As a society, we place a high value on charm; when we meet new people, we love it if they are very quickly smooth, funny, entertaining, and flattering. We are charmed when they seem immediately ready to jump into doing favors for us. We love confidence, lively story-telling, and a sharp personal appearance.
And it all can be bad news.
This is a hard pattern to overcome. We have been so heavily taught by our culture, by romantic stories, by television and movies, and by popular songs, to fall in love with charm that we are addicted to it. We run after it like children after the Pied Piper, thinking it will deeply meet our cravings. And it usually leads either nowhere -- which is okay, but disappointing -- or into harm.
It's not our fault that we got hooked on charm, given our societal training, but we need to get past it. Abusers tend to be charming. Sociopaths tend to be charming. People with personality disorders tend to be charming. Con artists tend to be charming. Users tend to be charming.
Is every charming person exploitative? No. But charm is not a good sign. We need to do a 180 degree turn in how we think about charm. Our current thinking is:
"Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of bad experience to convince me that you are actually not a trustworthy person."
We need to switch this to its opposite:
"Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of good experience to conclude that you are okay."
In other words, charm should count against the person in deciding whether to trust them, not for them. If we would practice this, we would often save ourselves from an abusive relationship, from people who steal our money, from bosses who turn out to be terrors, from nightmarish housemates, and from other situations of harm that we find ourselves sucked into.
Why is charm a warning sign? First of all, developing and maintaining a charming exterior takes a lot of work all the time. People who choose to put that much exaggerated effort into how they present themselves are often doing so because they have something to hide. They move through the world taking advantage of people, so they need to put that way of operating in a package that looks appealing or everyone would run away from them. Exploiters tend to be charmers.
Second, the other most common reason for people to be so focused on putting forth an exaggeratedly powerful positive image is that they deeply hate themselves (way beyond the typical kinds of self-esteem issues that we all struggle with). They are convinced, largely unconsciously, that anyone who saw who they really are would despise them and want nothing to do with them. And as a result they have developed a psychological condition known as a personality disorder. This self-hating charmer is not meaning to take advantage of people, but ends up doing so anyhow (for a complex set of reasons -- I'll write about personality disorder and how it works another time). If someone with a personality disorder plays a key role in your life, that can be as stressful as dealing with an abuser or a sociopath.
(By the way, sociopaths are considered to have a personality disorder, but I choose to put them in a somewhat separate category, because they know they're using people, and they just don't care.)
And people can have mixtures of these issues; for example, there are abusers who have personality disorders (although most don't even though they may seem like they do).
So what's the solution? Here are a few things we can do:
* Be wary of charmers. Keep one hand on your wallet. Listen carefully to your own inner voices and warnings, and get to know the person gradually, watching their behavior. Stop respecting and admiring charm.
* Look for a different set of qualities in people, instead of charm. Look for sincerity, dependability, good listening, and an ability to share the spotlight (not having to always be the center of attention). Look for an ability to take feedback and realize when they have made mistakes. Look for flexibility. Look for deep kindness over time (not just big generosity right now, which is part of charm). Look for a person who has successful relationships with (healthy) friends and relatives that have held up for many years. Look for substance.
* Look for people whose entertaining qualities are a little subtler. There are many people who are tremendous fun, have great senses of humor, or are quite uninhibited, but it doesn't all come pouring out at once the second you meet them.
* Look for people who aren't overly dramatic. The drama-junkie is entertaining at first, but will bring a lot of bad drama into your life that you don't need.
* Stop expecting romance right at the beginning of a dating relationship. Meaningful, satisfying romance takes a while to build. The guy who is instantly romantic is often a guy who can't really make friends with a woman or can't take women seriously as people. The most romantic first dates rarely seem to lead to the most romantic relationships.
There are so many great people in the world. But to find them, we sometimes have to change where we're looking. Some charming people turn out to be genuinely great, but so often they don't. Keep your eyes open and look for people who have something deeper and more genuine to offer.
Thank You for all that you do.ReplyDelete
Wow. Thank you Lundy. This was eye-opening, and very confirming for me. I can now say with confidence that there is someone in my life with a personality disorder. To say the least, it has been confusing to be on the other end of this, but because you have prepared me so well (with your books / blogs) to set responsible boundaries, I know what to do now.ReplyDelete
By the way, I attribute the vast courage I was able to discover in myself to save myself and my family, to you. God used you & your books to put words to what I was dealing with that I stood up and risked absolutely EVERYTHING to call it for what it was, and put a stop to it. I honestly believed I would lose everything that I held dear in the process, and sadly, was prepared to because of the grim but realistic stats in your book. I cannot even describe the shock I experienced when my husband responded by falling to his knees and RUNNING to therapy. I did pay a heavy price via the stress that abuse put on my mind and body. But as a result of my courage and YOUR education, my teen daughters will NEVER choose abusive partners, and they now have a daddy who values relationship over being right. Because we know how rare this is, and how fortunate we feel, all of us are currently trying to figure out how we are supposed to BE the change we want to see in this world. Lundy, thank you for modeling this to us. We are forever grateful to you for YOUR courage to walk this path ahead of us...
