I have been conned more than once, and each time I blamed myself. I kicked myself. I felt guilty. I found it very, very hard to talk about because it is embarrassing to have been conned. I know I’m not alone in this. Many of you have been conned, too.
Whether you have been conned out of your money, your affection, or your trust, the realization of it can be devastating. Your heart sinks, you hide away, you go through some serious self-analysis, you get angry, you become depressed, and you want horrible things to happen to the person who conned you. But, before you have all those feelings, you go through a long period of denial.
You convince yourself that the bad boyfriend will change his ways, be more attentive, get a better job, stop gambling, give up the other girlfriend, or do whatever it is that he keeps promising to do. Even when he slips back into bad behavior, you persuade yourself that it’s just a temporary relapse. He loves you so much that he will become a better man.
You convince yourself that the person to whom you loaned a lot of money will pay you back as soon as they get themselves sorted out. Then they borrow some more and you lend more because you think they won’t be able to pay you back until they get back on their feet. You throw good money after bad, and on it goes.
You convince yourself that the person who is investing your savings knows what they are doing. They have experience that you don’t have. They are on to a really good thing, and they have your best interests at heart. Even when the stock value goes down, you convince yourself that you should wait it out. The stock market is volatile. You couldn’t possibly lose it all, could you? After all, this investment adviser seems so trustworthy.
Embarrassment lies at the bottom of all this hanging on and hoping. We are ashamed that we have been conned and we keep hoping that, if we hang on long enough, the person conning us will show everyone how good they are. We may be the only one who believes in them, but it is that belief that keeps us in that exploitative relationship. We would rather spend a long time believing the unbelievable than feel that awful, gut-wrenching feeling of shame and dismay.
It’s pretty clear to me that the American president is, and has always been, a con man. A wide boy. A fast-talker. A slick salesman. In all his dealings, whether it be real estate, property development, television shows, or politics, he has been playing with us, his audiences. We have been conned and we have enjoyed it. He has amused us. He has been like the charming boyfriend who turns out to be a cad.
Many of us believed in the president, that he was a good businessman, that his plans for the country were good ones, that his approach to international trade was good for America, that he was right about the dangers of immigrants from Mexico, and so on. To find out, one detail at a time, that none of those things is true is really, really hard to accept. In fact, many people still cannot accept it. They are locked into that denial phase. They need their beliefs to be true so much that they blind themselves to the effects of his harmful words and actions.
And, I get that. I understand. It is very seductive to want your hope and optimism to win out in the end. It makes sense to avoid awareness because it is so distressing to know you have been conned. It hurts deep down inside. It is humiliating to face our own gullibility. So, we avoid it. Continuing to have faith feels like the least painful path, even when it leads to more pain.
Edit to add: This is a very interesting article about the use of interactive theatre to understand how we make and change opinions.