Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How an Abuser Tricks You with Apologies


By Tanya Warrington

I used to assume that any apology from my first husband was a sign that he was willing to change his behavior. As the apologies stacked up, I thought he was trying but just wasn't having much success. Regardless of my conscious thoughts, my emotions took each apology to mean that from now on there was a fresh start, signifying a significant new shift in commitment and behavior.

It didn't matter how optimistic I was, however. Near the very end of our relationship, I knew he'd never change-- not unless he sought help and then fully engaged in the healing process. When I went to a domestic violence shelter and began an educational class on abuse dynamics, he began participating in an abuser support group. My battered hopes soared once again. Maybe, this last apology had been real, maybe now he'd change. It turned out that he spent his sessions lying, recoloring what had happened to make himself look like the concerned, overconscientious guy who was married to a paranoid, oversensitive gal. He was committed to damage control, not to repentance and growth.

Perhaps you've been on a similar roller coaster ride that involves apologies. How do abusive people trick normal intelligence people (and even above average intelligence people) into believing insincere apologies? I'm not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or sociologist. I have no studies proving my ideas, but for what it's worth here are some things I've observed.

Abusive people regularly, even habitually, use our assumptions against us.

They know that we believe that we aren't "stupid enough" to be manipulated.

They know that we want to believe that our partner or parent is a good person.

They know that is the human tendency to assume that others are telling us the truth, especially if they are in our inner circle.

With these assumptions in place they have plenty of room to work on us. Following are some tricks of the trade.

1. They dangle a pretty lure:

  • They make an apology a romantic production.They sweep us away with romance and chivalry. The beast is gone and the prince or princess of our dreams has arrived. Romantic words tickle our ears and romantic gestures abound. We are bedazzled and assured that the other one who hurt you isn't real, this kind person is his or her "true" self.
  • They give great gifts. After "rough patches" or "tensions" have occurred, an amazing gift arrives. We feel touched. Who would spend such a lavish amount, if they didn't care?

2.They pull a bait and switch:
  • They apologize for nothing in particular. In the same way that readers fill in a missing word when they are reading an article, we fill in the particulars for them.
  • They apologize for the wrong thing. For example, if he bruised your arm he might say, "I'm so sorry that I was cranky earlier today."
  • The apology includes the claim that he/she has been trying really hard to change.He or she looks at us with a very earnest face. We are wired to root for the hardworking underdog, so we react. Our actual experience is that nothing has changed, but he/she insists that he/she is doing much better really and why haven't you noticed. You haven't noticed because it isn't real. But you assume he/she would be telling the truth, so you beat yourself up for not noticing the improvement and being "so particular and hard-hearted."
  • The apology is really about blaming someone else. We notice how quickly the apology turns to talking about work or other family, etc--but we discount it. We accept the half phrase of apology and try to catch up with the conversation. Or we object at the fast shift and he/she looks at us with shock and then hurt. How could we miss their sincere apologies? Don't we trust them and believe in them? The hook is set, we feel bad about doubting them or about not paying attention and we rush to reassure them.

3. They use a hook with a wicked barb:


  • They apologize in a way that makes you feel bad. After you complain about verbal abuse, she might say, "I'm sorry. I know that you're really sensitive. I'm sorry I'm always making you mad by saying the wrong thing. I should know by now that I need to be extra careful about what I say around you." The barb is set, you forget about what she did and worry about what is wrong with you that she needs to be so careful.
  • The apology is accompanied by emotional and/or physical withdrawal. The apology you are looking for after abuse is attached to the negative consequence of broken relationship for awhile. You feel an extra need for reassurance after the abuse, some sign that their is still love in this relationship and instead you get the opposite. It makes you wonder if hearing an apology for the abuse is worth it. You start wondering how you can make things better between you and them.
  • The apology is full of sarcasm and accusation. But if you confront it, their face and tone instantly change. How could you think they were sarcastic? You have no idea how deeply sorrowful they are at the mere idea of hurting you. You wonder if you are going crazy.
  • The apology is full of victim-ease. He just couldn't help himself. He is so damaged he just can't stand it. He is broken, so broken. He needs more of your love and help. He wants to do better, he really does. With your help maybe he can be a better man.

