Hypocrite people have a public and a private face. They use different masks depending on the situation. They pretend to be what they aren’t, generally to take advantage, receive social approval or place themselves above the others.
The relationship with a false person is often complicated because we are never sure of what he really thinks or feels. And he probably doesn’t have any qualms about manipulating us to achieve his goals.
Hypocrite Person: Definition
Hypocrisy is the inconsistency between what is said and what is done, or between what is thought and felt and what is externalized. It’s a way to hide or repress the true desires, thoughts and emotions to adapt to the expectations of the environment or take advantage.
In fact, the word hypocrisy comes from the Greek word, hupokrisis, which literally means “stage.” In that context, a hypocrite, or hupokrités, was simply an actor, someone who pretended to be someone else on the stage.
Although perhaps the best definition of hypocrisy comes from the American politician Adlai E. Stevenson, who said: “A hypocrite is the kind of person who would cut a redwood, set a stage and then make a speech about the preservation of nature.”
It’s true that, as social beings, we all experience a vital conflict between our interests and the interests of the others. It’s not always possible to match our wishes with those of the others. To resolve this conflict without renouncing to our “ego” and without creating excessive social friction, we develop different strategies that are more or less assertive and allow us to combine public and private interests.
However, there are people who have not developed these strategies, but prefer to hide what they think or feel. They are not dependent or submissive, but resort to hypocrisy as a strategy to achieve their goals, although in the long run it’s a maladaptive strategy because it creates a deep dissonance between behavior and emotions, beliefs and ideas.
How to unmask a fake person? The 5 behaviors of hypocrites
- They are always willing to punish someone. Their “high” moral standards lead them to point the accusatory finger at someone and it isn’t unusual for them to even humiliate or publicly disqualify the others. Actually, it’s a compensation strategy through which they try to focus attention on the alleged errors, weaknesses or deficiencies of the other so that those around them don’t realize their discrepancies and/or hypocrisy.
- They have an aura of moral superiority. Hypocritical people are usually halfway between narcissism and intellectual superiority. They are often victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, so that level of arrogance can make us feel like someone of a lower, immature level when we relate to them or we can simply think that we’re not good enough.
- The rules never apply to them. Rules and regulations exist, but they only apply to the others. Hypocrites believe that because they have an innate sense of law and morals, they’re above the law and not obligated to respect it.
- Guilt is never theirs, they always have an excuse at hand. Hypocritical people don’t usually recognize their discordances and errors, even if they’re very obvious. These people don’t apologize or admit their responsibility, but continually resort to excuses. For them, circumstances are always a mitigating factor, and mistakes are never theirs.
- Do what I say, not what I do. This could be the maxim of hypocrites. Their actions almost never coincide with their discourse, or their attitudes with their real values. This is because their main motivation is to appear good to the others and get the most out of it.
The 3 strategies that hypocritical and false people use
- Moral duplicity. Hypocritical people who continually cite irreproachable motives, but who don’t really act according to those moral rules. For example, a person can talk about the importance of helping the others, but when the time comes to reach out to someone who needs help, look the other way. Or a person who praises values such as fidelity and the importance of telling the truth, but then is unfaithful to his partner.
- Double moral standards. False people who are lax when it comes to judging themselves, but apply a hard moral standard to the others. For example, that person will be very angry if a driver doesn’t stop at a crosswalk, but when he is at the wheel and does the same, he will resort to excuses to explain why he hasn’t stopped. They see the straw in the eye of the others but not the beam in theirs.
- Moral weakness. People who come into conflict with their attitudes due to cognitive dissonance. For example, a person can talk about the importance of going to vote, but the day of elections doesn’t go to the polls. In this case what fails is self-control, the person really believes what he says, but at the time of doing it he doesn’t have the willpower, although he doesn’t dare to acknowledge it publicly and continues to give moral lessons.
Why are people so hypocritical?
It’s likely that in your environment you will meet more than one hypocrite. And you’re also likely to wonder how it’s possible that you seem not to notice the inconsistency between their words and their actions.
The explanation for this phenomenon comes from psychologist Patricia Linville, who worked at Yale University and in the mid-1980s coined the term “autocomplexity”. Her hypothesis is that the less complex the cognitive representation of the “ego” is, the more extreme will be the fluctuations of the mood and attitudes of the person.
In other words, some people tend to perceive themselves from a very limited perspective, for example, they define themselves through the roles they play, so they think they are a “self-sacrificing mother” or a “successful manager”. The problem is that having such a limited definition of ourselves makes us more unstable psychologically and prevents us from dealing with the contradictions inherent to the complexity of the personality and the environment.