This is an excellent article. I am finally in a good relationship because I stopped looking for "exciting" people and found a man who is kind and loving and generous. My life is finally stable and joyful. Thank you for this blog. I hope that it helps many!ReplyDelete
Just wanted to say "thumbs up" as I, too finally woke up and have the most wonderful kind, loving and generous man in my life! We were friends for 2 1/2 yrs (sometimes long distance) before we decided to date. The consistency makes the relationship stable and joyful. So happy to hear that I'm not the only one!Delete
Charm will bring you harm!ReplyDelete
I think this is unfair to those who have charm and aren't bad. While you shouldn't necessarily judge a person as good just by his/her charm, I don't think you should assume they are bad news just because they're charming.ReplyDelete
Hi, I don't think this post is about charming people who are also good people. It's about The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. I was wooed by a man who poured on the charm heavily right away. He wanted to marry me immediately and adopt my child- but really only so he could secure a green card. I missed some very clear warning signs in the beginning (like the fact that he wanted to get married in such a hurry and wanted a baby right away), I missed them because he would be so nice and lay on the compliments so I just excused the other things. After he had my son call him "daddy" and even changed my son's middle name to his first name, he later told me I should have aborted my son!Delete
The point is, some people are charming to hide what evil snakes they really are.
Goodness, how I wish I would have learned this earlier in life! I wish I would have known this information so I could have taught my children also. I wish it was something we all learned as second nature, such as putting your hat on when it's cold outside. I wish these were the things taught in classrooms growing up, because these are the tools that can help in the real world, in real life. The first paragraph of this article describes exactly the charm that swept me off my feet when my (soon to be ex-husband) started pursuing me. Sad thing is, I was 46 years old! How had I missed " Don't be fooled 101"? I had been married before for 28 years, had grown up in a wonderful, down to earth, loving family. My parent's families were great, their friends were great, my sibling's families were great, etc... Not that we were perfect,'by any means, but what you saw is what you got. We didn't have the "Dr. Jekyl , Mr. Hyde" thing among us. Maybe that's why I was so naive and vulnerable, I don't know, but I would have loved to learn about second guessing charm in a textbook, instead of by experience at the hands of an abuser. Lundy, I actually thought, and I quote your exact words, "Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of bad experiences to convince me that you are actually not a trustworthy person." And, that is exactly why I continued to forgive and forgive and go back over and over. The charm kept me in such a state of confusion, until I truly had accumulated that Mountain of horrendous experiences that became so much larger than the molehill of charm, that I could finally see the truth. When we were first dating, I had told several family members that he was too good to be true. Each of them said, "That's wonderful! I am so happy for you!" It wasn't until I was falling apart at the seams and I went in search of answers, that I read in a book on abuse, that if it seems too wonderful to be true, then it is. By that time, there wasn't much left of me, but praise God, He can restore life to the hopeless and with it give the understanding of how you got there, and the tools to keep from going there again. Your books, teachings and blogs are some of the best tools He brought my way, Mr. Bancroft. The exciting news is knowing that so many of us are taking what we have learned through your insight, and are not only helping ourselves out of horrible relationships, but as we heal and recover, are able to educate others who will hopefully learn to watch closely and listen loudly so they will never have to experience abuse.ReplyDelete
Thank-you so much.
It's terribly true that hindsight is 20/20. The first red flag for me should have been when my husband and I were dating in high school and a teacher refused to "give him the pass" after a really awful year where as a result of various stressful experiences, he didn't try at all. He didn't graduate that year, because she told him she thought she should impress upon him how he can't just feel entitled to things, and expect to get by on his charm. It didn't help.ReplyDelete
I teach a domestic violence changing patterns class and we are going to discuss your post tomorrow. Thanks...we refer to your book Why Does He Do That constantly.ReplyDelete
Maybe you'll never read this -- but I need to write it. Just finished "Why Does He Do That?" a week after leaving him for the third time. I won't get into details (because it's the interwebs!) but I just wanted to thank you -- THANK YOU -- a thousand times for your words and thoughts and for helping me begin my healing. You wrote that you knew you couldn't change everyone... but even if a small percentage changes, you could be satisfied (paraphrasing, sorry).. knowing you'd helped.
You changed my life. Thank you!!
