We have noticed the tendency for narcissistically vulnerable people to engage in a kink of ritual self-castigation in the wake of an undeniable or unrationalizable failing toward someone. This is a process even more elusive than explaining, and harder to distinguish from true apologizing...
...In the case of a person with a narcissistic character disorder, recrimination is probably as close as he or she ever comes to apologizing, and is doubtless believed to constitute sorrow and reparation.
So familiar. How 'bout you? How many times I would end up comforting my mother and assuring her that she is wonderful and shouldn't be so hard on herself. Her self-recrimination can seem so abject that one is desperate to comfort her. The last apology I received from her she sent to me in writing so it is preserved for all time. Let me quote from it now just for fun.
I am horrified by the terrible pain I’ve caused & the wrongs committed by a seeming callous behavior. Honestly, I had no idea. I’m so sorry. The violations were not done with deliberate intent.
There seems hardly anything I can say that not sound self-serving but I will diligently answer you with a contrite heart. My position today is one of sorrow of soul & any wickedness done against you I want to make right. May I begin with my encounter with _____. I was wrong – period! What I further have to say on this subject is not an excuse but an apology.Then she proceeds with the "explanation" part of the non-apology. She gave away a lot in the course of this letter with the use of modifiers. Such as her comment above about her "seeming callous behavior". She minimizes her culpability bit by bit with these types of modifying words. In the midst of the "explanation" part of the letter she throws in this bit of confession: In any event, my supposed wrong was mistaken, incorrect, unjust. I was the wrongdoer. I am so sorry. (Emphasis hers) Did ya catch that? Her supposed wrong??? She is a damned slippery fish. Here are more examples in this one letter of her statements of self-recrimination:
I’m profoundly sorry.
I am horrified at what _____ said I said. I remember little of that conversation....
Ps. 38:38 says, "For I do confess my guilt & iniquity; I am filled with sorrow for my sin." This is the condition of my heart. I am filled with sorrow & willingly confess my offenses & unjust acts.
I was absolutely wrong & in repentance I beg forgiveness.
Because I long to please my Lord, I completely admit my guilt without reservation & humbly ask forgiveness for any hurt or evil I have done against you & family.
I pray God impresses you with the sincerity of this letter.
Her prayer wasn't answered.
All those statements that mouth the words of apology were interspersed with explanation, minimization, history-revision, talking beside the point, and assurances of the purity of her intentions despite the negative outcomes of her behavior. My mother has perfected the art of non-apologies. She uses every permutation of non-apology that exists and throws it at you all at once in an attempt to overwhelm any sense you had of being wronged. Her written apology would have had much more emotional force if she could have delivered it in person. It would have been delivered with sobs and copious tears that she can turn on and off like a spigot. The distance that I had put into our relationship required that she deliver her non-apology in writing which fully exposed what she was doing. It allowed me the time to examine carefully what she was saying. I didn't have to respond immediately like I would have if this had happened in real time. I highly recommend getting the narcissist in your life to put their "apologies" in writing where you can stand back and see the load of crap for what it is. If you can't do that, then just make sure you are fully versed on all the various forms a non-apology can take so you don't get sucked in yet again to forgiving a crime in progress.
This section of the article on "recrimination" ends with a test to see if the self-castigation is coming from a narcissistic defense or if it is sincere. The test is to ask the person if they would, under identical circumstances, do the same thing again:
A truly repentant sinner will unhesitatingly and believably say no, while a person protecting the grandiose self will tend to launch into a series of hedges, rationalizations, or less than credible denials.