Tag Archives: deception

How labels we use reveal self-deception


Someone sent me one of Ken Pope’s summaries of a recent essay about the differences in research findings when asking men if they have ever used force and held someone down during sex versus asking them if they had ever raped another person. You can read the original research he was discussing here, which is by some researchers at the University of North Dakota.

No, I’m not a rapist, but I have used force to make someone to have sex.

Let that previous line sink in a bit.  We’ll discuss it in a minute. But first, you might not want to read the article so let me tell you what the authors were interested in knowing. They wanted to know if there were differences between men who are hostile towards women and accept the label of rape and those who have used force but deny the label.

This allows us to test whether there are differences in men who do not identify with the “rape” label on sexual aggression surveys, although they have committed acts that would be defined as rape. Men who admit intentions to force women to have sexual intercourse only, but do not believe that this act constitutes rape, might not be primarily motivated by a desire to retaliate and overpower women. Their behavior could be guided by other factors in line with stereotypically masculine gender roles such as having a high desire for sexual activity, viewing sexuality as a competition and a way to gain respect among peers, and lacking consideration for women or viewing them as sexual objects. Therefore, we hypothesize that men do not endorse any intentions for sexual aggression will differ from the other two groups of men primarily on a dimension characterized by hostility toward women as the strongest loading factor. (emphasis mine)

What did they find?

As hypothesized, a sizable number of participants indicated that they might use force to obtain intercourse, but would not rape a woman. Men who indicate intentions to use force but deny intentions to rape exhibit a unique disposition featuring an inverse construct of hostility toward women but high levels of callous sexual attitudes (Check 1985). Given that hostility toward women involves resentment, bitterness, rejection sensitivity, and paranoia about women’s motives, we consider the inverse of hostility toward women in men that intend to use force to be indicative of an affable, trusting, and nonreactive affect toward women. When combined with callous sexual attitudes, we interpret this function as representing personality characteristics that might lend themselves to allowing men to not perceive his actions as rape and may even view the forced intercourse as an achievement. The primary motivation in this case could be sexual gratification, accomplishment, and/or perceived compliance with stereotypical masculine gender norms. The use of force in these cases might be seen as an acceptable mean to reach one’s goal, or the woman’s “no” is perceived as a token resistance consistent with stereotypical gender norms. While the ultimate outcome of either act constitutes rape, this pattern of results suggests that there might be different types of offenders with potential differences in underlying motivation, cognition, and/or personality traits.

So, not every rapist does so for the same motives (and therefore our interventions will need to be different). Some knowingly rape and are not self-deceived about their actions. Others who are willing to acknowledge “forceful intercourse” group reveal deceptions  (probably both in view of self and other) that enable rape to be considered something less than it really is.

Labels and what they may reveal

What labels do you use and what do they reveal about yourself and your proclivity to self-deceive? Here are some examples

  • I exercise (once in a great while)
  • I stand up for myself (I attack anyone who disagrees with me)
  • I used to struggle with porn (well, I look about once a month but I don’t think I will do it again)
  • I eat healthy (I’m obsessed with food labels)
  • I am good at doing my taxes (I underreport income)
  • I’m a Christian (I go to church but never really talk to God)
  • Let’s just call it sin rather than abuse (because I won’t accept my actions are abusive)
  • I need (I want/demand)

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Filed under Abuse, counseling science, deception, Psychology, Rape

Lies and stereotypes told by helpers hurt the cause of trauma recovery

I’ve written a piece over at the faculty blog on the shady side of bending the truth to get more attention on the problem of trauma and the need for trauma recovery. It is a common temptation for those of us who work with trauma victims, a temptation to use the stories of trauma to garner personal acclaim (“look what I am doing about the problems in the world”) and to stereotype to increase attention and funding for those who are hurting. Shaping the truth hurts the cause and hurts the victims.

Read at the above link for more.

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Filed under Abuse, deception, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Motivated forgetting amongst perpetrators?

I’m in the middle of a series on the problem of abuse, memory, and recovered memories. You can see the first two posts here and here. But, before I go on to address the matter of dissociation, repression, and re-remembering abuse, I want to point out that motivated forgetting doesn’t just happen to victims. It also happens to perpetrators.

Even when forensic evidence exists, it is common for perpetrators to deny their participation (or downplay it at least) in the offense. Some are quite capable of passing lie detector exams. They appear to able NOT to recall or respond in ways that would signal lying. From a theoretical point of view, we could offer two plausible answers

  1. They are extraordinary liars. They have perfected their craft and are able to beat the best technologies we have to detect their conscious lying.
  2. They have forgotten. By means of practicing an alternative story, by means of inability to see outside their own perceptions, by means of dissociation during the event, they have somehow forgotten. Cover of "Machete Season: The Killers in ...

