It seems that a narcissistically driven person has difficulty knowing when they are going "over the top". They seem to over-do everything so much that you often get the feeling like they are acting. Your intuition that they are acting is exactly what you are witnessing. As Dr. Hare describes the narcissist/psychopath: he knows the words to the song, but not the music. They learn what emotions people normally express in certain situations but they don't feel those emotions themselves. The result is that you end up watching their performance and sensing a certain hollowness. It doesn't ring true. Even when witnessing a narcissistic rage you may have sensed the acting job. True rage isn't like a spigot that you can turn on and off. A normal person experiencing rage has a hard time settling down. They have to work on calming themselves. Let a narcissist rage and then the phone rings or another person walks in the room....BAM....they are transformed. In an instant the rage is replaced by a smile. Normal conversation ensues. Crazy-making if you are a witness and victim of this behavior. So, even the rage is manufactured. The desired outcome is control of you. It is one of the more effective tools in the narcissist's kit designed for a certain effect.
I am convinced that the narcissist is only a moderately good actor. The signs of the falsity are always there, but we often are susceptible to believing the act because of weaknesses in our own selves. The narcissist has a very sensitive detector of the weaknesses and faults of humanity; they hone in on yours with great precision. These weaknesses make you vulnerable to exploitation. We often believe lies because we want to believe the lie is truth. It is imperative that we be brutally honest with ourselves about ourselves. It is more important to know yourself than it is to know the con-artist. If you have acknowledged your weak spots you'll guard them more carefully. You'll be attuned to a person who has honed right in on those weak spots. You'll listen to the alarm bells and wait for more information before you act on the promises, flattery, proffers of riches or love of a possible narcissist/con man.
Pay attention to the disconnects, the non-sequituers, the contradictions, those moments when you wonder if you are imagining things or going crazy. Something is wrong if you consistently get these feelings. Stand back. Know what you know. Don't let the possible con-man's persuasive arguments fool you as he tries to get you to un-know what you saw with your own eyes and heard with your own ears. This will allow you to hold on to what is truth making it much less likely that you'll believe a lie. Narcissists are actors. They are trying to shape you into playing your part in their play. Beware. Know thyself.
They commonly counterpoise a compliment with a protestation that they do not deserve it. Or they may dismiss a genuine accolade as insincere flattery, or even appear annoyed that the complimenter appears to think they would appreciate an admiring remark...
The narcissistically motivated person doesn't even need your compliments....except, the truth is, they do need them. They simply can't let you know that fact, and they are trying to not know that fact themselves.
Then there is the "Converse Manifestations" where you throw everything described previously out because the narcissist may choose to deflect thanks in an opposite sense: by over-thanking.
As in all things psychodynamic, the opposite behavior may indicate a problem in accepting dependency or vulnerability. Some people compulsively over thank, or over apologize, in a manner that suggests as much underlying discomfort with the inner state of indebtedness to others as we are postulating in those who resist thanking and apologizing. Denial of Remorse & GratitudeI like that the author of this article tells the reader to pay attention to their inner state of discomfort in this situation as it is a signal to you that something is wrong. When someone over-thanks or over-apologizes to the point that you start feeling squirmy then trust that your instincts are onto a screwy dynamic. This person hates feeling indebted to you. Deal accordingly.
The next anomaly is that of "reversing roles".
This tendency to respond to a solicitous inquiry with "Okay" or "Sure" or the posture of equivalent solicitude typifies a narcissistically protective interaction. The assumed position is, "You're the one with the needs here, not me; but I'm such a good person I'll humor you." Denial of Remorse & GratitudeThese people are so god-like in their own minds that the act of asking a favor, or even accepting an offered favor, is considered to be an act of humiliation, so they twist things around so that your offering a favor is actually them granting you a favor. Doesn't get more upside down than that. Upside down is pretty much the description of life with a narcissist. Black is white. Right is wrong. In is out. This is yet another manifestation of the upside-down dealings of the narcissist in everyday life.