I spoke to you a long time ago and sent you papers my abuser wrote stating he wears a mask ... Thought I'd update you. Victims of Crime helped me move to another state. I'm in Texas now. Things were escalating once the courts gave him custody of our three daughters to send to three different states separating them all. The last time I saw my younger two was in 2009. My oldest of course has a choice so I have seen her and talk to her almost daily. My abuser of 18 years of marriage and now 5 years of just trying to live and be free from the abuse now uses the laws and courts to further batter me. He makes $7396 a year according to what he has told the courts and all of last year I made just under $10,000. (less than $1000 a month) The courts awarded him child support of $307 a month from me and we have legal divorce papers that state I will receive no alimony and he will receive no child support. Child Support Services does not recognize such agreements. My alimony would've been around $1500 but he stated he'd kill me before he'd ever pay me a dime. He has held a loaded gun to my head and many of his employees have let me know since I moved that he told them he was going to kill me. I've written the media, Senators, House of Representatives and the White House. It's time for this to stop. Our government needs to stop the bully's and protect the victims. My book is coming. I am Freeda Knight! If only my mind could be free for a night from abuse or the torment of it all. Finally I am the knight in shining armor as I am the only one who can truly save myself. It would be so much easier if people would only listen. Listen to me and my children as they finally found their voices.ReplyDelete
This article on being wary of a charming personality is spot on. I have learned that even if you know to be suspicious of a charming personality and are aware that charm and flattery are often a disguise - it is dangerous to think you can handle it. These character traits often seem to have the abuser convinced they are a "great guy" and "everyone else likes me", therefore why does the woman in my life give me such trouble? I will re-read Why does he do that? by Mr. Bancroft as I believe him when he says most abusers are aware what they are doing is wrong but hide behind the nice guy image. Dealing with this type of abuser leaves the woman in a situation where you can't win, lose or break even. You do best to keep someone like this at arms length for a long time before you see the true colors and even then, you are bound to be profoundly hurt by the outcome. The Bible speaks against charm and flattery, I knew that and personally made the mistake of being taken in by it - it has led to nothing but heartache.ReplyDelete
I feel so sorry that all this information was never available before. Your new book is a specific and clear barometer and answers questions I have been asking myself for years: why can't we get along. What's wrong here. Unfortunately I am still stuck in this relationship and have not yet found the solution of how to get out of it. Keep up the good work. You are giving me hope !ReplyDelete
Word cannot express how grateful I am to you and your book "Why Does He Do That?". I have over the years read many books, articles, and other things on verbal and emotional abuse and your book, by far, is the best on the subject. I have also read many things on personality disorders, specifically sociopathy/psychopathy/ and narcissism...and your book brought all that information together to form the big picture. Everyone should read this book even if they aren't dealing with abuse. Simply the best.ReplyDelete
I read your book "Why Does He Do That?" It's excellent, but a bit dated now.
The issue of personality disorders has become more publicly acknowledged the last few years. I have a page on face book to help survivors deal with those who have been involved with psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists,etc (cluster B's) and it seems to me that it is far more common now and with education, victims can recover, and perhaps eventually, the general public will understand better the red flags in knowing what to avoid with these people. I really wish that you would write another book addressing personality disorders and abuse.
This article is excellent and described well the tactics used by many personality disordered individuals. It is classic of a lack of empathy and chameleon like behavior.
I believe that you are incorrect in stating that the book is dated. There are certain things that will never change and I do not know what I would have done without this book. (Why Does He Do That). You should keep in mind that as abused women we are looking for information that applies to us, we are beginners looking for help. Calling the book "dated" has absolutely no merit.Delete
And why would you post as anonymous if you have a better or more recent page? Where would that page be?Delete
I have also read "Why does he do That?" recently and found it a detailed and excellent book that allowed me to finally transfer the blame from myself and understand why, however reasonable and calm I tried to be with my ex-partner, it never reduced his sporadic and unpredictable aggression.He too was the ultimate charmer. He has gone on to abuse his next partner even more harshly but she has just seen the reality of his behaviour and stopped all contact with him. I have recommended the book and she has ordered it today.ReplyDelete
I am so glad that you are blogging...I have been wanting to tell you that you helped to save my life from a lot of misery (well more years of it anyhow). I was married to a 'stealth' abuser (passive aggressive) and your book Why Does He Do That? helped me tremendously to understand mmore clearly about what exactly I was dealing with. I have recommended your book to so many people and even bought many copies to donate to the local Domestic Violence shelter that helped me so much. My sister is going though an abusive situation and I am getting her your book on CD. I just wanted to say thank you thank you thank you for writing that book and these blogs which I have just started to read. Thank you for taking the time to share the knowledge and experience you have gained. My hope is that your teachings would be taught in highschools, so that boys and girls can learn at a young age about abuse, etc. Perhaps save many from the hells of abuse and maybe even save their lives.
Thank you for this post. Even though I have been divorced for 4 years now, I still want to learn all I can about abusers...and charm is one of the things that does draw us in. For me, I also ignored those inner warning signals.