Could it be that perpetrators use psychological mechanisms to forget–at least in part? I am still taken with Jean Hatzfeld’s accounts of his interviews with imprisoned genocidaires in Rwanda. In Machete Season, he documents how mass killers (already imprisoned and so thus with less need to maintain one’s innocence) seemed unable to speak about their actions in the first person but could speak with greater detail when using 2nd or 3rd person (we…they…).

To my mind, this suggests we are capable of forgetting many things (the motivation for forgetting how you chopped someone up is clear) but that we may remember when using a different portion of our brain and accessing a different perception of self/other. Self-deception takes many forms and is motivated by many  (often unknown to us) reasons.

To read another post I had on this book, see this link.


Filed under Abuse, deception, memory

Bookend sins?

Human moral frailty is never singular. Meaning, we don’t sin with just one sin. Every moral failing includes at least 3 parts: deception, action, cover-up. Think of deception and cover-up as bookends and the specific behaviors as the books in the middle. And just as it is hard to keep books on a shelf without bookends, it is hard to do what we know is wrong without deception of self and cover-ups.

What are your versions of bookends that give you “permission” to hate, to excuse, to overlook your faults?

Knocking down the bookends goes a long way to defeating outward sins like abuse as well as inward sins like festering bitterness.

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Uncategorized

Deception 101: Pulling off a massive fraud

Want to pull off a grand deception of mass proportions and in so doing rule a people? Look no further than King Leopold II and his colonizing efforts in the Congo. He was able to destroy a country while all the time convince others that he only wished to be father protector for the country.

Yes, it helps to have lots of money to buy opinions outright. However, Leopold didn’t need to spend much money to get the opinions he wanted. Why? Most of us are easily “bought off” by being associated with wealth and fame. It is also good to have an attractive exterior (and by attractive I don’t mean beauty as much as I mean desirable). But money and attraction alone will not be enough. You must consider doing the following:

1.      Find any number of people who will vouch for you. In order to pull off a grand deception you need emissaries who will secure the trust of important gatekeepers. These emissaries tend to be easily persuaded because they have a particular Achilles heel for fame or money. They are fame mongers.

2.      Buy some airtime and print space in order to advance the notion that you may be the most humble person with only the most philanthropic intentions for the place or the people you want to control. Be sure to focus on existing evils that you wish to bring to an end by your tireless sacrifices.

3.      Convene think tanks of those with expertise or interests in the area—those who might want to get in on the action be also those who really do want to address the evils (see #2) you say you want to stop. It is essential that these folks have solid ability to strategize and make decisions. Further, they should be quite assured that they are the most gifted individuals who can solve pesky problems. Flattery helps!

4.      By all means, do not tell these individuals your true intentions. Instead,

5.      Get these very energetic folks to start making decisions about how to care for the poor saps who haven’t enough wits to help themselves. They needn’t have any significant expertise in the area. Just give them some maps and let them start deciding what resources they think are needed, who should be in charge, who should do the work, and how to best do all of this without getting the rest of the world needlessly involved or suspicious—you know, to avoid red tape that will only slow down altruistic efforts.

6.      Make sure the think tanks recognize your great desire to do good and get them to vote you to head the efforts. You need to have power, remember. But don’t look too eager…agree to let someone else lead the newly formed committee next year. And send them home with gifts and ready to spread your good name to all who will listen.

7.      Be sure to give none of them any real power. When you convene the group next time, only invite those most loyal to you. Of course you’ll keep leading the group.

8.      Questions will arise from those not involved. Be very perceptive. What is their concern? Tell each person what they want to hear. Say it with passion and clarity. Get them to agree that you are the right person for the job and to say it publicly.

9.      Now that you have your “permissions”, start working two plans. The first plan is some small efforts to fix problems you said you would fix. Do it very publicly. Pay for journalists if you must. The “real” plan must also begin now. Do this quietly and without fanfare…someplace where you will not get much attention. If anyone complains, have ready a very realistic excuse. Admit to some problems but make sure it looks like you had nothing to do with the problem.

And there you have it. You have pulled on your grad deception. If you want to read how King Leopold II did this for real…read chapters 3-5 of Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. It is an excellent example of deception and using the cover of kindness to get what you want. Even Christian missionary movements sung his praises and gave him money because they bought his story.

Now, most of us have no plans to create a colony but I suspect that we all have moments where we try to look more honorable than we really are. The difference between us and Leopold is the scope of our intention.

