Have you encountered someone in your life who when their lips moved, they were lying? Since having recent experiences with people who scammed me with a toothy grin and affable manner, I have been had. Perhaps your characters have, too.
My mother advised me to not trust people who didn’t trust others. That’s been proven accurate over time. I embrace the “listen to your gut”and that has helped me. I arrived home to my safe little home and sensed someone was in my house or had been lurking. I leaped down stairs and missed all but one quickly enough to stop the friend who had dropped me off less than 30 seconds before. Yes, the house was dark and the screen had been pried off the window. The garage man door was ajar. I trust my gut.
But I have been pulled in by the narcissistic personality. They are never wrong, never apologize unless it is manipulative, have no empathy for others, and have a penchant for deceit. They portray an exaggerated sense of self and are attention/praise whores. Add strategic, cunning, and intelligent to their personalities, and they’re trouble to an unsuspecting person. (Sound like anyone you know?)
When they interpret another as belittling them, watch out. It’s WWIII.
View the characters in your story. Could any of them be narcissistic? How does that possibility ramp up your work?