? Yes. But to be successful, it takes our inherently vulnerable brain. They are nothing without that. Manipulation depends squarely on the way our minds work. The best thing they can do is pretend, and hope we fill in the blanks. And we do fill in those blanks! Our brains do it for us, automatically.
“Emotions are so annoying to me. Being around emotional people is like being an outsider in a club everyone else is a part of. No one will tell me the secret password. I can talk my way around many emotions, but I don’t really understand where they come from… My point is, sociopaths aren’t half as good as people think we are. The advantage we have is people assume everyone is like them. If an Empath was analyzing my emotional response with the knowledge that I may be full of shit, I might have a harder time being convincing. Why? Because you can’t write a thesis on a topic you didn’t study. If you’ve never heard Spanish you sure as hell couldn’t speak the language.” ~ ZKM
When she says “the advantage we have is people assume everyone is like them,” it’s true. It refers to the automatic shortcuts our brains take, called cognitive bias. These biases leave us vulnerable, because they often lead us to make faulty assumptions and come to incorrect conclusions.
“Although cognitive biases can sometimes be helpful in familiar situations or in dealing with predictable threats, they can lead to catastrophic failures in assessment of unfamiliar and unpredictable adversaries,” says Laurie Feldman from the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany.
The psychopath was an unfamiliar and unpredictable adversary, and the faulty assumption that they were like us made it impossible to see the reality of what was going on.
Here are a few of the cognitive biases involved:
Projection Bias or Assumed Similarity Bias: This mental shortcut leads us to the unconscious assumption that others share the same or similar values, thoughts and beliefs. In other words, we believe that others are just like us — if we are an honest, loving person with a conscience, we believe most everyone else is the same way. We don’t even consider that some people may have drastically different values and motivations.
When we try to make sense of someone else’s behavior using our own frame of reference, it doesn’t make sense if their frame of reference is completely different (like a psychopath’s is).
Confirmation Bias: This is the tendency we all have to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms our preconceptions. This makes it hard to change your mind about something — or someone — once you’ve already developed a belief about what or who they are. If someone has already won you over and gained your trust, it is very hard to change that perception, even when things start to go very wrong. First impressions often remain even after the evidence on which they are based has been totally discredited.
When someone creates an image of being a trustworthy person, we get stuck on that image. Later, when they lie to us and then deny it, we believe them because of that image we have, instead of seeing that this formerly trustworthy person isn’t to be trusted any longer.
Every con artist (confidence artist) relies on it. Their success depends on gaining your confidence. They know that once have it, they can get away with just about anything.
Do you believe you’re a good judge of character? Open-minded? Attentive to reason? Skilled at evaluating an argument? A good judge of the facts? Well, that’s “pretty much science fiction” due to the confirmation bias, according to Peg Streep in the article, Four Reasons You Can’t Trust Yourself.
Observer’s Illusion Of Transparency: This bias causes us to overestimate how well we understand another person’s personal mental states. We assume we know what someone else is thinking and feeling, when in fact we don’t.
When we’re in a conversation with someone, we make a lot of assumptions about the meaning of what they say. We automatically make things mean what they would mean if we said them. How many times have you said, “I know what you mean!” Ask people to explain what they mean — you might be surprised!
One reader here asked her psychopathic ‘partner’ what it meant to him when he said he loved her. After giving it some thought he said,
“If you and I were stranded alone on another planet, I probably wouldn’t want to kill you.”
It’s not easy to remember to do this, because we don’t see our own assumptions; they happen below our awareness. Therapists are trained to do it, and even they need a lot of practice before it becomes a habit.
Here’s another example. We would normally assume that someone would feel a certain way in a particular situation, or would understand what someone else would feel. For example, if someone tells us they were almost in an accident on the way over to meet us, we’d assume it scared them. Even if we asked them if they were scared and they agreed, we’d assume we understood what they meant. But look at what can be revealed with a little prodding:
In his book Without Conscience, Dr. Robert Hare describes an interview with a psychopathic offender who can’t seem to understand the fundamental nature of fear. “When I rob a bank,” he said, “I notice that the teller shakes or becomes tongue-tied. One barfed all over the money. She must have been pretty messed up inside, but I don’t know why. If someone pointed a gun at me, I guess I’d be afraid but I wouldn’t throw up.” When asked to describe how he would feel in such a situation, his reply contained no references to bodily sensations. He said things such as, “I’d give you the money”; “I’d think of ways to get the drop on you”; “I’d try and get my ass out of there.” When asked again how he would feel, not what he would think or do, he seemed perplexed. Asked if he ever felt his heart pound or his stomach churn, he replied, “Of course! I’m not a robot. I really get pumped up when I have sex or when I get into a fight.”
