The Brain and Body as a Lie Detector?
Lying and Deception in Relationships with Narcissistic or Psychopathic Partners
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Lying and deception are extremely common within psychopathic and narcissistic relationships. When individuals lack the ability to engage with others in a moral fashion, are incapable of genuine care, coupled with the desire to control others, lies will be a natural outcome. Many with psychopathy are considered pathological liars.
Deception in narcissistic & psychopathic relationships create distance from their partners and brings pain to those who love them. Withholding information or telling false information for personal gain goes against building a relationship. It reflects a need to control, rather than connect to their mate. It also allows the liar to create a reality or a false self that will always leave them blameless and innocent.
Only one person can benefit from this form of interaction.
It is important to those with disorders of this type to be in control of their relationships. They play with people as though there were objects or toys, without concern for the impact it might have on the deceived.
But let’s put the reasons that psychopaths and narcissists lie to the side and discuss their victims.
Did you know that the brain has a system built to detect deception and lies?
This ‘system’ involves the interplay between several regions, particularly the amygdala, a primary part of the brain involved in processing emotional information (Grezes, Berthos, & Passingham, 2006).
This system does not work the same for everyone. As we all know some people have better instincts than others.
But for those with the emotional sensitivity to detect extremely subtle emotional, behavioral and physical cues – they know when they are being deceived. They can feel it.
Some of us have felt this system at work in response to someone telling a lie. The body and brain might respond with a sudden overwhelming negative feeling that they just can’t put their finger on. But they know they are being fed an untruth and are in the midst of being deceived.
For some, the feeling is a dark, heavy, sinking feeling. For others, they might suddenly become overwhelmed by anxiety.
This system is there for a reason – self protection. The brain tends to perceive not knowing the truth as a threat. Something that could potentially be dangerous because either this person telling the lie or the situation is suddenly an unknown. Therefore, the brain can go into heightened alert around people who are deceptive and manipulative. Some people cannot tolerate being around individuals they determine are untruthful or liars. Their emotional system sends off such alarm, that they find it physically uncomfortable to be in the presence of such people.
There are some individuals who are better at detecting liars than others. They feel them and simply know. It can be referred to as
intuition instincts gut feeling
… but essentially, it is the brain that has tagged that interaction as a deceptive one and it wants the individual to pay attention. Why? Because emotional, financial, physical, or social safety could be at risk and it is sending an alert message to be aware of that.
When we interact with a person our emotional system is at work in the background getting a ‘feel’ for everything about the interaction. We might not even be aware of it. It is processing the other person’s tone, body language, speech pauses, words chosen, any tendencies to reframe our perception, and whether or not the other individual is interacting with us from a place of genuine emotion or solely cognitive (i.e., thinking).
People who are highly sensitive, empathic, or who have had experience with manipulators and abusers in the past tend to be more in tune to these internal messages from their brain. Their alarms might ring a little louder (figuratively speaking).
It is important to be aware of our gut or intuition, as it could carry information that words alone could never tell us.
Rhonda Freeman, PhD
(Updated 2020) © 2013 All Rights Reserved
Grezes, J., Berthoz, S., & Passingham, R.E. (2006). Amygdala activation when one is the target of deceit: Did he lie to you or to someone else. NeuroImage 30, 601 – 608