Any healthy person may be guilty of doing some of these things some of the time. But I believe that abusers turn these escapes from taking responsibility for themselves into an art form. Learning to observe your own reactions to apologies may be the fastest way to detect when the other party is up to something. Something that is not for your benefit. Consider trusting your gut more and implementing boundaries (such as "Let me think about this. Let's talk about it again tomorrow").
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19 comments:

  1. This was a GREAT post! Everyone who reads this should add apologies they've heard.

    I remember him saying, No one had been abused as much as he was, I should count myself lucky he didn't do to me what had happened to him. If he had wanted to kill me I'd be dead now.

    He also said the good in him was me. He loved me more than life.
    He also said he F'ing hated my 5 yr old.
    He said it was my fault.
    He did everything for us, he worked so hard, can I even keep milk in the house.
    We belonged to him and I was going to take what was his.

    He called my daughter a pig. He said I was worthless. He would ride motorcycle with his sons balanced on the front of the bike.

    We would pull away from him because he smelled so foul from all the beer he drank. He yell at us for not letting him love them.

    He wouldn't let anyone even sit next to me.

    Reach out and ask someone for help. You're God's child not a batterers punching bag.

    Thankfully I got out and he's behind bars, for now anyway. Everyday I and my children live in fear he may get out.

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  2. Each time he apologizes and doesn't mean it introduce him to friend tazer. These people use our humanity aginist us. I say live better electrically. The best solution is send him packing and always remember you are too good a person to settle for a rat like that.

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  3. Wow, I think you were spot on with that. What I learned is that the whole time they are working on controling you and the less they can control you the harder they work at making you out to be the bad guy, to your face and to anyone that will listen to them. After years of all this I found out that my reputation was ruined with anyone that listened to him. I was ASTOUNDED!!! They knew what type person he was, but he was so manipulative, that he was getting other intelligent people to believe I was the problem, although I was the one that was constantly being injured both physically and emotionally. Well after learning how ruined my reputation was, even with one of my own sisters, I got so angry I had him arrested three times. He ended up doing a little time in jail, getting probation, etc. I would suggest that if you are younger, please learn from those of us that have suffered. I mean having my sons father arrested was a hard thing to do, but I had finally had enough. I wished I had stopped it before it got that far.

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  4. Even though my husband is abusive verbally and emotionally towards me, I had a difficult time relating to the article, as he never apologizes. When I confront him about something he has said to me, such as, "There isn't anything that comes out of your mouth that is worth listening to," he said I took things he said "too literally." My brother passed away in September, 2008. The day we had the family conference and we learned that my brother was not going to come out of his deep coma and that we would be taking him off life support, I called my husband who was 3 hours away from the hospital. I was crying hysterically and told him that my brother was going to die. My husband's response was "you knew he was going to die!" I believed that he was going to make a full recovery as family had been told that individuals who were in worse shape had made a full recovery. He then continued in his mean, callous way and said" So what do you what me to do?" I asked him to drive to the city as I was in no condition to drive home. He meanly said "I'm not going to drive to the city, we have dogs that need looking after." I ended up checking myself into a hotel brokenhearted because we would be taking my brother off life support and because of the mean, callous way my husband had treated me. He withholds affection from me and it's been that way for many years. The only time he ever tells me he loves me is when he's away. Believe it or not, I have a university education and have a profession.

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  5. I also forgot to mention that my husband tells me that the only way I'll leave him is the OJ way. When I have told him I want to leave, he has told me that I can leave when he tells me that I can leave.

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    1. He is a Sociopath, you should get out. I got my sociopath husband to tell me to leave by not feeding into his ego. Stop cooking, cleaning and sex. It wont take long for him to tell you to leave. He will try comming back to you but be strong.

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  6. i was married to an abuser,but it didnt start out that way,,I misconcieved his obsession with me as being attentive and caring,he was very romantic and seemed to do everything right but he had a terrible temper and was very insecure and so began the jealousy,,then holes in the walls right next to me when we argued ,,eventually he strangled me..in court documents he said he let go of me because as my lights were dimming I smiled and it freaked him out..I think I smiled because I was going to be free..I had to have help leaving him because he said he would kill me before I insulted him by leaving..I always thought women who allowed themselves to get in this predicament were a little less than the rest of us..then I found out how easy it is to have happen when you are a good ,forgiving person,,I have a lot more respect now knowing forst hand how it happens and how hard it is to leave when they hunt you down and your friends tell you not to come around because they are afraid for themselves..you definitely need outside help and lots of after support to leave an abuser this article is right on the money

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  7. Interesting post... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your blog. I'm sure I'd visit here more often.
    George
    from Magic Tricks.