The article describes the bait and switch of "conferring approval". You get a pat on the back along with a granting of approval for how you did something, but no "thank you" is in sight. You may get fooled by the flattery of someone telling you that you did a good job and wrongly assume they are expressing thanks. Think again. Only a person who is more knowledgeable, more skilled, or more experienced can confer approval on you for what you've done or accomplished. It is from a position of superiority from which we dispense approval. "You did a good job" versus "I appreciate what you've done". One is a pat on the head, the other appreciation for a favor received. If someone is giving you a pat on the head stop and ask yourself if they are in a position of superiority in that area over you. A teacher/student relationship, a parent/minor child relationship, employer/employee relationship can be appropriate for the conferral of approval on your deeds. But in a relationship of equals such as a friend, spouse, co-worker, church member, etc., one needs to assess whether or not the receipt of approval is appropriate for what you've done. Did you do them a favor? Then thanks are in order, not a comment of approval issued down from on high. Recognize the condescension inherent in the conferral of approval from an equal. The message couldn't be clearer. They don't need you in any way. In some way you owed it to them....they only are acknowledging receipt of what was due. They feel generous while they pat you on the head; in their minds that pat is more than you deserve. The narcissist can only remain in a relationship where both you and he treat him as superior in all ways. This makes genuine gratitude on his part impossible. He doesn't need you....he bequeaths you with the honor of his presence. You show him gratitude by doing nice things for him. Its the least you can do.
The fifth form of narcissistic non-apology described in this article is that of deflecting blame. I doubt you've lived this long unscathed by this mighty diversion tactic. This section of the article is comprised mostly of a description of an event with a psychotherapy trainee with more guns in his arsenal of self-defense (because of his psych training) than even the average narcissist. You can read their example for yourself.
As you read, notice that the false premise of the narcissist is one of complete and perfect self-sufficiency. It is this unrealistic goal, this idealized sense of the world and themselves, that underpins their inability to either sincerely thank someone or to truly apologize. Both states, apologetic and gratitude, require a belief in humanity's interdependency; that we need each other and that none of us are perfect. The narcissist ascribes to, as the article described it earlier, "a sinless, needless self-concept".
If you have dared to point out a short-coming to a narcissist then you probably have experienced how they will immediately hone in on your short-comings, point out your lack of perfection, and therefore disqualify you from ever being able to mention their short-comings. They will then tell you that their short-coming is in your perception only. Probably not directly, but by hammering on your imperfections which you're then to assume are clouding your judgment of them. So, essentially, if you see a fault in them your perceptions are wrong. They devalue you personally, your judgment and your motives.
If their fault is undeniable then the narcissist likely follow this construct stated from the perspective of the narcissist:
"If you deny your part in the dynamic, you are self-deluded and therefore not worth listening to; if you admit it, you and I can lament your shortcomings together, construe my actions as responsive to your mistakes, and avoid looking at my own problems." Denial of Remorse & Gratitude
Either way, you end up shouldering the blame while the narcissist walks away with their grandiose self concept intact. It is the kernel of truth in the narcissist's accusations that trip you up and shut you up. You need to see that the underlying assumptions of the narcissist (that perfection is an attainable and worthy goal not just for him, but for you too) are wrong. You are not trying to be perfect. You're not asking for perfection from him. There is a problem...you are addressing it. Don't get distracted. He's trying to get off the hook by deflecting blame onto you. If you point out a problem, you become the problem in the narcissist's thinking. If they accept any blame they will only do so as long as it is clear that you are to blame too.
In my previous post I shared parts of my own mother's non-apology letter to me. I did not accept her apology and let her know that. Eventually this brought my father into the fray. He has always been her defender against any and all who would dare to try to hold my mother to any account. He took it upon himself to write to me after I told my mother I was cutting off all contact with her. He used the method of spreading around the blame in order to make my mother less culpable.
I remember some of your behavior as a young person as being a long ways from perfection. I won’t dignify it by mentioning what they were....
The way I see it is you both have a problem.....Your side of the problem is you have decided the relationship isn’t worth the risk of being hurt again so you are removing yourself from that risk.
Notice how he decides to divide the blame equally between my mother and myself. My desire to remove myself from the situation is counted as equally "bad" as my mother's crimes against humanity! My behavior as a "young person" forever disqualifies me from holding my mother to account in the here and now. This is what I wrote to him in response to his statement above:
This is like saying that the rabbit who sees the shadow of the raptor is part of the problem when he takes cover in his burrow. No rational being faults the prey for attempting to stay out of the food chain by taking cover when the predator is near. Self defense is considered to be a commendable, Yay, even a smart way to deal with a known threat, be it in the animal world or the human. The right of self-protection is one rarely argued with except by despots.....No one faults the lion for being a lion....they just accept what is and stay the hell away. I’m not expecting Mom to change her nature, I’m simply making choices based on her proven nature. Proven by years and years and years of evidence, and years of her words claiming to be different only to see her actions prove that all is the same. So while I concede that I am not willing to place myself or family within striking distance of Mom, I do not concede that it makes me part of the problem. No more than Brier Rabbit is a problem for finding protection in the brier patch. Well, he IS a problem from the predator’s point of view....but for those who don’t eat rabbit, they see the rabbit’s wisdom and prudence as commendable.
