For me personally, the worst part of dealing with a narcissistic sociopath was not just the sociopath himself, but the reality that hardly anyone would listen to me when I tried to describe the terror I endured. People automatically thought I was trashing the abuser, or that there was another side to the story where I instigated the abuse, or that I was exaggerating. Most people simply could not or would not believe that the horrible scenes I described were real. At the same time, I couldn’t believe that people were so oblivious to the signs of sociopathy that are so obvious in my ex! Once I realized what was going on, it was excruciatingly clear. How could they not see it? Even when I had piles of concrete proof showing he had a long history of violence before I met him? Why did they believe him when he called me a liar and said he was innocent? Why did they not look critically to see the truth?
Unfortunately, it is our goodness, as well as our human tendency to have cognitive biases that allows a narcissist to cast their spells on others and get people to believe their bold-faced lies despite all reality and evidence. We normal people often expect the best from people. We think that others have a conscience too. We hate lying, cheating and stealing, so we wrongly believe that others do too. Unfortunately, those of us who have survived a narcopath learn the hard way that not everyone has the same morals we have, but many of us probably started out more naive.
Unfortunately, people make errors in their decisions. Even the smartest people are not safe from cognitive biases and expectations. One of my most popular blog posts is about how the narc uses confirmation bias to fool people. People see what they want to see and believe what they expect. There are all kinds of thought patterns where we can go astray in our thoughts, and that makes people vulnerable to believing a narcissist’s lies.
I found this page about cognitive biases the other day, and as I was reading through out, I could see exactly how they benefit a narcissist the biases keep other people from seeing the evil within the narcissist.
For example, with the anchoring bias, people set their standards based on the first bit of information they hear. So, if a narc is out running a smear campaign, and the narc gets to people before the victim can tell the truth, people are going to be biased towards the first story they heard. If they hear the victim’s story later, they are going to fit it into the narc’s story instead of realizing that maybe the narc’s story is a lie. This is the main reason that narcissists get a head start on their smear campaigns–even when you are still in a relationship with them. The person who talks first has the advantage–even if they are lying.
Or how about the bandwagon effect? I know I’ve dealt with this one while surviving my ex narcopath’s smear campaign against me. The more people he convinces that I’m crazy or a liar, the more likely it is that more people will follow. No matter how wrong they are, people are going to follow the crowd with the idea that it must be the right way to go. Sadly, this is one of the ways a narcissist creates a false reputation for us. The more people who believe the lies, they more the lies are accepted as truth.
The choice-supportive bias is a huge reason that people will continue to insist the narcissist is great even when they start seeing the little cracks in the narcissist’s story. Once people choose a side, they are more likely to rationalize their choice than admit they were wrong. Even when they see their choice was wrong, they’ll insist that the narcissist is still a great person…even if the narc does violently attack others sometimes.
And that fits right in with the conservatism bias. People will hold on to their old, incorrect information even when newer, more accurate details come to light.
I’ll bet the ostrich effect is a big one in a narcissist’s enabling family! When there is an obvious problem, some people will simply ignore it. I wonder if a sociopath’s relatives do this because they aren’t sure how else to deal with their serious problem?
And finally, we have the problem of salience. This is a tendency to focus on the obvious features. For example, most narcissists and sociopaths can be exceptionally charming. People who know them superficially will get so focused on this immense charm, that they can’t imagine that there could be any evil hidden beneath the surface.
There are many other ways that our brains and minds betray us. As amazing as humans can be, we are still human, and we are prone to seeing things the wrong way. Because of it, we fall prey to narcissists and miss the red flags until it’s too late. But, even after we finally learn our lessons and escape, people who only know the narcissist’s mask are going to believe the lies because of their own cognitive biases. During a smear campaign, the narcissist has a strong advantage thanks to their ability to manipulate others’ thoughts.