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Filed under deception, Democratic Republic of Congo

Pastoral sexual abuse a conspiracy?

Heard a radio personality discussing the Pope’s letter to Irish Catholics. He was unhappy with the content of the letter, specifically the Pope’s failure to accept responsibility for abuse by Irish priests. He commented that given the sexual abuse scandal around the world in the Church, there had to be a specific conspiracy, going to the top, to keep covering these matters up; to keep transferring offender priests to new locations.

Given the authority lines in the Catholic church, a planned conspiracy is possible. But, what do we make of these same problems in Protestant churches? Especially in independent churches where there is no authority beyond the local body? Sadly, we see the same cover-up, the same attempts to move someone on without blowing the whistle.

Why? Is it a conspiracy? Yes, but not like the radio host was thinking.

The most obvious answer to the why question has to do with the fact that all, since Adam, are inclined to hide sin; to cover up and deny the truth. SO, it stands to reason that we see this as a universal phenomenon. People, especially those with power, want to look good and deny problems. Even more so when the truth might remove them from power.

But there are some other reasons as well. Worries about defaming Christ, causing “unnecessary” anxiety, “wasting” a gifted person’s ministry just because of one problem. These kinds of reasons are secondary. They make it easier to swallow the denial and deception. Like the parable of the talents, we find excuse for why we bury things. But they are not the primary reason.

I think the radio host wanted to be able to accuse the leadership of the Catholic church. Popes had to know and agree with these cover-ups that allowed abuse to continue. They may well have. But, a far more insidious conspiracy lies in each of our hearts; one that will destroy us if we turn a blind eye to it.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, self-deception

Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder

What is the difference from selling truth to a population and selling propaganda? A razor’s edge so it seems. I suppose another response would be, “I know it when I see it”–the response made about pornography. But what may be truth to you is propaganda to another.

Why am I thinking about this? My recent trip to DC included a trip to the holocaust museum. There, the curator of the new propaganda exhibit took us through his amazing assemblage of Nazi propaganda. Let me give you a flavor:

Propaganda as defined in the museum is, “biased information designed to shape public opinion and behavior.” They go on to say that propaganda is identified as that which

  • plays on emotions
  • uses a combination of truths, half-truths, and lies
  • omits information that might counter its contentions
  • simplifies complex information into a slogan
  • Attacks opponents (blames them for all problems; negatively portrays them)
  • Advertises a cause and uses righteous approach to give the cause meaning
  • Targets desired audiences through contextual material

As we went through, here’s what I noticed as well. A propaganda machine works to re-write history; makes the enemy comical (caricatures of Jews evident); emphasizes oration skills; uses media, fine arts, art, color, pictures, emphasizes a logo; targets different audiences in different ways; doesn’t mind opposition but builds on it; keeps people terrified; encourages even demands grassroots involvement; gets the youth involved; portrays self as victim and minority; creates fictitious events (e.g., calls war by another name (retaliation for prior aggression); connects with known trusted and wise individuals or labels (Hitler was alluded to as the Great Physician!); encourages passivity so that the inner circle may act in their stead; and encourages skepticism and cynicism about the criticism they will receive (the Nazis told the people near the end of the war that the Allies would say evil things about them that were going to be untrue. Such activities plant seeds of doubt to encourage those to believe that the holocaust didn’t really happen).

Now, let me tell you about the reactions we had as we went though the exhibit. The Rwandans with us gasped and gaped at times. They realized that someone(s) masterminding the Rwandan genocide must have read the Nazi playbook. They reminded us that one such mastermind in Rwanda was a PhD in history and was behind the use of the Radio propaganda. They repeated over and over, “this is what happened to us.” Several of us also realized that in child sexual abuse, many of these same behaviors are used (whether consciously or not) to avoid detection. The perpetrator grooms the victim, rewrites history, tells half-truths, makes themself the victims, and even may try to plant seeds of doubt about the truth.

One more thought? Could we also say that sometimes Christian organizations use some of these tactics. Scare a population by making a caricature of the government, report only half the truth, make self as victim, excuse unchristian behavior as necessary.

While I don’t think the answer is that we ought to all become horrible skeptics in order to avoid propaganda, I do think we ought to be highly sensitive to those behaviors and attitudes that do not reflect the proper character of Christianity. We must not use tactics unbecoming of Christ–even if for a good end.

I leave you with this thought: Isn’t there a good use of propaganda? I believe so. Can you give some examples where you are getting “good” propaganda?