Nearer to the close of this letter to my dad I said:
Considering how long-- through your persistent ignorance and consistent, unquestioning support of Mom’s version of any and all events-- you’ve been a part of the negative dynamic that has resulted in a trail of injured souls, I see not how you’ve earned the right to sit in judgment and assign whatever measure of blame to me, or your family, that you believe we should carry. Your partiality to the opposing counsel disqualifies you to sit as a judge in this case. What is called for from you is compassion and mercy for those deprived of it so long. The one thing you could do that would in some measure satisfy justice you refuse to give.
Mom is a verified abuser. Victims of abuse are not to blame for the abuse. The only time we start blaming the victim is when the victim refuses to leave the abusive situation! But you would hold me to blame because I won’t go back for more abuse. I don’t see the fairness in your reckoning. Perhaps this reckoning is based on your belief that no more abuse would ever occur because Mom has seen the light. I can’t subscribe to such magical thinking. As the oft-quoted proverb of George Santayana goes, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I can not and will not un-know the past. My future course will be plotted by remembering what went before so I am not condemned to perpetual repeats of history.
As could be predicted, this letter elicited an even nastier letter from my narcissist-trained father. I'll spare you the insanity.
My hard-earned ability to deflect the blame-machine's efforts to smear me has resulted in freedom from both of my abusive parents. Keep your eye on the ball. Don't let them smear the mud of their dirty selves onto you and then convince you that you made them dirty!
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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.
What jumped out at me as I read this article from Contemporary Psychoanalysis was how many versions of non-apology I would get in one interaction with either my sister or my mother. In the process of one "apology" they would use every one of the iterations of non-apology defined in this article. I had to get into my forties before I could start to recognize that these women had never apologized to me for anything in all my life. I went through this recently with my sister. She had pulled one of her stunts and I called her on it in no uncertain terms. She waited for a couple of weeks and then sent me an email with her "apology". Oh, it was a grand attempt. What she didn't anticipate was how transparent her explaining, blame-shifting, appeals to her perfect intentions, etc. were to me. I nailed her between the eyes with my rejection of her "apology" and told her we have no relationship as far as I'm concerned. I'm sure she choked real good on that one.
I suspect that you've experienced this version of a non-apology from the narcissist in your life, too. The next vile incarnation of a non-apology is "Explaining". I now quote:
A related substitute for apologizing is the practice of explaining. Unless the listener is particularly sensitive, an explanation can sound remarkably like an apology.The lesson of the day is: Don't confuse an explanation for an apology. Even if the person started with what sounds like contrition, if they follow it up with an explanation which lessens their culpability in some way it is the same as putting a "but" between two sentences. The "but" negates everything that preceded it. Every single time.
I long ago quit accepting "good intentions" as an apology finding myself completely irked by what was obviously a defense and not an apology. I hadn't quite come to understand what precisely was happening when this kind of apology was being given...the "repair of their inner self-concept, not the mending of the feelings of those in their external world". It is so obvious once stated.
Keep in mind that one can receive or dish out any of these iterations of a non-apology without being a full-blown narcissist. Yes, a person who gives any of these non-apologies is certainly "narcissistically defended" at the moment they do this, but if the person you're dealing with consistently issues non-apologies then you have reason to suspect a malignant narcissist rather than just a momentarily defensive human-being.
Narcissistic Pathology of Everyday Life: The Denial of Remorse and Gratitude
I found this article extremely helpful and insightful so I'm going to continue to comment on some of the content here.
There seems to be in all of us a disposition not to acknowledge how much we need others. Similarly, we all seem to have some fundamental discomfort admitting to mistakes and failures.....For the purpose of this essay, the aspects of the grandiose self that we wish to emphasize includes its being without need and without sin. A transaction will be considered as essentially narcissistic insofar as its main goal seems to be the shoring up of a sinless, needless self-concept. There follow some examples of everyday behavior suggesting the unconscious operation of a grandiose self-representation, followed by a discussion of everyday-life pathology around apologizing and thanking.The premise of this essay is laid out above. I am very pleased that someone took the time and effort to analyze the effect in everyday life, as experienced by the victims, of the narcissistic need to preserve the illusion of perfection and sinlessness and how this renders the narcissist incapable of expressing true remorse or true gratitude. The various ways the narcissist denies these important transactions that lubricate social life are described well in the essay. I have experienced almost every aspect they describe. The same is probably true for you. I recommend you read the essay for yourself.
