By Dr. Nancy Fishman / Morgan Hill, Calif.
Even astute therapists can get bamboozled!
One morning over breakfast, a couple of years after finishing my doctorate, my friend and colleague Jeffrey invited me to join him in purchasing an out-patient psychiatric clinic and its satellite office. With little hesitation, and the guidance of an attorney, we bought two-thirds of the business from a psychologist, Dr. X. He continued to operate the main office while Jeffrey and I took over the satellite.
The insurance reimbursements for services rendered in the satellite were routed to the main office, and then were to be channeled to us. Immediately, there was a snag in cash flow. Dr. X explained apologetically that his office manager was in cancer treatment, hence the lag time in payments. We waited and waited. Many weeks elapsed. Finally, Jeffrey jumped in his car and drove to the main office where he found the office manager sitting behind her desk. Upon offering his empathy for her illness, she quite emphatically denied having had cancer at all.
That began the unraveling of a nest of lies. Ultimately, we discovered Dr. X had sold us something that did not exist! We had drunk the Kool-Aid and been royally duped.
Probably all of us have stories of being deceived in the business world. Perhaps you bought a used car with a low-mileage odometer reading, only to discover the previous owner had turned it backwards to get a better price for the car. A restaurant claims to be serving Dover sole until it is discovered that it has been duping its diners by substituting a less-expensive fish. A merchant claims to be selling an item as a one-of-a-kind treasure, which you subsequently find everywhere. These kind of occurrences are infuriating, but don’t usually cause long-term psychological damage.
But what happens to us when we are duped by people we have trusted with our hearts and guts?
Kathleen could hardly stop crying when she came for her first appointment with me. Between sobs, I learned she had been happily married to her best friend for six years. They had two young children and lived in a stable middle-class neighborhood. He had a good job that enabled her to be a stay-at-home mom, as they had planned before the marriage.
“We’re getting a divorce!” she announced.
The ensuing conversation revealed that her husband had announced he was in love with another man. Kathleen was quick to tell me the divorce was not the reason for her uncontrollable crying; she knew she could get over that. She very specifically described how duped she felt because her husband had known he was gay before the marriage and, by hiding that fact, took away her choice to decide whether to marry him under these circumstances. She felt hurt beyond belief and wondered if she would ever trust anyone again.
The betrayal Kathleen suffered can cause the sort of psychological damage that takes years to repair. In fact, because we are the sum of all our experiences, Kathleen could never be the same, innocent person again. There was no turning back the hands of time. She could only go forward as a more sensitive, more skeptical, gun-shy individual, hoping to protect herself better in the future.
The most common way in these contemporary times to be hoodwinked is in Internet dating. How does anyone really know if the photo submitted is the real person, or if any of the information listed on an application is true?
Stuart enjoyed a successful professional career with well-known associations. Anyone could look him up and see pictures of him in local newspapers attending events. His online dating profile clearly matched the public information about him.
In contrast, some women, who sought to date him, were much more obscure. One in particular was rather intriguing. She was beautiful, bright, and had an exciting job. He dated her for several months until he discovered inadvertently that the name she had given for herself was not her real name, she didn’t work at the company she professed to, and she was actually a professional golddigger on the hunt for her next conquest. Duped, but not destroyed, Stuart, from then on, employed the services of a background check expert.
Though Stuart did not suffer a trauma after being taken in by a golddigger, he lost a lot of confidence in his ability to read people. The incident put him on guard and disrupted his natural way of relating. In short, he was not himself with prospective dating partners any longer. He was skeptical and unable to trust his instincts.
My dear friend, Henrietta, was married to a man for 17 years. One day, he announced he was leaving her. Immediately, she discovered that he had taken all their savings out of the country, where there was no chance for her to retrieve them. Over the next few weeks, she discovered he had been in the federal penitentiary, and had lied about a previous marriage that had not ended in a legal divorce. Nothing she thought was true turned out to be the case. She was shaken to the core.
This kind of betrayal, perpetrated by a narcissist only interested in covering the tracks of his sordid life, always leaves a wake of destruction. The woman he conned sustained PTSD that followed her for decades.
If you have been duped and retell the story for years on end, consider you may have been traumatized and would benefit from professional help to mitigate the damage levied on your psyche. Harm caused to you by others is not a burden that you should carry. Though you cannot erase the event, or events that created the pain, you can learn to go on with your life in new ways.
This column is devoted to psychological topics that speak to the human condition, such as relationships, family, love, loss, and happiness. The ideas, thoughts, philosophies, and observations expressed here are personal and not meant as professional advice. Names and identifying information in anecdotes have been changed to protect the privacy of real people. Please contact me at email@example.com if you have a particular issue you would like addressed. Let’s talk!
Nancy Fishman, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, consultant, and author. Visit her website for an extended biography and more information: www.NancyFishmanPhD.com