Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Self-recrimination as Another Apology Substitute

You'll probably recognize this diabolical little form of non-apology if you've ever managed to really corner a narcissist with their bad deed(s). When they are caught with their pants all the way down around their ankles they will often resort to this form of non-apology which can appear like they are going completely belly-up. Beware of being fooled by this one. You need to stay observant. First, here is a quote from the article on "Denial of Remorse & Gratitude" that I've been serially visiting. All emphasis mine:

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.


Anonymous said...

Spot on. This has fooled me for years. The one time I realized that she never changed when she went into the victim mode after my father brother and I tried to explain to why it is so bad to threaten abandonment.

Her threats were variations of this "IF you hate me so much why don't you just find another mother," or this "If you hate me so much why don't you just go to an orphanage" These threats are insults simultaneously.
Did I say I hated her when bringing her faults up no!

After we all apoligized sincerely for what we had done that was not right to her she replied with nothing but defense. You three need to stop teaming up on me was some of it and this weird non apolgy mix for what she did justifying it all along.

Writing is a good idea. I can't remember all that she said it is so mixed up. Kind of like trying to seperate the sugar, eggs, butter, milk and flour after you mixed them all up.


Anonymous said...

"Her prayer wasn't answered" -- LOL hilarious!

I love the test at the end of that blog. That's an easy one to remember.

Anonymous said...

My N brother just called me. He wanted me to know that he "held me no ill will", he had been reading the book of Revelation and we "shouldn't be fighting". Not one word of regret for anything he'd done, just a magnanimous gesture that he will use to show how far above me he is. When I told him that I'd like to forgive him for the things he'd done, his phone suddenly cut out!

Anonymous said...

I feel so fortunate right now to have found your blog and this article. I am in the middle of evicting the narcissist and he just sent me his third apology via email. So for strength I googled 'narcissist apology' and you appeared. After reading this, I went immediately to the email and the light bulb went on. It was littered with everything you speak of. I know the eviction process is not over but thank you for helping give me strength today....and thank you for sharing your story, knowlege and process. You are now one of the life jackets I will be using to help me out of the murky crashing ocean of narcissism.

teizenn1 said...

The biggest apology I got from my mom was "I'll forgive you if you forgive me".

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. This explains so much that has left me scratching my head with a weird feeling in my gut.

- Saying that they were a terrible person while waiting for me to rescue them and say they aren't terrible. (I didn't)

- Reciting all the things that are going on in their life as if those were reasons for their actions.

- Last ditch effort of repeatingly apologizing over and over again when realizing nothing is having an effect. Trying to overwhelm me and get me to accept and forgive.

I feel really bad and really miss my friend but I've seen the cycle play out too many times. They aren't going to change. I gotta protect myself and my happiness.

Sab said...

I have to laugh..when my mother apologized an immiate.."but you something wrong, too followed. Like she had to share her wrong doing with me. But at the end everything was and is my fault.