Partners of Cluster-B individuals often wonder if they’ll ever receive an apology. The answer is: you might, but it won’t be genuine.
They Think You Hurt Them
Healthy people apologize when they feel shame or guilt for their behavior. Their conscience tells them they did something wrong, and they want to make it right.
That’s not what happens in the mind of a narcissist or sociopath.
After they mistreat you, they are left with two realities:
- “I mistreated you, cheated on you, abused you, gave you the silent treatment, ruined another relationship. Wow, something is seriously wrong with me.”
- “You went crazy and abused me, so I had to let you go, because I am so heroic. Something is seriously wrong with you.“
One of these options is fabricated and false. The other involves feeling a great deal of shame self-loathing.
So their disorder opts for #2. It genuinely convinces them that you are bad and deserve this. It’s called splitting. Every time they do it, they disconnect further from reality and their true selves.
So you are awaiting an apology from someone who genuinely believes you harmed them. Yes, the reality is that they mistreated you. But they are not living in that reality.
You cannot convince them to join you in reality, because that would involve experiencing the shame and self-loathing, which their entire disorder is devoted to avoiding at all costs.
You Can’t Change Them, So Change Yourself
You must protect yourself by remaining in reality and refusing to accept their fabricated reality. The moment you doubt yourself, apologize for things you didn’t do, pretend you did the things they accused you of, compromise that you’re both “equally as bad”, or repeatedly worry that it might be your fault when someone mistreats you — you have slipped into a false reality.
If you frequently find yourself considering other people’s false realities, or feeling the need to apologize to people who treated you like garbage, I highly recommend reading the book Codependent No More. Most individuals do not suffer from this constant self-doubt and self-blame, and you do not have to either.
This constant voice of “the problem might be you” is the problem. You need to become aware of this and discover where it lives and how it got there, so you can dismiss it.
Apologies Can Be Used for Manipulation
Another reason narcissists apologize is to get something out of you. They may want you to react to their new relationship (to prove you still care), or to get back together with you, or to keep you around for extra attention.
These apologies will usually be everything you want to hear. They’re so sorry, they’re a monster, they’re getting help, they’ll never do it again. But if you listen closely, you’ll realize it’s just a regurgitation of your pleas and hopes from past arguments.
They may even believe it (or want to believe it) in the moment, but it’s always fleeting at best.
If you don’t respond fast enough, or do not immediately accept their apology, or give them what they want — you will see the true colors behind the apology. Insults, lashing out, calling you “bitter”, etc…
Genuine apologies are not contingent upon the other person accepting your apology.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Finally, people with Cluster-B disorders may say “I’m doing the best that I can”. That’s great, I respect when people try their best. However, you have to ask yourself: is anything changing?
People with these disorders may be on their best behavior for a few weeks after you let them back into your life, but inevitably they always seem to revert back to the same old nonsense. In fact, it usually gets worse.
So if they’re not changing, then they should “do their best” with a therapist. If the best someone can do is abuse their partner, they shouldn’t be in a romantic relationship until they spend years resolving their issues in therapy.
Normal people don’t abuse other people, ever.
But What About Forgiveness?
I was talking with a guy who had a girlfriend with BPD. She screamed at him and accused him of hitting her whenever he tried to stick up for his own boundaries. When I suggested that she was an awful partner, he was shocked.
“But Jackson, don’t you believe in forgiveness?” he asked.
Yes, I do. It’s the life force in my heart, makes everything gushy and light.
But if your version of forgiveness involves giving second chances to abusers, this is an incorrect version of forgiveness, which will only lead to further resentment and victimhood when they inevitably mistreat you again.
If you can’t allow yourself to admit when someone is shitty or untrustworthy without feeling guilt, you’re going to be in for a world of pain.
Forgiveness, as I have experienced it, has very little to do with the perpetrator. It’s not about digging into their past to invent sympathetic stories about why they abuse. This is codependent forgiveness, filled with fantasies of tear-filled reconciliations where your love and compassion cure everything.
Except then they keep doing the exact same thing and then you feel angry: “How could they hurt me after I treated them so well!”
Well no wonder you feel resentment. You practically need it for survival. You’re not protecting yourself, so your body does it for you.
If we’re interested in exploring forgiveness, we need to try a new approach. In my experience, it is just about releasing the whole idea of betrayal and victimhood. It is letting go of the tightly held belief that “bad or unfair things are happening to me”. It is protecting ourselves out of internal-love, rather than external-resentment.
This is when the tension in our heart dissolves, washing away the old heavy sludge of betrayal. You can physically feel it in your body, like the connection between mind, body, and spirit has been restored. Everything just becomes light and funny and good again.
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