If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist you know that there is a difference between apologies and repentance because you’ve had one too many meaningless “I’m sorry” experiences. Maybe you’ve even had one million too many, who knows?
I have heard some people say that a true narcissist does not apologize because they don’t have the capacity to identify with the pain they have caused someone else. I don’t think this is entirely true. They may not be able to identify but they have mad apology skills if an apology is required for their purposes. The key to it all is one simple, small phrase.
I was wrong and I am sorry. Please forgive me.
They just can’t say that all in one fell swoop. They can say that they are sorry. They may be able to ask forgiveness but take responsibility for what they have done? No way.
At least I’ve never experienced it.
Repentance vs Apology
An apology is not repentance. An apology can mean any number of things from “I’m sorry I got caught” to “I’m saying this because I really want to go to sleep now”. The apology may be given with tears and drama or it may be tossed out in a dry, emotionless monotone – either way it is meaningless. While this sentiment is meaningless to the narcissist he expects it to be a Hallmark moment for you. He may even set the stage with a gift of your favorite flowers, jewelry, or tickets to an event you have been hoping to attend.
At the beginning of my marriage my ex cheated more than once. The guilt gifts got better and better. By the time we had been married ten years I hated getting gifts from him simply because it made me wonder what he had done this time. In one bout of counseling he wept as he told the counselor how I wouldn’t accept gifts from him and he felt rejected.
I never was sure which gift he was talking about.
Anyway, after a while those empty gestures don’t faze you in the least. You listen, roll your eyes and tell him to prove it because really, if someone is sorry…really sorry…you’d think that they would acknowledge your pain and maybe show signs of changing, wouldn’t you?
Repentance Looks Like This, People
Repentance shows in a person’s eyes, don’t you think?
Repentance happens when he makes the apology more about you than about him. There is that nasty “responsible” word again. He acknowledges your hurt, understands why it hurt even if he doesn’t agree, and accepts responsibility for it. He does not create an addendum that bounces the responsibility back on you.
I am sorry that I threw that object at your head. I know it must seem as if I don’t love you, but you really made me angry when you said that.
I am sorry what I said hurt your feelings but you took it the wrong way. You are oversensitive.
You get the idea.
Repentance, true repentance, is followed by a perceptible attempt to change without expecting anything in return.
I know that I have shredded your faith and trust in me and I don’t blame you. I am going to try to earn it back even if it takes years. I was wrong. I hope that someday you will be able to forgive me.
Those words are followed by consistent actions that indicate someone is moving in the right direction. They may stumble a little but they consistently move up. They show that they are ready to make real sacrifices to make amends even if they will never get anything out of it.
They acknowledge and accept that they deserve your wrath, disdain, or whatever. A person who is repentant speaks it and then shows it – not just for a week or a month but they create a new pattern over time.
Trust Is Precious
Trust is a precious and fragile thing. A person can usually get over a breach of trust once, maybe even twice, but when there is a long time pattern of narcissistic behavior trust is shattered and will take time to rebuild.
This is where a true narcissist will show himself. He can’t do it. He expects forgiveness and acceptance within a short period of time and is not content to let it grow gradually and naturally as he seeks to change his behavior. A narcissist will find a way to show people that he is making attempts to change but that you are “unfairly” resisting his attempts.
He won’t be obvious about it. He may ask your mother for her opinion on the expensive antique vase he plans to buy you to replace the one that shattered when he threw it at your head. He may invite the kids to something when he knows that they will be unable to attend, thereby making you the one responsible for their disappointment. One way or another he will find a way to make the people around you assure you that he is really trying.
And you are going to look like a horrible, bitter, unforgiving witch with a capital “B” if you continue to distrust him.
I have found that I can live with that.
I’m sorry...that I got caught.
Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: User: BurgTender
Manipulation R Us
What others who are not in close relationship with him, or who haven’t yet figured out that they are being played, don’t understand is that he is a master manipulator and he will seek to manipulate and control every aspect of your life that he can whether he is still married to you or divorced and living an entire continent away.
When it comes to his apology he most often uses peer pressure by creating sympathy in key people. Now he doesn’t have to do a thing – he can sit back and let the clueless pawn put pressure on you to do whatever it is that he wants you to.
I’ve have tried and tried but she still doesn’t trust me.
The pawn is having his or her emotions manipulated so subtly that they will never believe that they are under the influence of someone’s emotional control. The abuser masquerades as the victim, the wolf wears sheep’s clothing, and the narcissist is content because not only are you being pressured to do what he wants but the people pressuring you are feeding his ego and need for attention.
Forgiveness Is for You
Forgiveness is important. No matter what else happens you need to forgive, let it go, and move on for your own sake. Don’t forgive because it’s the right thing to do, your pastor told you to, or you feel manipulated to do so. Forgive because you don’t need that negative energy buzzing around your spiritual space.
Trust? That’s another thing. You aren’t obligated to trust anyone. Trust is earned, protected, and nurtured not required, demanded, or taken over by someone else. If you find yourself feeling sorry for the narcissist for being forced to live with the consequences of his actions then you are being manipulated in the most expert way.
When someone is living with the consequences of their actions and you want to help them out of it because you feel bad, guilty, or responsible then you are being manipulated.
When someone is living with the consequences of their actions and you want to help them out of it because you are proud of them, surprised and happy about how much they have changed, and truly think you can trust them again you are being generous.
The first will always, always, always blow up in your face eventually. The second will be life changing for everyone involved. True wisdom is figuring out the difference.
We are deceived when we don’t have the information we need to make wise decisions. You aren’t alone. Become a part of First Wives World today to learn as well as share your story. Help others move into a place of healing.
Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: User: Mario Mancuso