Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeing Apologies Clearly

Apologies don't always mean what we think, especially if we've been in an abusive relationship for years. It is confusing. It seems like the meaning of an apology should be universal. But it isn't. We want every apology to mean exactly what we intend when we give a heartfelt apology: we regret what we've done and we are taking steps to not repeat the wrong behavior; we value the relationship and are willing to grow.

If we honestly examine our own behavior, however, there is a range of what we mean exactly. Sometimes when we apologize too quickly we're really saying: "Please don't be mad at me. I need you to calm down so I can calm down so I can figure out what I've done wrong."

When someone uses people and manipulates them to get what they want (a.k.a any abusive personality), apologies or lack of apologies is another tool at their disposal. Some abusive people rarely or never apologize. The lack of apology is another gesture that normalizes the abuse and teaches the victim that they aren't worth much. Other abusers use apologies frequently, promising they are sorry, so you should continue to trust them as a well-meaning person.

If you receive apologies from an abuser, he/she is not telling you that he/she is ready to change and grow. Instead, he/she is telling you that he/she wants the relationship to continue as is. The apology serves him/her and does not benefit you.

What is the payoff that such a person is looking for? He or she wants, and normally gets, you to:
--trust him or her again
--continue giving him or her access
--forget the negative parts of the relationship
--focus on the positive parts of the relationship
--get you to feel guilty for getting angry
--get you to perceive the abuse as normal
--get you to accept more abuse
--get you to lower your expectation bar
--get you to feel guilty about any thought of ending the relationship
--get you to commit yourself even more deeply to the relationship (sign that lease, enter a mortgage contract, go forth with wedding preparations, move across the country with him/her, start a family...)

Think about it. Journal. What has happened when you accepted his/her apology in the past? Did he or she change in any significant way? Be aware that some abusers change their m.o. (how they abuse), but they don't stop abusing.

In the next post, we'll explore how an abusive person successfully tricks people. We'll talk about the tricks that manipulate a normal IQ person, or even above normal intelligence person.

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Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft