Been Taken Advantage of? It Just Means You're Honest

It's happened to us all, one time or another. We've put our trust in someone who didn't deserve it, and found out later we were being deceived. Whether the deceiver was a spouse, partner, family member, business partner, or employee, we feel betrayed and hurt. But even worse, we feel responsible. "What's wrong with me that I allowed this to happen?" we wonder.

Nothing, it turns out. If you've been taken for a ride by a talented liar or master manipulator, all it means is that you're an honest person.

"Researchers have studied this tendency and labeled it Honesty-Humility," explains Notre Dame professor Anita Kelly, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today blog post. "Individuals high on this trait are sincere, modest, fair-minded, and non-greedy. They do not exploit others, even when there would be no retaliation for doing so. Individuals at the low end of this trait, on the other hand, are dishonest, haughty, and arrogant. They lack empathy and exploit others."

Research shows that the more decent we are ourselves, the easier we are for manipulators to deceive. "There is recent evidence that honest people tend to see others, particularly close others, as more honest than they actually are," Kelly writes. This perception that others are like we are may lead us to give liars the benefit of the doubt. The converse is also true she adds. Liars imagine that everyone around them is just as dishonest as they are, "and thus see even honest partners as deserving to be exploited."

It's a lethal combination. Add the fact that dishonest people are often narcissists who've spent their whole lives learning how to be charming and seem trustworthy and if you're an honest person, the chances of your being taken in by a narcissist are alarmingly high. If it happens to you, how do you move on?

1. Forgive yourself for being fooled.

That's not easy to do-I know. Many years ago I married a man who was a compulsive liar and only learned later that virtually everything he'd told me about himself was untrue. The disruption that marriage caused in my own life was devastating, and the disruption it caused to my family members and friends made me so guilt-ridden I wanted to crawl into a hole. It took a lot of years, and a lot of learning about liars and abusers for me to finally see that the responsibility for the harm he did was his alone and not mine.

2. Don't give a known liar the benefit of the doubt.

This may go against your instincts if you've ever seen a Hollywood movie. From Sullivan's Travels to Maid in Manhattan, the silver screen is replete with heros who land a desirable position or mate by lying about who they are. Once found out, they are invariably forgiven, and they stay on the straight and narrow from then on.

But just because it happens in Movieland doesn't mean things work that way in the real world. Someone who's consistently lied to you is not likely to start being truthful just because certain lies have been exposed-or even because he or she has confessed to them voluntarily. Keep this in mind when deciding how-and whether-to deal with the liar going forward.

3. Learn the basics of deception detection.

No, this won't save you from ever being fooled again. But you'll be a step ahead of the game if you learn the facial expressions, phrases, and behaviors that tend to signal that someone may be lying. (For a quick start, here are 5 tips that can help you spot a liar.)

4. Stop being shy about checking things out.

One thing that made me more vulnerable to my ex-husband was the extreme discomfort I felt about asking him to prove the truthfulness of anything he told me. When you ask for corroboration of a statement such as references, bank account statements, the chance to do an on-site inspection, or other independent verification, it can feel like you're projecting distrust. You may fear you will hurt or alienate the other person.

Liars tend to be aware of this concern and exploit it-"I'm so sad that you don't trust me," was something my ex-husband often said. Get over it. An honest person will rarely mind offering proof or confirmation of whatever he or she has told you. And-surprisingly-liars are often quick to invite you to verify what they tell you, knowing that most honest people won't. So if someone invites you to check out their references, past history, or anything else, always take them up on it.

5. Don't change who you are.

In the aftermath of having been deceived it's very hard not to become a mistrustful person yourself. For months after leaving my first husband, I couldn't bring myself to trust anyone I didn't already know. I also couldn't figure out how to relate to new people while distrusting them. Since I'd moved from New York City to Woodstock in the aftermath of our breakup, I was mostly surrounded by new people and so spent most of my time alone.

It took me a while to see that viewing the world with suspicion was hurting me more than it helped me. I'm a slightly more cautious person now, but I'm just as honest as I was before, and I still choose to see people as trustworthy, at least until I learn otherwise.

If having been deceived keeps you distant from other people, then you've let the liar change who you are and how you live in the world. You'll have let them steal what should matter to you the most. And you'll have given those lies more power than they deserve.

Published on: Jun 23, 2015
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