Captions do the heavy lifting as far as deception is concerned.
The caption of a photograph greatly affects how we see it. Now, think of what other people see you do as a photograph. How is the caption of that photograph determined?
I believe that we all try to influence how our photographs are captioned (not always consciously). The primary mechanism is signaling. Most people will not directly try to caption their own photo (for example, by telling others “I am a good person.”). Instead, they try to influence the caption by casually mentioning things that we associate with the trait that they want in the caption. If you want people to know that you make a lot of money, you could buy a BMW rather than tell people your income. If you want people to think that you are nice, you could express outrage about sex trafficking.
People who directly tell you their traits are pushing the final domino. People who use very subtle signaling push one of the first dominoes and pretend that their goal is not to knock down the final one.
Manipulation, social skills, and writing your own caption
Note the following (which I think are largely correct, but which are based more on anecdotal evidence and logic than scientific study):
1. strong social skills are necessary to manipulate people
2. strong social skills can cause delusions
3. having self-delusions makes it easier to manipulate people
As mentioned previously, people with strong social skills who are manipulative push down a domino far from the target (that’s basically what it means to be manipulative). They are most effective if they have very little awareness of what their actual goal is (i.e., if they are delusional). In fact, they need to go great lengths to make sure they never see what they are doing. They build a fortress around their delusion, and fend off the truth invaders by ignoring, censoring, or attacking the character or motives of the messenger.
What’s interesting is I have noticed that high social skill manipulative types (who usually push a domino far from the target) tend to try to directly caption their own portrait. They might have very sophisticated ways of getting you to give them what they want, while directly telling you they are a good person. The manipulator needs for you to believe that s/he is of high moral character. They will be more successful at that if they also believe it.
I suspect that the act of manipulation puts fears about what people will think of them in the forefront of their mind. The manipulator cannot survive if people are suspicious of their motives. Thus, there is an urgency to actively try to write their own caption.
So on the one hand, the combination of social skills and desire to manipulate leads to pushing a domino far from the target. On the other hand, when it comes to captioning, they knock that domino down directly.