How Could I Not Have Known?

I’ve just started reading Malcom Gladwell’s recent book “Talking to Strangers”. Amongst other things, this book looks in depth at how top agents can work for years beside other agents – with amazing reputations – only to discover that they’re really double agents.

How can this be? How could they be deceived?

Gladwell would argue that we shouldn’t be surprised. And here are some reasons he cites for this:

1.Gladwell says that we all function in a truth-default mode. That is, we are wired to believe that we’re hearing the truth. Hence, even if something seems to be a bit off, we generally quieten our apprehensive thoughts as we’re primed to believe the reassurances we get. This is simply a function of being a flawed human. A suspicion or some doubts will not be enough (and we may well be suspicious and be plagued by many doubts).

2. Indeed, we only stop being deceived when the facts become so clear that we cannot explain them away anymore. The truth is just so stark that it cannot be denied. We have now crossed a threshold where we’re triggered out of doubt. This is summed up well in the following statement[1]:

Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them … Just think about how many times you have criticized someone else, in hindsight, for their failure to spot a liar.  You should have known. There were all kinds of red flags. You had doubts … But the right question is: were there enough red flags to push you over the threshold of belief? If there weren’t, then by defaulting to truth you were only being human.

3.The threshold for snapping us out of our default (to believe what we’re hearing, and accept that it’s the truth) is actually very high. It takes a very long time to accumulate the doubts, and then the evidence, that can trigger this deep change. Instead, we naturally accept all the reasons we are fed which seem to explain away the inconsistencies.

When you start to realize this, then perhaps it’s not surprising that we’re so deeply shocked – and are even traumatized – when we learn that a partner has a sexual addiction.

Also, trusting those we love and are vulnerable with, is actually innate, and has clear survival value.  Hence, breaching basic trust has deep and lasting consequences. It will be hard to give your trust to another individual. And if you’ve been betrayed then you’ll know how true this is!    


[1] Gladwell, G. (2019). Talking to strangers: What we should know about the people we don’t know. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

11 thoughts on “How Could I Not Have Known?

  1. Gladwell is great. I didn’t start reading him until recovery. Along with everything he said, keep in mind that there was also a party to the deception whose job it was to make you believe and if he’s like any other addict, myself included, he holds a PhD in manipulation. When lying is the focus of your life, you’ll almost always be better at it than the people who believe their underdeveloped truth detecting skills are enough.

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  2. That is pretty much how my partner felt. Things didn’t get easier when I confided in her about my addiction either. I became even more ashamed when I used porn, I became more angry. She would ask how I was going with my ‘recovery’ and I would snap. Addicts are second to none when it comes to deceit.

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    • Thanks for your vulnerability. It’s good to get your perspective. There is shame and fear on both sides and that can make recovery and trust very difficult. This is not an easy road to walk – for either partner.

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      • I agree completely. It certainly isn’t easy for either partner when it comes to working through any type of addiction or trauma. Thank you Ann!

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