On Wednesday Beth Twitty, the mother of Natalee Holloway, entered a maximum security prison in Peru to confront her daughter’s suspected killer, Joran van der Sloot, face to face. He refused to speak to her, so there was no interview. But even if there had been, Twitty wouldn’t have gotten closer to the truth regarding her daughter’s murder. For psychopaths, the concept of truth doesn’t exist, just as the notion of love doesn’t exist either. For such pathological individuals, truth is only a means to an end: whatever gets them whatever they want at the moment or helps them continue to play malicious cat and mouse games with others. Joran van der Sloot has been playing such sadistic games with the police and with Natalee’s mother for years. Any opportunity to speak to him would be an occasion to continue the deception.
In his groundbreaking work on psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity, Hervey Cleckley states that the most significant symptoms of psychopathy are “untruthfulness and insincerity.” Psychopaths are pathological liars. They not only lie profusely to others, but also their whole identity is an elaborate ruse. Even when they tell the truth, psychopaths are in fact being strategic. They use both truth and lies to manipulate others. Cleckley observes, “The psychopath shows a remarkable disregard for truth and is to be trusted no more in his accounts of the past than in his promises for the future or his statement of present intentions.” (The Mask of Sanity, 341) We’ve all told lies in our lives. Some lies, especially those we call “white lies,” are relatively innocuous. They enable us to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. If we tell a friend that she looks good in a pair of jeans that’s a little too tight on her, it won’t destroy her life. Other lies, however, deeply damage the lives of others. When we cheat on our spouse, it hurts him or her. It doesn’t matter if he or she knows about the affair or not. It doesn’t even matter if we lie, and say we were with a friend when in actuality we were with a lover, or if we don’t say anything at all. In both cases, we’re distorting the truth or withholding crucial information that would hurt our spouse and that deeply affects his or her life decisions. Among harmful lies, Susan Forward, the author of the best-selling book When your lover is a liar, distinguishes between lies by “omission” and lies by “commission.” Psychopaths are very skilled at both. They omit truthful details and they outright lie as well, with extraordinary ease.
Not only do psychopaths believe that they have compelling reasons to lie to others in order to achieve their goals, but also they fail to see why lying is wrong. Cleckley observes that upon questioning, a psychopath “gives the impression that he is incapable of ever attaining realistic comprehension of an attitude in other people which causes them to value truth and cherish truthfulness in themselves.” (341) When caught in a lie, if convenient, sometimes a psychopath may pay lip service to honesty. But he doesn’t actually believe in it and he certainly doesn’t live by it. The problem is, of course, that it’s difficult to determine when a psychopath’s lying. He can look you straight in the eyes and give you false information. He can make promises he knows to be unrealistic or untrue. Furthermore, he’s so glib and uninhibited that he lies with great eloquence and conviction. As Cleckley observes,
“Typically [the psychopath] is at ease and unpretentious in making a serious promise or in (falsely) exculpating himself from accusations, whether grave or trivial. His simplest statement in such matters carries special powers of conviction. Overemphasis, obvious glibness, and other traditional signs of the clever liar do not usually show in his words or in his manner… Candor and trustworthiness seem implicit in him at such times. During the most solemn perjuries he has no difficulty at all in looking anyone tranquilly in the eyes.” (341)
How can you tell when a psychopath is lying? I’m tempted to say, only partly in jest, that it’s when he’s moving his lips. But even that wouldn’t cover all the lies by omission. When dealing with a psychopath–or with any person for that matter–you need to judge his actions, not his words. Very often, a psychopath’s insensitive attitude and despicable actions will contradict his nice words. He will say that he loves you but remain unmoved when you suffer and consistently act against your best interests. He will promise to be faithful while continually cheating on you. The match doesn’t follow any particular rules since psychopaths don’t play fair. Yet, like all games, it includes certain maneuvers. During the next few days, I’ll describe some of the strategies psychopaths use to deceive and manipulate others. In my next post, I’ll begin by analyzing why psychopaths lie, since that gets to the heart of their malice towards others and reveals their inherent cruelty.
Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness
Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction