“Be open” is the well-meaning advice given by many.
I have received this form of advice often. To be honest, I have struggled to embrace it, as you may have too.
Your well-intended advisers are trying to encourage you to move forward and engage with life. This is a valid point. In order to truly connect with others, we need to be open to meeting new people, experiencing new adventures, and dropping our guardedness. We have to allow others in. We need to allow others to see us.
Brené Brown defines connection as, “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgement, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
But for many, the possibility of being vulnerable to another love after you have been deceived, betrayed, and let down, feels unimaginable. Most want a guarantee that they will never experience that kind of pain ever again. Placing our trust in someone again can feel understandably impossible. More than likely, they were victims of an emotional con artist, maybe more than once.
“I felt like I met my soulmate. I never had someone show me with so much attention. I received compliments and gifts. I could not stop smiling. I was giddy. We would talk about the future, and I fell for him/her fast. We dated a few months then moved in together. It was a dream come true. Then one day…” This is how some people describe their relationship to an emotional con artist. The beginning is wonderful—almost magical.
“Then one day,” is usually the point where there was a sudden shift and the other’s true colours were revealed. If you happen to spend years with this person, you probably are well-versed in the push and pull behaviour that then continues.
What happened to this amazing human you thought you could trust with your whole being? The person who would finally never hurt you like you have been hurt in the past.
That’s the point of disbelief and even shock. How can someone who brought you such joy bring you such excruciating pain and confusion? Why? What did I do wrong? How can I get things back to how they were in the beginning?
Then one day, she told me she had no feelings for me. Then one day, he started saying that I gained too much weight. Then one day, he called me a f*cking slut and told me that nobody would ever love me.
Those who have had the experience Brené Brown describes can often hardly comprehend what it’s like being with an emotional con artist. Yes, people show themselves and they are not perfect—but love still grows and continues and they work on the relationship. They show up for each other. They forgive and take responsibility for their actions. They do better and set their pride to the side. With the emotional con artist, the contrast is like day and night. The emotional rollercoaster is an endless ride of anxiety. You never leave a relationship with an emotional con artist unscathed.
Maria Konnikova, in her book, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time, unmasks the strikingly consistent traits of a con artist. Emotional con artists “groom” you from the beginning. They groom you into believing that they are the real deal. They show up for you and have you believe that they will meet your every need. They shower you with gifts. They call you every day. They talk for hours with you, making you believe you can be totally free with them. Making you believe you can be open.
But, it’s a strategy of a true groomer.
You are being conditioned. You are beginning to idealise him/her. You begin to believe that this is really who they say they are. It does not take long. They say all the right things, and usually, you cannot see the red flags. You have been through a process of grooming, of conditioning.
According to Konnikova, most cons never play the role of the obvious villain. They are respected and spoken of well by friends and coworkers. Con artists in general play on our ability as humans to trust. Trust is the crucial outcome of the grooming process. The game cannot be played without trust. The very essence needed for healthy relationships is exploited, and one is left exposed and vulnerable. It’s like standing in front of someone naked and instead of honouring you, they shame you.
Unfortunately, emotional con artists, like con artists in general, are so skilled at reading people. They learn what you truly need; learn what your kryptonite is; and, most importantly, learn what supply you provide for them. Supply can be your idealisation, your money, your attention, your home, your ability to help others believe they are as wonderful as they say they are—and sometimes to place their ex in a shameful light. They thrive on support as the victim of their last encounter. Oh, and yes, there are those who have come before you. They are artists, not just cons!
What we love about them is their confidence. They project such a strong and capable person and speak often like they know more than the average. Almost sage-like.
Konnikova debunks the myth that people who are conned are weak or foolish. In fact, she goes on to to say that even National Security Agencies get defrauded often, so intellect has little to do with it. She says we are all possible targets of being conned when we open ourselves up to others. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow. It means every time I meet someone new or even purchase a product from someone, there is a possibility of being conned.
If you’re the victim of emotional con artistry, you might never want to let your guard down. But you will forever be a prisoner and isolated. Isolation and loneliness create a feeling of desperation, which can often make you search for a safe person who will never hurt you again.
So what do I need to bear in mind to remain open but cautious when meeting new people? What do I need to do to in the area of love to avoid being conned?
1. Don’t fall in love too fast: I’m often amazed at how quickly people go searching for love. In fact, isn’t there a movie called “Fools Rush In“? They do not heal any wounds and often go out looking for someone to love them whole again.
If you fall in love too quickly or are easily infatuated, you can find it difficult to get out of a con. Sometimes the person may have been a “good” friend and swoops in as the saviour when you’re at your lowest. It’s easier to feel safe quickly because you already trust them. The faster you move, the slower you think things through.
2. Please don’t ignore the first red flag. If there is one, it is usually a traffic officer. My clients often talk about minimising the first red flag: “We all have a past,” “We all get scared,” “We all push people away.”
When you find yourself thinking, “This is a bit OTT (over the top), strange, uncomfortable,” you need to look closer and stop saying the psychobabble that you see what you fear. That only allows you to make excuses and invalidate your judgement. If you see the beginnings of something toxic, there will be a consistent pattern of it.
3. Say “No,” set your boundaries, and see how they react—especially when you show strength, autonomy, and self-respect.
Is there nourishment and support for your goals and needs? What happens if you outshine them? What if you decline an invite because you are too tired? An emotional con artist appears supportive as long as they can gain. They are not selfless and cannot imagine you gaining and watching you gain.
Having control is important to the game. You can learn a lot about people when you watch them cope with stress, failure, and shame.
A person with a true sense of self has the courage to own their darkness and their light. We can love and share amazing connections with other humans because there are people who have a true self. No mask. A person who loves you supports you in being who you really are, flaws and all, but believes and supports you at being the best version of who you are. You can so easily be vulnerable and trust the space they offer.
I know you are saying that you hate the games and just want to be real. Unfortunately, honest people get conned all the time. Also, you probably believe the good in everyone and truly believe they are better than that. Hope springs eternal, and, in so doing, we con ourselves.
We need to use our wise mind, our inner wisdom, especially when we are opening ourselves up again. We all have a wise mind, or inner wisdom, that require our awareness.
After all, a truly awesome love affair takes a lot of self-awareness, self-care, and, most importantly, self-trust.