To better understand this phenomenon we can take a look at an experiment conducted at the University of Miami. These psychologists asked university students to evaluate the importance of study skills. Next, they were asked to recall all the times they had neglected the study, in order to unmask the possible hypocrisy behind the first answers.
Interestingly, at that time students who had a smaller autocomplexity were more likely to change their first opinions; that is, they rectified indicating that, after all, studying was not so important.
This could explain why some people say one thing and do another. His comments come from a representation of the “ego” completely separated from the “ego” that acts in other circumstances. In practice, hypocritical people only try to keep immune the simple identity they have built by separating their words from their actions.
In the case of politicians, for example, it’s usual to keep a discourse connected to their “political ego” while doing something diametrically opposed in their “corporate ego” or the “familiar”. In this way they manage to save their different “egoes”, because they aren’t capable of integrating them.
These studies indicate that many people are hypocrites without realizing it. In fact, often when we put them face to face with their contradictions they don’t recognize them and hide behind excuses.
Obviously, not all people live in this state of “hypocritical ignorance”. There are also those who learn to take advantage of hypocrisy, especially when they realize that following certain ideas is neither practical nor advantageous. These people have no problem proclaiming something and doing just the opposite, if they think it’s more convenient. But neither will they openly acknowledge their hypocrisy since it’s too painful and would represent a great blow to their “ego”, so they will argue that they have been moved by circumstances.
Why do hypocritical people bother us so much?
The answer, or at least part of it, comes from a study conducted at Yale University. These psychologists discovered that what bothers us the most about hypocritical people is not the inconsistency between their words and their actions, but that their moral proclamations are false and pretend to be more virtuous than they are.
In practice, we don’t like hypocrites because they disappoint us. In fact, it has been proven that we tend to believe and prefer moral statements or that imply a degree of generalization to explain the behaviors. For example, if a person leaves a project, we prefer the explanation “it doesn’t make sense to spend more energy” than “I don’t want to spend more energy”. Therefore, when we discover the truth we feel more disappointed and deceived.
This means that, in a certain way, we also contribute to hypocrisy lasting at a social level. In fact, even in certain situations it may be that we have behaved in a hypocritical way trying to give a better image of ourselves.
How to deal with hypocritical people?
The best way to fight against hypocrisy is to be authentic and understand that within each of us coexist many contradictions. We can all behave in a hypocritical way in some situations, but there is an important line between the level of social and tolerable hypocrisy and the intolerable hypocrisy that aims to give moral lessons. We don’t need to fulfill the expectations of the others nor do we have to become preachers of morality. We just have to live and let live.
- Listen to him. Although the first reaction to the criticism of a hypocrite is to put us on the defensive, the smartest thing to do is to calm down and listen. Maybe his words come from a genuine concern for us. That is why we must learn to separate the grain from the chaff and, if his idea is valuable, we can accept it. If it’s not, we always have the possibility of ignoring it.
- Don’t attack him. Directly accusing a hypocrite person of not practicing what he preaches is usually useless since it will generate a defensive reaction. Most likely, that person will respond by counterattacking, falling into a discussion that has no meaning to discover who is the least hypocritical of the two. Therefore, however his words bother you, don’t lose your patience and don’t attack them. Remember that who makes you angry controls you.
- Don’t feel guilty. It’s likely that the hypocrite makes you feel guilty for not being good enough. If you know the reasons for your behavior, it’s important that you keep the perspective and don’t feel guilty. Remember that, after all, only what you give importance to can hurt you.
- Clarify the conversation. In many cases, hypocritical people go around the bush, spin a discourse of a general and vague nature in which everyone is guilty and sinful, but they don’t point the accusatory finger at anyone in particular. If you think that in his speech he’s referring to you, ask him if it’s the case. Often, asking for a clarification of his words is enough to stop his attitude.
- Mark your limits. If the hypocrite is trespassing your red lines, don’t hesitate to mark them clearly. You can let him know that you will not accept moral discourses or undeserved reprimands that make you feel bad. Speak calmly and firmly. If the hypocritical person realizes that his speech doesn’t make a dent in you, sooner or later he will leave you alone.
Jordan, J. J. et. Al. (2017) Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling. Psychological Science; 28(3): 1–13.
McConnel, A. R. & Brown, C. M. (2010) Dissonance averted: Self-concept organization moderates the effect of hypocrisy on attitude change.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; 46(2): 361-366.
Linville, P. W. (1985) Self-Complexity and Affective Extremity: Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in One Cognitive Basket. Social Cognition; 3: 94-120.