The article I’m discussing here takes a closer look at what seems like an apology, but is actually a substitution for an apology. What happens when he can’t deny or explain it away? It talks about recriminations as one of the substitutes here:
“We have noticed the tendency for narcissistically vulnerable people to engage in a kind 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. This recrimination is expressed to witnesses and objects of the transgression with the implicit invitation that the transgressor should be reassured that despite the lapse, he or she is really fine (i.e., perfect or perfectable), after all. 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.
Self-castigating statements, mild ones such as “I can’t understand why I did that!” and severe ones such as “I must be a terrible person,” appear to manifest remorse, and may on that basis elicit sympathy and a wish to relieve the offender’s apparent guilt and pain. A close look at the transaction, however, reveals that the subject is suffering self-condemnation mainly for a lack of perfection, and that the injured object has been switched into the position of comforting the person who inflicted the hurt. The party who is legitimately entitled to an apology goes without it, while the transgressor achieves reinforcement for a pathological belief about the self.”
Another checkpoint. Is he showing concern for the impact on me? Is he trying in any way to relieve my pain, fear, or sorrow that he caused? Or has the focus turned once again to him? Am I feeling sorry for the poor bad boy? Am I feeling compassion for the purported agonies he must be suffering to realize he behaved in such a rotten, and hurtful way? What happened to the hurt he caused me?
I started to catch on to this years ago. One day I started to realize that when he was caught in an undeniable (by him) way, when there was no teflon slithering out of it, and he was faced smack in the nose with the fact that he intentionally behaved in a bad or hurtful way, then he would begin the grandiose statements of his rottenness. And like a naive dupe, I always believed him. I wanted to treat him the way that I wanted to be treated when I sinned and made mistakes. I wanted to forgive him the way I want to be forgiven and still loved.
But one day I realized something was amiss, and that in fact, I didn’t think he sincerely believed he was that terrible person. I told him that when he moved to negative extremes to describe himself, that I thought that somewhere deep inside, not only would some rational part disagree with the extreme negative, but would use that disagreement as the first step towards feeling sorry for himself. Once that voice started telling him, “You’re not that bad. Look at all the good stuff you do. What about ‘that’ fault of hers? What about the time she did the bad X,Y,Z? She’s forgetting about the A,B,C good stuff you do. You’re really pretty decent, and she just doesn’t seem to appreciate it.”
Okay, I’m imagining this based on his behaviors and words. I know that once he’s absolute caught redhanded, he’s sorry, he’s so so so sorry, and he doesn’t know how I put up with him. This is when he’s briefly implying that he’s almost a monster, and I’m some kind of saint. Except that he’s not a monster, and I’m certainly not a saint. This is where the truth and lies get mixed up. As his inner voice establishes that he’s not a monster and I’m not a saint, it’s easy enough to divert focus to the part where he’s pretty decent and does lots of good stuff… and is unappreciated by me.
Mind you, I’m no part of this kind of internal conversation. I’m somewhere outside thinking he must feel just awful because he realized that he hurt me in such a reprehensible way. But nooo. This section of the article recaps this nicely:
“We have found that a good way to discriminate between narcissistic recrimination and object-related remorse is to ask the allegedly regretful person whether, under identical circumstances, he or she would 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.”
I think I’d also ask him what he plans to do differently if a similar situation were to arise. If he gets immediately frustrated or irritated, it’s probably because I’m asking him to commit to good behavior in the future. How can he commit to that when he doesn’t know what provocation will give him entitlement to covertly abuse again?