28 December 2007

Abusive Apologies

Anna Valerious and Kathy Krajco have pretty well written the book about how narcissists apologize.

The links provided above will take you to search results for their sites, where you will find all kinds of useful information on this specific topic.

To their excellent and thoughtful commentaries, I want to add a few words of my own.

First - although in general a narcissistic abuser would rather die than apologize, narcissists have a 'hierarchy of needs' just like normal human beings do. It is the emotional needs of abusers that differ from the norm. There are times when these needs are such that a narcissist can, and will, apologize, because he or she must, or because there is a strong secondary gain from doing so.

All narcissists - all abusers -are manipulative. Some - the more isolated, 'lone wolf' types in particular - tend to focus on and manipulate only one or a few people at a time. Others, however - for example, "Church Lady / Churchman" types, like Anna Valerious' mother, keep a fairly extensive 'public scam' going, behind which they abuse one or a few carefully chosen targets.

For the "'Church Lady / Churchman" abuser, part of the 'fun' is keeping the target trapped and helpless. To succeed in this, it is critically important that the target never has any credibility with the abuser's 'studio audience'. Therefore, this type of abuser will frequently display exaggerated empathic responses towards others, give lavishly in public when important people are watching, etc.

One crucial component of this display is the abuser's willingness to apologize, quite credibly, to their dupes and foils, on those occasions when the Mask has slipped, and the dupes and foils have seen, ever so briefly, the reality beneath.

The abuser's dupes and foils serve as important sources of narcissistic supply and crucial lines of defense; they must be treated differently from the target of abuse - otherwise, the target will be credible when he or she describes how the abuser behaves towards them in private. But not even the most highly skilled abuser can maintain their non-abusive pretense indefinitely. And when the Mask slips, the Abuser's Apology comes into play.

I have seen absolutely intransigent abusers grovel and wail, almost literally, in feigned self-abasement in order to maintain their image as caring, kind, and generous people. This is always done in public. It is always done to people the abuser needs to manipulate and deceive. It is also almost always done in front of the target, as a 'ricochet transaction' ["Look how nice I'm being to her; isn't it a shame you don't deserve this kind of goodness from me?" This is a particularly vile form of emotional abuse.]

It is also, always, a shade overdone; just a trifle 'off-key'; because, in fact, it is only a performance. And, if the people receiving the apology don't immediately leap back into position as the abuser's sidekicks, an interesting thing almost always happens. The abuser begins to explain just why it is that they had to act as they did - why it wasn't really their fault - why the dupes and foils should pity them, fall back in line, and not look closely at what just happened.

This secondary response is a dead giveaway. There will not be any concern for the injured party expressed in it; only concern for the feelings and status of the person inflicting the injury. And notice the subtext: there is a clear message here, that the abuser has no intention of changing their behavior. "Let's forget the past"; "I wasn't myself"; etc.

Sadly, these maneuvers are almost never seen through, almost never understood. Except by the target, who already knows what's behind the curtain.

Be careful about applying the "can't apologize" paradigm when discerning abuse. There are plenty of abusers out there who can and do apologize, seemingly with great sincerity, as long as they can use the apology to deceive one person or set of persons and emotionally abuse another. A good rule of thumb to follow is a variant on the "Waitress Rule" --

In order to determine whether or not a person is abusive, pay close attention to how, and when, he or she apologizes when they have genuinely wronged a person they consider unimportant, or someone they dislike. A non-abusive person will give no thought to the 'importance' of anyone when an apology is called for. A non-abusive person may have difficulty apologizing to someone they dislike, but if an apology is genuinely called for, one will be forthcoming. It may be awkward, it may be stiff, but it will happen.

An abuser, however, will have difficulty apologizing to 'unimportant' people, and is unlikely ever to apologize to anyone they actively dislike, regardless of the magnitude of the offense. Don't be fooled by 'goodness' and 'generosity' extended to an abuser's entourage. Watch to see if amends are made to the 'unimportant' and the disliked.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article with explanations of the types of non-apologies and non-thank-yous:
http://www.ippnj.org/mcwilliams1.html

Here's a summary. I bet you've seen them all. Read the full article if the names don't mean much to you. (They didn't to me until I read the explanations.) Understanding "undoing" helped me a lot.

non-apologies that are mistaken as apologies:
1. Undoing
2. Appealing to Good Intentions
3. Explaining
4. Recriminating (this one is in the article twice - I believe the 2nd instance is the correct one)
5. Deflecting Blame

Thank-yous that aren't really 'thanks'
1. Conferring Approval
2. Reversing Roles
3. Protesting
4. A Comment on Converse Manifestations

article title: Narcissistic Pathology of Everyday Life: The Denial of Remorse and Gratitude
(from Contempory Psychoanalysis, volume 26, #3, July 1990, pp. 430-451)
by Nancy McWilliams, Ph.D. and Stanley Lependorf, Ph.D.

02 January, 2008 22:53  
Blogger Stormchild said...

You're right, this article is terrific. It's extremely well written and a pleasure to read [despite the subject]. They've definitely covered the waterfront...

On a side note, it was a pleasant surprise to see the authors state that therapists' professional concern for [and shall I add... economic dependence on?] clients of this type can sometimes overshadow the human concern they might normally have for the people being harmed, on a daily basis, by these very same clients. [Who, after all, aren't there, and don't pay them; cynicism mine.]

This was a point made in passing, but it needs to be made loudly and frequently.

Thank you for your comment, and the URL. Active link here.

03 January, 2008 20:16  

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