The “Artful” Liar’s Way of Casting False Impressions

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Egregiously lying or hoodwinking someone while looking decent and caring at the same time is the mark of a skilled manipulator. Unfortunately, many people don’t come to appreciate this fact until the manipulator has already succeeded in getting what they want.

Manipulative people are among the most “artful” liars out there. They’re generally not overt in their deception. Rather, they’re expertly covert in their modus operandi. As I explain in In Sheep’s Clothing, covert-aggression is always at the heart of manipulation. Manipulators want to control, dominate, and take advantage of you. But they’re also skilled at the art of what many researchers presently call “impression management.” That is, they know how to do some pretty awful things while still managing to look like fairly decent characters. That’s a real feat — and a genuine art! The same is true when it comes to how they lie.

One of the most artful and therefore damaging ways to lie is to assert nothing but a number of factually true and accurate things. You might ask yourself how it’s possible to lie by merely saying what’s true. Actually, the answer is quite simple, and I’ll explain more about it shortly. But this artful way of lying has actually been on keen display quite often during the current political contests here in the U.S.. One presidential candidate, for example, has famously pointed out many times that an opponent voted three times against a legislative proposal to make it harder for deranged or unstable individuals to procure a gun. There is no disputing these facts, so the individual making the assertion can’t be accused of uttering an outright falsehood. But the motive for saying these true things is an entirely different matter. It’s to cast an “impression” about the opponent — namely, that they’re “pro-gun” or “in the pocket” of the powerful gun lobby — that the accuser knows full well to be false. (In fact, the gun lobby is no fan of the opponent, who has long supported reasonable access to weapons laws, but who because of provisions in it that violated other convictions had qualms endorsing three different versions of one particular bill.) Using true facts to cast a false impression — whether that impression involves defaming the good name or character of another or whether it involves distorting or obscuring the larger truth or “bigger picture” — is an artful and, unfortunately, often effective way to lie.

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As Dr. Armistead and I illustrate in How Did We End Up Here?, the kind of artful impression management and manipulation politicians are so famous for can also be part of the charm and seduction which a person with an impaired but not yet fully revealed character displays in the early stages of a relationship. Such a person might actually come across uncommonly honest about themselves and their past, presenting a litany of factually true and easily verifiable things. But by carefully omitting critical details, and by equally carefully “packaging” the information they provide, they can easily cast an impression not only of themselves but also of their past behavioral history that they know very well to be an overall misrepresentation. They do this often for the purpose of keeping you from realizing or appreciating who they really are in character. That’s why a person’s “charm alarm” can sometimes fail to go off (see “3 Tips for Dealing with a Psychopath”). That’s also why so many individuals these days find themselves in the midst of a troubled relationship they once thought held so much promise, questioning how someone they once thought hung the moon could actually be the impaired character they’ve now come to realize they truly are. And in their quest to understand how they got to this point, they typically wonder how they managed to be so deceived. They want to know this because they dread the possibility of being duped again and want to do all they can to avoid that happening.

The sad reality of our time is that we live in a significantly character-impaired age. And, as I’ve mentioned in several previous articles, character dysfunction is a spectrum phenomenon, much like we have come to realize with several other psychological conditions: some folks may only be mildly character impaired, while others may be seriously and possibly even dangerously character disordered. Where someone lies along that continuum really makes a difference when it comes to prospects for a healthy, happy, lasting relationship. That’s why it’s so important to know all of the subtle, small signs of character disturbance and how to deal effectively with manipulative and other character-impaired people. Appreciating what crafty liars they can be can afford you at least some measure of protection against having the wool pulled over your eyes. Impressions can be remarkably deceiving. And first impressions can be particularly misleading. So, from the outset, it’s best to check all the facts and especially someone’s behavioral history yourself. If you take the time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together on your own, you may wind up with a picture of someone’s character which is different than the one they want to paint for you.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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