AFT Conference 2013

Deception and Desire in Hard Times by Chip Chimera, Director of Child Studies at the Institute of Family Therapy

This presentation had been mistakenly billed as “Love and Attachment”, Chip said that it was about “the dark side” of those issues. She acknowledged that we have problems in systemic practice with deception

Much practice rests on the idea that people are being honest, or are at least in the territory of honesty.In her work around contact and residence disputes she saw that children
were often confronted with very different and conflicted versions of reality.

She described deception as an important human skill and in an attachment framework this is triggered by threat. She referenced Pat Crittendon’s work and the DMM deception scale.

Although honesty is a valued ideal there are, for example, many lies we tell our children: “carrots help you to see in the dark”, the tooth fairy, “I left my purse at home” etc. These are a  mixture of instrumental and comforting deceptions. At five children can have developed a “theory of mind” which supports more sophisticated deceptions.

Chip talked about the deception scale. A lie, in which the person doing the deceiving knows the truth is at the bottom end. We watched some video of Bill Clinton lying about Monica Lewinski. This was marked by verbal disfluencies as he attempted to stick to the lawyerly language which would avoid or reduce any danger of being charged with perjury. Chip gave more obvious examples such as Vicky Pollards “yes but no but yes” and a number of Bushisms such as “they misunderestimated me”.

Because of the contradictory messages there is a lack of integration and coherence in some of the languages of deception. However there are some people whose level of self deception is such that they show no disfluency. This is also the case with people with self justifying deception who can develop very elaborate conscious stories. I wondered if Bill Clinton could have managed this if he had not had to stick to the use of particular phrases.

Such elaborate deception can also be altruistic, for example the deception practiced on the Nazis by Oskar Schindler to save as many Jews as possible from the camps.

Chip made the point that all attachment strategies are good in some situation and the threat can be real, imagined or a mixture of both.

In the context of hard times there had been some discussion of politics and politicians at the conference and Chip talked abut “spin” – self promoting lies or half truths
and about the very common practices of reciprocal deceptions where truth and lies are mixed and much rests on the control of information, leading people to “get there by themselves” without a stark lie having to be told. A good example was the idea of Saddam Hussein being able to have weapons of mass destruction ready to launch in 45 minutes, clearly understood by many people to say that the UK could be directly attacked in that time frame.

Chip suggested we needed to acknowledge the issue of deception and find ways to work with this more effectively, using attachment ideas and recognising that threat is useful concept in understanding these processes.

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