The Levels of Deceptive People by Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

The Levels of Deceptive People by Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

The Levels of Deceptive People

There is a moment of realization when working with a person who seems nice on the surface that something is not right. It usually comes in a flash and without awareness, it retreats just as quickly. It is important to listen to those warning signals. Deceptive people often mask their deviousness, anger, manipulation, and controlling nature behind a kind facade. But even the best of deceptions are unable to be hidden all of the time.

The problem is that most people ignore those signals through minimization (it wasnt that bad), rationalization (there must be a good reason), or justification (they must be having a bad day). The instinctive reaction is too often overlooked and this is how bad things happen to good people. But not all deceptions are the same. It is important to know the difference between an advanced con and a small ruse so both can be better avoided.

There are levels of deception:

  • Advanced usually done by psychopaths and sociopaths. These deceptions are rather advanced in nature as they have practiced successfully on many others prior to the current deception. They are also highly skilled in reading body language and are quick to add their own minimization, rationalization, and justification in order to put their victim at ease.
    • This group of people has little to no conscious, zero empathy, and no problem taking advantage of friends, family, co-workers, or strangers. For them, the end (whatever it is they want: money, power, or control) always justifies the means (they look for the easiest and quickest way to achieve their goals) regardless of who might be hurt physically, mentally, or emotionally. They use a variety of abusive techniques so smoothly that a person on the receiving end is unaware of harm until it is too late to retreat.
    • The key here is if it seems like someone is inside your head, they just might be. This is not a group of people to try to out think, it is best to out run, as in run away. The first indication of such a person is the easiest time to retreat. Listen to the instincts that say to run regardless of the sweet talk coming from this person.
  • Above average usually done by persons with a personality disorder. One of the characteristics of a person with a personality disorder (such as narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, paranoid, or obsessive-compulsive) is a lack of an accurate perception of reality.
    • People with personality disorders are constantly attempting to draw others into their distorted reality. They will also utilize a variety of abusive techniques but the motivation is slightly different. At the heart of each personality disorder is a deep seeded fear (such as abandonment, rejection, or failure), insecurity, and/or early childhood trauma. They will do literally anything to keep that fear, insecurity, or trauma from being realized by others. So they create their own version of reality as an effort to hide and recruit others to join them. They, in turn, use this group of converts as their own justification for continuing the deception.
    • The key to awareness usually comes through double checking with an outsider. Maintaining any relationship with a person in this category requires iron-clad boundaries and external support.
  • Slightly above average usually done by a person with personality traits. Personality traits are not the same as personality disorders. Think of a trait as a general characterization of a person. A perfect example is a passive-aggressive behavior. This can be an overall personality trait and/or the manner in which a person expresses anger.
    • This group is generally unaware that their behavior is perceived as deceptive. For example, they are given an assignment they do no like. So instead of being honest up front, they do the assignment part way, drag their feet, and leave some type of ticking time bomb behind them. It is only later that the person requesting the assignment becomes aware of destruction. When confronted, this passive-aggressive person will avoid logical arguments (because they know they are wrong) and focus on emotional appeals which are exhausting and not solution focused.
    • Since it is not until the bomb has exploded that a person becomes aware of a problem, the key to getting out of the mess is to abandon rehashing, ignore the emotion, and only discuss solutions. Eventually, they will cave.
  • Average usually done by defiant people. Deception at this level is much more obvious that the cases presented above as there are far more warning indicators. The naturally rebellious nature of this person lends itself to trying to get away with as much as possible without consequence.
    • A perfect example is a defiant teenager who tries to outsmart their parents, escape consequences, and go against the natural flow of their social group. Their deceptions tend to be more transparent because there is no joy in getting away with something without recognition. This group wants to be acknowledged for their ruse so they tend to tell on themselves early on in the game.
    • The key to avoiding this in the future is to allow the natural consequences to happen in the present. Frequently parents are tempted to rescue their child which only allows more deception to continue in the future.

The early warning signs of a deceptive person are the best indicator of potential harm. Whether the level is average or advanced, it is best to quickly dodge the person.


Last medically reviewed on March 30, 2017

Reprinted with permission

Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC

Medically reviewed by Scientific Advisory Board — Written by Christine Hammond, MS, LMHC on March 30, 2017

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