Thursday, October 26, 2006

People who pretend can be the best of liars

"You cannot wake a man who is pretending to be asleep."
- Somali proverb

This quotation has so many layers of meaning that its limit depends on your imagination.

First is the surface layer. Almost any sleeping person can be awakened with certain sounds or by poking them. Someone who is pretending to be asleep, however, may not be aware of this, so may continue to pretend to be asleep when the common methods of waking people are tried. After all, they have something to lose by "waking" because their pretence was put on to avoid something they would have to do if awake.

Then there is the matter of pretending itself. Successful pretending is a matter of self discipline. Children playing together often pretend, but everyone participating knows that the pretence is not real life. It is what it is until everyone decides that it's not.

Children can be made to have false memories, which may be cognitively related to pretending. Some dastardly accusations have been levelled against innocent people as a result of testimony made by children who had false memories of molestation, rape and physical and emotional abuse implanted in their brains by supposedly well-meaning social workers or police. Opposing evidence given in court by a child can be done, using expert testimony about how children's memories can be poisoned, but it's an expensive process.

Did the children believe the stories, in a pretend sort of way, then accept them as fact when they became part of their memory? Children, after all, don't have much in the way of long term memory, as everything that happens to them is either now or in the recent past.

Adults master the art or skill of pretending because their reputations often depend on it. Once one exaggeration or lie has been told, a whole scenario or even a whole past life sometimes must be committed to memory and mtaintained so that the prevarication is never revealed inadvertently.

Some people act like quite different individuals when they are at home compared to when they are at work. They may act still differently at church, at a party or in a social club or restaurant. Each of these personae require an advanced set of pretended memories.

I once knew a woman who, though not dominant in social settings, was at least chatty. Especially when in her own home, she was a different person, it seemed, depending on who she recognized as the most important person in the room. As a new important person entered the room, the previous important person was suddenly non-existent while her full attention (along with a seemingly different persona) was applied to the new important person.

There was nothing psychologically dysfunctional about this woman. It would be more true to say that she had a persona and accompanying attitude to apply to every life situation in which she usually found herself. Or for every person she considered important to her. She didn't believe she was a different person, but she did act quite differently, often changing her whole persona within a couple of seconds, including voice, body language, gestures and deferences.

Some people live their whole lives pretending to be someone they know, deep down inside, that they are not. These people may be gregarious and friendly, but likely have few close friends because they can't even face themselves in the mirror honestly.

In each of these cases of adult pretending, there is no point trying to wake the pretending sleeper. The best way to cope is to find a way to avoid having to deal with that person. At least any more than is necessary. They almost never change, unless they have some epiphany which changes their lives for them. You won't likely be around for that.

Bill Allin
'Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to find the honesty within.
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