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Cognitive biases, deception, Rwanda

How to fail after hitting it big

Had an interesting talk with my boys about how money and fame does not protect from one’s sins being found out–whether in this life or the next. We were talking about faithfulness and keeping promises and how it feels when someone violates that covenant, and how much more it hurts when that violation goes public.

Right after that, my friend Doug forwarded me a Christianity Today article on the recipe for failing. It is written by Gordon McDonald and is directed at church leaders, especially those who lead big churches. But, you could apply it to your own life. Read the story here, but in short, here is recipe:

1. “Hubris, born of success.” It is interesting how we allow success to lead to pride. Moses told the Israelites that when they got into the promised land and received houses and gardens they didn’t build, they should not become arrogant and say, “look at what I have” and thus forget the Lord.

2. “Undisciplined pursuit of more.” Whether we have little or lots, we always want more. And we find all sorts of creative ways to make our pursuit right and good.

3. “Denial of risk and peril.” The more we succeed the more temptation to give in to brazenness.

4. “Grasping for salvation.” I think this works for successful people as well as those who feel desperate to succeed (after all, you can never rest on your laurels). We look for the silver bullet, the hail Mary, the lotto ticket to the next level of fame.

5. “Capitulation to irrelevance or death.” Once you go too far, you know you can’t recover so you just keep going. Why is it that we find it so hard to repent, to admit, to acknowledge our sins? Because we cannot give up our pride. We sometimes choose character death rather than admit, to stop. I think this is also why people commit hid and runs. We know we will get caught but we keep trying to run because admitting seems like death (when it often contains redemption possibilities).

Notice that the real recipe needs only one ingredient–deception of self and other.

Lord, save us from our prideful, self-deceiving selves.

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Filed under adultery, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, deception, Repentance, self-deception

Some thoughts on scamming

Last night I heard about a local couple who got scammed out of 22k for an adoption that never happened. Seems they gave the money up front but the agency didn’t ever provide a child. The show mentioned 60 some families who had been rooked by the “agency.”

Sad. And I hope they are able to get their money back even though it looks as unlikely as Madoff’s victims. The sad tale got me thinking about the common facets of a “successful” scam.

1. Offer something of value that a vulnerable (somewhat desperate) person needs
2. Package (cloak) the offer with things that comfort (e.g., religion, the right words, a good reference from a known trusted individual)
3. Have compatriots act as satisfied customers
4. Get the victim to ante up a small amount so as not to raise suspicions (foot-in-the-door technique)
5. Find ways to get the victim to give just a bit more until they have given enough that they can’t back out for fear of losing all they have invested.
6. When problems arise, have good explanations well rehearsed and on the tip of the tongue.
7. Have a ready list of promised solutions that never come.

A “good” scam has to be believable and needs someone interested in believing in the truth. Not all that different from Adam and Eve: a desire meets something that looked good coupled with a winsome voice to make the hearers “forget” the truth.

While there are the scams that get the attention of the media, we all participate in subtle scams. Consider the dating relationship scam. A person learns to say the right thing so as to win the heart of another (and they think they mean it!). Sadly, after the marriage, the true colors come out (control, depression, introversion). But the other has bought into the scam and so it is too late to back out easily.

Have you been the victim of a scam? Unintentionally scammed another?

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, deception, Relationships

Why we give hollow confessions

On a way too regular basis we observe others making apologies and/or confessions for wrongs done. This morning in my house, my one son hurt the feelings of the other and in working through the problem he made his apology under our direction. Not to be outdone, the other son wasn’t truthful about the situation and so later he too made a directed apology (aka, highly encouraged, but not forced).

Have you noticed that these kinds of apologies, whether from a ten year old or a 50 year old, ring hollow? It is easy from our stand point to concur that they don’t really mean what they say.

I think, in general, that this assessment isn’t accurate. Here’s why.

To hurt another; to do something for ourselves at the cost of others requires that we divorce empathy and self, reality and fantasy. So, when we do apologize, we cannot quickly reconnect these parts. Often the person does feel bad, guilty, afraid of the consequences. Notice that these feelings are rather self-centered. In time, if they go about reconnecting care for others and their feelings, they will feel much more empathy and concern for the wounded party. However, at the outset of their confession, these two things are still divorced. Thus the hollow confession. They do not know what they are really apologizing for beyond a few facts. The longer the deception, the longer the disconnection and time taken to reconnect to the experience of the other.

There are other confounding variables that hinder empathic confessions. One’s goal (get out of trouble, stop the pressure, smooth it over, please the other) may also decrease the likelihood empathy.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, deception, Repentance, self-deception, sin