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From the day Abby went on her first date with The Commander, she was caught up in a whirlwind. Within five months he’d proposed, and they’d moved in together. But there were red flags: strange stories of international espionage, involving Osama bin Laden and the Pentagon. Soon his stories began to unravel until she discovered, far later than she’d have liked, that he was a complete and utter fraud.
When Ellin wrote about her experience in Psychology Today, the responses were unlike anything she’d experienced as a journalist. Legions of people wrote in with similar stories, of otherwise sharp-witted and self-aware people being taken in by ludicrous scams. Why was it so hard to spot these outlandish stories? Why were so many of the perpetrators male, and so many of the victims female? Was there something universal at play here?
In Duped, New York Times journalist Abby Ellin explores the secret lives of compulsive liars, and the tragedy of those who trust them – who have experienced severe, prolonged betrayal – and the terrible impact on their sense of reality and their ability to trust ever again. Studying the art and science of lying, talking to victims who’ve had their worlds turned upside down, and writing with great openness about her own mistakes, she lays the phenomenon bare. Ellin offers us a shocking and intimate look not only at the damage that the duplicitous cause, but the painful reaction of a society that is all too quick to blame the believer.
Different types of fraudsters fleece their marks using a variety of techniques. The trade-craft playbook includes many chapters on the psychological sleights needed to induce targets to cooperate. Some of these include guile, charm, lures and promises. And, of course, lying and the imperceptible strategic exploitation of victims’ blind-spots is a constant. The taxonomy of frauds also includes a many of other technical mechanisms, such as accounting falsifications, check-kiting, market manipulation, Ponzi schemes, advance fee fraud, embezzlement, among a litany of others, each of which requires different expertise and skill sets.
In 2011, Dutch psychologist Diedrik Stapel, who published 130 well regarded studies on human behaviour, was discovered to have fabricated data for at least 55 of them. A few years later he wrote what an autobiographical thriller, Derailed, detailing the way he conned his fellow scientists. (“I opened the file that contained research data I had entered and changed an unexpected 2 into a 4.”) Along with some praise, there were accusations of plagiarism of James Joyce and Raymond Carver.
Andrew Ingham, a British supermarket manager in Hertfordshire, England, kept two wives and twelve children who lived only ten miles apart. Three months after the families became aware of one another in early 2012, he hung himself.
I suggest to label the narcissistic psychopath’s version of empathy: “cold empathy”, akin to the “cold emotions” felt by psychopaths. The cognitive element of empathy is there, but not so its emotional correlate. It is, consequently, a barren, detached, and cerebral kind of intrusive gaze, devoid of compassion and a feeling of affinity with one’s fellow humans.
Narcissists and psychopaths also appear to be “empathizing” with their possessions: objects, pets, and their sources of narcissistic supply or material benefits (often their nearest and dearest, significant others, or “<a class="at cg fe ff fg fh" href="http://samvak.tripod.com/journal85.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener" style="box-sizing: inherit; color: inherit; text-decoration: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; background-repeat: repeat-x; background-image: url(" data:image svg+xml;utf8, “); background-size: 1px 1px; background-position: 0px calc(1em + 1px);”>friends” and associates). But this is not real empathy: it is a mere projection of the narcissist’s or psychopath’s own insecurities and fears, needs and wishes, fantasies and priorities. This kind of displayed “empathy” usually vanishes the minute its subject ceases to play a role in the narcissist’s or psychopath’s life and his psychodynamic processes.
The narcissist lance them — the high and mighty and successful and the happy people, those who possess what I deserve and never had, the object of his green eyed monsters. The narcissist inconveniences them, makes them think, reflect on their own misery and wallow in its rancid outcomes. He coerces them to confront their zombie state, their own sadism, their unforgivable deeds and unforgettable omissions. He dredges the sewer that is their mind, forcing to the surface long repressed emotions, oft suppressed pains, their nightmares and their fears.
And he pretends to do so selflessly, “for their own good”. The narcissist preaches and hectors and pours forth vitriolic diatribes and exposes and imposes and writhes and foams in the proverbial mouth — all for the greater good. He is so righteous, so true, so geared to help, so meritorious. His motives are unassailable. He is always so chillingly reasoned, so algorithmically precise. The narcissist is frozen wrath. He plays their alien game by their very own rules. But he is so foreign to them, that he is unbeatable. Only they do not realize it yet.