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Deception; Beyond the Cat’s Paw

Although some people employ deception for malicious reasons, most people lie to protect their self-images. Learn nine common scenarios where deception lurks.

Fooling a Cat’s Paw to accomplish self-serving goals is one reason for deception. Very few of us can honestly claim that we have never been used in relationships, sales transactions or work situations. However, more commonly, deception allows us to hide something.

  1. Hide Abuse.

Emotional, sexual and physical abuse occur with disturbing frequency. Abusers, often narcissists, need to see themselves as good. Therefore, they often serve as pillars of the church, community and family to cover up the vicious, ugly harm they cause. Vulnerable victims, especially children, often believe their abuser’s deception (the victim was at fault) and fail to report the abuse to people who could help.

  1. Hide the Abuser.

Often a spouse or family member employs deception to avoid accepting the horrifying reality of the abuser’s behavior. Some co-abusers know that abuse is happening but choose to say or do nothing to stop it – often out of fear of financial or social consequences. Many co-abusers don’t directly know about the abuse because they pointedly ignore the obvious signs. Adult survivors of childhood abuse often harbor more resentment at the co-abuser for looking the other way than the abuser.

  1. Hide Addictions.

Those addicted to street and prescription drugs are not the only people who engage in deception to maintain and conceal their addictions and the means to finance their habits. Just imagine the hoarder who refuses to entertain anyone at home or the smoker who insists that the smoky smell emanating from clothes resulted from passing a group of smokers outside an office door. On a more benign level, who hasn’t lied about diet and exercise? Deep down, most people who struggle with addiction feel profound shame about their inability to “control” their urges, so they lie to avoid humiliation and reproach.

  1. Hide Infidelity.

Although some cheat repeatedly, many ski down a slippery slope into a bad situation. Unwilling to risk a marriage, financial security and a stable family life, unfaithful partners use deception to calm their spouse’s suspicions and offer promises of a commitment to their lovers. What do cheaters truly hide? They want to have the solid cake of a stable relationship and the decadent eating experience of an exciting affair.

  1. Hide Flaws.

Many clients lie to their psychotherapists about issues that cause deep shame. As a solid therapeutic relationship develops, the confessions come forward.

  1. Hide Mediocrity.

Ever notice how social media posts seem so interesting and exciting compared to your life?  That’s because most people exaggerate or employ outright deception to convince others and themselves that their lives are GREAT!

  1. Hide Low Self Esteem.

Comparing oneself unfavorably to others, especially around physical appearance, money and job prestige ranks as a common past time. Even photos of stunning fashion models require “touching up” for magazine publication. White lies (and not so white lies) abound on social media and online dating sites.

  1. Hide Immorality.

During income-tax season, deception often finds it’s way to 1040 forms.

  1. Hide Incompetence.

Often seen on golf courses and work places, deceivers “erase” those mulligans or those careless work mistakes. Work situations often brim with exploitive ladder climbers seeking scape-goats to blame for poor profitability.

Tell-tale Signs of Deception

Those skilled in the art of deception often become irrationally angry or suddenly quiet when confronted about their untruths. If the words don’t match the actions, believe the actions. Cover-up excuses often ring hollow with inconsistency, poor logic and no common sense.

Body language can be a dead giveaway as well. While in graduate school, I attended a lecture where I was seated with a friend on my left and an abusive, alcoholic faculty member on my right. Several minutes into the lecture, I found myself leaning to the left, practically in my friend’s lap. Immediately, I straightened my posture only to repeatedly find myself leaning to the left.  Despite my conscious effort to sit properly, my body language (often unconscious) told my true feelings about that faculty member and my friend.

Understanding more about common reasons for deception and related tell-tale signs may empower you to avoid becoming the “Cat’s Paw.”

Image is under license from Shutterstock.




Deception; Beyond the Cat’s Paw

Jessica Loftus

Jessica Loftus has worked as a licensed clinical psychologist and national certified career counselor for more than 20 years. She currently offers counseling sessions via telehealth in Illinois. Her website,, outlines steps for making a career decision. details. See her retired blog, "Pet Ways to Ease Stress,"

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APA Reference
Loftus, J. (2019). Deception; Beyond the Cat’s Paw. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Jan 2019
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