In a loving relationship perceived as temporarily damaged by one party's hunger or aggression, the (actual or fantasied) injuring party ordinarily seeks to restore the loving tone of the relationship. In adults, the usual vehicle is the apology.
How many times have you beat yourself up for not feeling like you can forgive the narcissist? Well, you can stop accusing yourself and realize that you've been denied true remorse and reparation from the narcissist which is why you feel so empty and distanced after receiving some version of an apology that was anything but an apology. What follows are some descriptions of various ways a narcissist appears to apologize while actually denying you an apology. It is sleight of hand. You've been duped to some extent. Your head tells you that you received an apology and therefore everything should be set right now, but your heart feels alienated and unmoved. Something was missing and somewhere you sense that. Hopefully, this article can explain why that is.
What intrigues us about the reparation process when a narcissistic defense is operating is that what is repaired is not the damage to the relationship, but the subject's illusion of perfection.
The first method of avoiding an apology is described as "undoing". Rather than come out and admit what they said or did was wrong, the narcissist will attempt to undo the wrong by doing something for you. Take you out to dinner, buy you something, sex, fill in the blank. If you are on the receiving end of the "undoing", you may still feel upset and hurt and may reject the advance. Or you may acquiesce by accepting the gift or action and conceal your feelings. You will still feel lonely and distanced because no true remorse was expressed. There is a cumulative effect of repeated "undoing" on a relationship that will ultimately result in alienation.
Never confuse "undoing" for a real apology. The act of "undoing" is how the narcissist avoids admitting to any imperfection on their part while they try to usher back in an atmosphere of reconciliation by getting you to drop your complaint. They are trying to buy you off. If you accept their "gift" in whatever form it takes, they will assume that all is well again. Meanwhile, you feel like crap.
Next post we'll look at the methods of "appealing to good intentions" and "explaining" as two more ways you can be denied a real apology.
Do you want a sure-fire test to see if you're involved in a "friendship" with a narcissist? Okay, this is really simple. It is so simple that you may be tempted to dismiss it. Please don't.
I know this works from personal experience. I have seen this work consistently for others as well. It is the equivalent of smearing your body with blood and jumping into shark-infested waters....the sharks will bite. The dolphins, the fish, the sea turtles will not bite.
Just say NO. Yup, that catchy little anti-drug phrase contains all the advice you need to detect who in your life is sucking your life blood from you. This works so consistently well that if I was selling this advice I'd offer you a money-back guarantee.
What should you say no to? It doesn't matter. If you have noticed that you are always saying yes to everyone in your life then chances are you've attracted at least one narcissist. The beauty of the "just say no" experiment is that you don't have to wait to say no to something really big, nor do you have to wait until you're fed up or exhausted to say it. In fact, it is better to "just say no" to something rather small. Innocuous. No big deal. Don't be angry when you say it, either. Just matter-of-fact. The disproportionate reaction you'll get from a narcissist will be shown up to be all the more disproportionate if the "no" is small and reasonable.
More advice on saying "no": Don't be apologetic. This is very important. If you are challenged, just stand your ground and do not offer up any explanations, justifications or appear to be in any way unsure of your right to say that little word.
Stand back and watch the fangs come out. If you are dealing with a narcissist they will not be able to take your "no" with any kind of reasonable equanimity. They will challenge you in some way. If you stand firm, they may bring out any number of nasty methods to dissuade you from your decision. Don't get sucked in. Just stand back, watch and marvel at the transformation of what you thought was a friend into a fiend.
If you say "no" to a reasonable, non-narcissitic person, they will accept it for what it is. They will not try to shame you. They will not try to convince you that you're a selfish person. They will accept your "no" with grace and your relationship will not be damaged.
The narcissist's reaction to "no" is never positive. And it doesn't matter if you've been in the relationship for years or you've just met this person....the test will work.
This is a highly effective dating tool, by the way. Keep getting tangled with narcissists in your dating life? Just say NO. Early on. Don't waste time. You're not getting any younger. Filter the vampires out before the second date.
"Just say no". So easy. So effective. Doesn't cost a thing.