It became obvious that he didn’t feel fear and he didn’t understand it. He also didn’t understand how someone else would feel.
So how can we stop filling in the blanks? How can we stop making assumptions, or at least become aware that we’re doing it? How can we stop letting words take precedence over reality? How can we overcome the cognitive biases that make it all possible?
It’s not as easy, but having an intention to do so and making a real effort can make a difference. To learn more about biases and how to overcome them, start by exploring some of these resources:
Four Reasons You Can’t Trust Yourself
How to Ensure You’re (Almost) Always Right
Framing: How you see things affects you more than you know
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Center for Applied Rationality
If you only do one thing, remember this:
19 thoughts on “Words are More Real Than Reality”
In the book ‘Character Disturbance’ George K Simon describes the phenomenon of a person having half neurosis and half character disturbance. Could you write an article about this, or answer my question as to if someone was like this. Or maybe you would believe they were only fooling me half of the time.
This is the first time I’ve heard of the possibility of a person having half neurosis and half character disturbance. If the ‘character disturbance’ is psychopathy it’s not possible, because psychopathy is the polar opposite of neurosis. Could you tell me a bit more about what Dr. Simon wrote?
If I try to imagine someone who is half character-disturbed and half neurotic, I think it would look like someone with borderline personality disorder or maybe even Asperger’s syndrome. I’m not saying they’re character disturbed — I’m just saying it can look that way. I don’t know, Linzi; I’m just taking a guess. I suppose it’s always possible someone could have been fooling you half the time!
I found this article very interesting, as psychopath symptomology is, as I found from doubting myself often and because of this doing a lot of research, on a sliding scale. I often wondered how my psychopath was able to show leadership enough to be in a supervisor position at work…I read this article and also applied it to me and the above post piece that admin wrote and it makes sense…..https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-justice-and-responsibility-league/201011/how-managerial-psychopaths-use-emotions-manipulate
I’m glad you’re finding answers and making sense of things, Merijoe. Thank you for the link!
is it possible for the psychopath to be both psychopath AND sociopath? There are some subtle differences-one of which, psychopath tends to be high educated and plans out their stuff meticulously, sociopath is the opposite…psychopath is based on genetic, sociopath is environmental-so says my research. Thanks
Hmmm… I don’t think someone could be both, but I do think someone could be psychopathic and appear sociopathic after having grown up in an environment of high crime and little opportunity. Same might apply to a psychopath who isn’t intelligent and can’t control himself enough to stay out of jail.
Sociopaths are capable of loyalty (other than only to themselves, like a psychopath) and they are capable of love. Maybe psychopaths could be considered genetic sociopaths who aren’t capable of loyalty or love. How’s that?
TY, mine shows/ed both so I was just curious.
I heard Charlize and Sean ended it a few days ago…the NY Times wrote an article that basically makes out that Charlize is hurting Penn because she is “ghosting” his attempts to reach out to her-not answering his calls/texts, etc.
This is a weird, obviously psychopathic man who got a major media source to work for him-isn’t he the dude who beat the living snot out of Madonna, beat up “bad” paparazzi and raged over people and/or things with little provocation? I’ve seen comments about how they seemed to be such an odd couple, me and my PP seemed that way too, it was all the love bombing in the beginning that made me want to get involved with the seemingly “odd” person, I suspect it was her case too. I also suspect she saw his true colors emerge and since she is known for being a tough cookie with class-ended it and went caper on his behind…she’s smart, I don’t know the whole story but I know his history, it was publicized enough thru the years.
Knowing Penn’s history, it is very surprising to see an article suggesting that Charlize is doing something wrong; it seems obvious she’s chosen No Contact to protect herself. The article makes no distinction between No Contact and ‘Ghosting’ — which is basically breaking up with someone by ceasing to contact them suddenly and without any warning or explanation. I’d expect something like that in the Daily Mail, not the NY Times.
Joyce Short has written a blog post about it:
Ghosting, Discard, and No Contact
What’s really interesting about the NY Times article is the comments section! It seems to be common practice to break up with a person by Ghosting them, for no reason other than a loss of interest, even when people have had a relationship for over a year! No conversation, no goodbye, no nothing, and people saying there’s nothing wrong with that?! I really have to wonder about their ability to empathize and to have any concern at all for someone they supposedly had a ‘relationship’ with. It’s really cold-hearted and self-centered when it’s not done for self-protection, other than to avoid an “uncomfortable conversation,” as many of the commenters say.