In any case, I wish I could explain to you accurately enough how your work has freed me and saved my life in many ways. Just having a peek into the abuser's world/brain and how they operate has been so healing.
Thank you and God bless you!!!!!!!
Wow, I always knew this. And this is not something people talk about. After being slightly burned a few times for believing that someone's charm and flattery meant they were a good person, I seem to have developed very good instincts. I have become very skittish of overly charming people. I have correctly recognized two people as psycho/sociopaths, to the bewilderment of my friends and family (imagine, everyone singing these people's praises and telling me I was crazy for even implying something so out of context).ReplyDelete
One of these people was my cousin's husband. I had met this person only one time in a store for 8 minutes and hadn't spoken to my cousin in years, but had heard enough tidbits about their lives to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Also, no one seemed to really know where this guy came from. He didn't seem to have a past and people thought nothing of it.
This conversation went like this:
My mom: He is such a great person. I ran into so and so the other day and she had so many good things to say about him. He's always so helpful and fun to be around. He really goes out of his way for people and is really helping your mentally unstable cousin [they were married and my cousin tried to commit suicide by jumping out of a moving car on the freeway while with this person - this was very uncharacteristic behavior, but because my cousin was a)a psychiatrist and b)battled depression, they thought it was my cousin's issues].
- He's a psychopath and I really hope nothing bad happens to 'cousin'. I could be wrong, though, and i really hope I am.
A month later, this guy was found out and police were involved. My mom, one of about 300 victims, lost $15K which she has no hopes of ever getting back. And this was the least of his crimes, since other victims acually feared for their lives. My cousin lost everything and was physically threatened by victims.
The real kicker was that my cousin's own mother defended this guy til the end, despite all he had done to her own offspring. She just couldn't wrap her head around this situation and thought it was all a huge misunderstanding.
This is only one story. Sadly, I can't seem to do the same thing for me. I am starting to realize I am being abused by my own husband but he has me so convinced I am crazy and damaged that it has been really hard to remain objective. I am married to a self-confessed passive-agressive man who has mistreated me since day one, but somehow I believe I deserved it. I have no self-esteem to speak of, but I still have my instincts, which he tries hard to make me doubt. Everyone thinks he's a great guy too, and he's had me convinced everyone believes I'm mentally deranged even though I am shy and mild-mannered in other people's presence. He, however, sets me off to where I am yelling. I end up yelling to communicate whatever I am trying to get across, but he will insert a degrading comment, always in a calm voice, and the yealling gets louder. I feel like an animal backed into a corner. I even sought help for myself during my pregnancy because he said I was too angry. Turns out, I was normal angry, he was abusing me and somehow it got turned around on me. I have since stopped being baited and give as good as he does in a calm voice, but sometimes he still gets me very worked up. This is a nightmare. I'm almost done questioning myself, just not quite there though.
There is so much truth in your words. I've never heard it expressed so clearly before. I had a 24 year abusive relationship with a man whose personality was larger than life. I'm now leery of the exciting guy that is the center of attention, makes big gestures and is everyone's 'friend'.ReplyDelete
When I first picked up your Why Does He Do That? book I was 23 years in. This book was the first thing I read that so clearly outlined what I'd been living and made me realize it wasn't ok. It took me a year but I got out safely and I credit your book with saving my life.
Power to the introverts.ReplyDelete
Wow! Where have you been all my life?!! I hope young people and those who'd are stuck in a rut, will read this and change their point of view, and their livesReplyDelete
I got your book from the library 3 days ago, 'why does he do that?' I was so impressed with the writing and amt of in depth information, I had to come and see if you had more writings online. Excellent important work you are doing!ReplyDelete
Excellent article and thinking! Thank you, Lundy!ReplyDelete
I have a question... Can anyone help me with this?ReplyDelete
I read the book "Why does he do that?" and found my ex-relationship reflected almost to a T. I love this book and it has helped me tremendously. But what I don't get is the part about personality disorders. The book mentions only a small percentage of abusive men are narcissists or psychopaths. So can we say that the rest are "normal"? I understand they're abusive and therefore not completely normal but still. Is it possible for a non-disordered person to treat another person like crap and not give a damn about their feelings or, oftentimes, whether they're alive or not? I have a hard time reconciling this kind of treatment with the notion that the person has no personality disorder. It makes perfect sense for me that values, culture shape the person to be entitled and abusive, yet - these people are still adult people, who can think, who can reflect and conceive of another person as a human being with feelings. If they're not willing to do that and they don't care despite the victim's obvious hurt, then I don't know how they're not disordered.
Also, is there any difference for the victim if the abuser is a psychopath/narcissist or is "just" abusive? I mean does their treatment of the victim differ?