This was very eye opening. Ever since I found your website over a year ago I have been sending your posts for my dad to read too. This helps him understand where I am at & my thinking. He knows my ex is a psychopath. My dad is an amazing support, trying to build up my confidence every minute.
There are so many times I have used HIS words against myself.
I finally got divorced in March , after 1 1/2 yrs of going back & forth in court. He got engaged in April, and married earlier this month. At least he waited 3 months! .
He has to pay child support. I hadn’t received any for this month & called to see if they received it. They told me that the last one was in May but for a different amount than what I had recorded. I was so worried that I made the mistake, because I only marked 1/2 the amount of the check. The bank didn’t even catch the mistake. Surely the court hadn’t made the error. I contacted my ex and he said he mailed the check to the court on time & it wasn’t his fault. He said it must be the fault of the post office. He told me he was paid up until mid July. I worried & cried because the bank was closed, and I couldn’t see if they would help me since I made the mistake. My dad said he knows I didn’t make the mistake, but my ex’s words were stronger in my mind. The next day I contacted the bank and I didn’t make the mistake! I got a copy of the deposited check, contacted the court. They never apologized. My ex is very powerful in the community. He let them believe he had paid that amount, when he knew he didn’t pay it. They changed their records. They still hadn’t received the check after 15 days from when he mailed it (mail takes 1-2 days in our town). I bugged them so much & told them I was contacting my lawyer, which I did. I believe they contacted him & finally told him to reissue another check which he did. Yesterday I called to see if my ex signed some paperwork that needs to be done & of course he hadn’t. The lady made excuses for him & I am he client not him. I text him telling him he has until Wednesday or I will contact my lawyer. He responded back that he just found out about it & to stop the threats! I didn’t respond, but wanted to say, not a threat- it is a promise!
Thank you so much for this website. You have been so much help & literally a life saver! I was just saying the other day that I can’t wrap my ind around who he is, how mean he is, and uncaring. He is not who I thought he was. It is amazing how someone can change or morph into whatever they want. It must be horrible to live like that! But again with no feelings I guess it doesn’t matter.
I’m so glad your dad is supporting you! It’s unbelievable, all the games being played with the checks with the cooperation of others! So much unnecessary stress. I’m sorry you have to deal with that.
Unfortunately, it’s true that without feelings, it doesn’t matter to them what they’re like. We’re the ones who suffer from their disorder.
I am very happy to hear I’ve been a life saver! I can’t think of anything better than that!
When caught cheating he would say, “Your interpretation of where we were at in our relationship was not accurate. You thought we were more committed than we were.” I would then say, “I see. So therefore, all of our friends and family, who also believed we were in an exclusive relationship, were also wrong. Interesting how you are the only one who thought differently.” My ex had a pattern of always making up his own rules. The goal posts were always moving.
Psychopaths don’t live by anyone’s rules but their own. Morality and commitment means nothing to them. But of course they won’t tell you that; they’ll just make up some nonsensical BS to “explain” it, like your ex did!
Their truth is whatever is between their ears at any particular time, it has nothing to do with reality.
And they force us to believe their truth, and we live in their perverse reality, and how sick it makes us.
D you are doing great, well done, it is so tough, xx stick to facts, written down in black and white, leave no room for any shade of grey. Good luck xxx
I was under the impression that sociopaths and psychopaths were very similar except the sociopathy is environmental and psychopathy is genetic. I was slightly stunned to read that sociopaths can be loyal and love? Really? So do sociopaths engage in the typical love bombing, devaluing and discarding?
Yes, they engage in all of that. You would not want a sociopath in your life any more than a psychopath. “Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.”
I love your posts!!!
LOL @ “Con Artist” or “Confidence Artists”.
What I learned that has helped me tremendously is to simply remove my expectations from the picture, remove all the intricate and pretty words people use to manipulate.
What is left? What is left is the actions and the behavior of the manipulator. The behavior is all telling!!! No more lies available to tell ourselves!!!!
But we have to stay vigilant for one little snafu: the failure to recognize a subconscious assumption that we CAN trust someone’s words because we trust the person saying them. Assumptions are tricky, and experts in the field of cognitive bias say they’re probably impossible to overcome. And really, who wants to stay “vigilant” all the time? We keep our guard up until we let our guard down. “Confidence Artists” count on it.
But I’m more hopeful than they are, and I believe that because of what we’ve been through, when someone’s words and actions don’t align we will see it.
Yikes!!! Just reading that scared me :) Thanks for the info
You’re welcome :-)
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