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  8. Thank you SO MUCH for this writing. I'm an intelligent woman with a lot of therapy under her belt; in other words, I should KNOW BETTER. Yet I have consistently fell for my emotionally abusive boyfriend's antics time and time again. Each time he cycles through my life I tell myself I won't fall for the same 'ol routine again, yet each time he seems sincere, tells me he's changed, that he wasn't ready to be in a committed relationship before but he is now . . . . And each time I take him back, the abuse & abaondonment cycle ultimately repeats, and I am left broken and angry with MYSELF for being so stupid as to have believed him. So thank you for explaining this dynamic, especially now, as he is on my doorstep again, and maybe THIS time I'll be smarter.

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  9. This is great. I have been dealing with the first abusive episode from my boyfriend and after reading this am sure that it will be the last! Thand you for the strength this gave to me. I am very fragile right now and a big part of me wants to go back but I know if I do it will happen again especially since he feels he did nothing wrong! Thank you again

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  10. I'm reading this and crying so hard. I read this and realized this is exactly who I am living with right now. I've tried to calmly and rationally suggest me and my girlfriend (I'm gay - yes, this happens in EVERY kind of relationship) living apart and trying our relationship not living together, but that turns into her saying she has no where to go, she has no money (I support us) and I just get guilted into feeling that not living together just isn't an option. I don't know what to do. I can't believe I got into this situation. I am so much smarter than this and I'm angry at myself. Sorry if this comment has turned into a rant of sorts, but I'm just kinda stuck. I feel trapped. Is there any way to get out of this without police, or anyone getting hurt?? How do you tell someone like this that you are done without it escalating to extremes. I thought that, if it was her idea it would be fine. Once she said, "I should move out and get my own place." Then, when I said nothing - I didn't agree or disagree - I got screamed at because the "right answer" was for me to say I don't want her to leave. I'm not sure what to do. Everything in this article was spot on.

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  11. im reading this in 2013 i hope u all r well i was sitting here with tears rolling down my bruised face i kicked him out lastnight but he has tryd coming back i will b ringing the police if he comes back tonight. i struggle everyday to stay alive to stay intacted how can people be this way

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    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry you, or anyone else, has to endure living in this type of fear. Please be smart. Read the information at http://documenttheabuse.com and create an Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit. If you need assistance doing it, there are names listed on the site that can help you, please feel free to contact them. Keep safe and document everything.

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  12. I am so sorry for anyone being abused. It is horrible to go through the verbal assaults followed finally by the physical assaults. When you kick them to the curb for hitting you, they tell everyone you are crazy that you are abusive and that yes they hit you, but you "provoked them" (his words not mine). It becomes so confusing you don't know if you are being abused and the smarter and more manipulative they are the harder it is to stand your ground when you feel like he has everyone convinced you are a crazy liar.

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  13. I new from the beginning he liked to fight I was warned by his own friends that he would hit me, but I was already broken when it started with him he noticed me told me I was beautiful he made me feel so good at a time I felt so low and I fell for him. He started very early within weeks but it all happened so fast checking my phone, my Facebook, questioning me. He would drink start calling me names telling me awful things about my body things a guy should never say to a woman. Then he started shoving me, slamming my head into the wall, slapping me so hard I would see flashes of white. Isolating me everyone I talked to was trash or nasty no matter who it was. I was a whore, I was ugly, no one would take care of me and my children they would just use me for sex then throw me away. So jealous of everyone I mean everyone my own kids he would say "I wish I got love and kisses like that" they couldn't sit next to me without him saying something. I walk on egg shells he screams at me he's so much bigger and stronger and I want to let it go but he cries and he seems so sweet it's so sad because I know it won't change but I still crave his apology because he's says the sweetest things. It has to stop though I have to stop it won't change he is not changing for me just like he didn't for her. It's so hard to not answer the phone or to not miss them. Then for a second I think straight ok since he has been gone I don't worry if his clothes are ready or his towel is in the bathroom. The things that he does are not of someone that truly loves you. I am depressed I don't like to go out or to even dress in jeans because I feel so low. I am telling you this because it's not worth it no matter how light you walk on those egg shells they will continue to break and it only gets worse. Think of all the things he does that hurt you all the things that make your stomach go in knots and realize when he's gone all that is gone and when you start to miss him remember why you left I promise the bad out weighs the good .

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  14. I knew it was bad but I would try to convince myself it wasn't and he would always say to me " I didn't hit you, I slapped you if I hit you you wouldn't have a face" I didn't know there was a difference I just have to be strong for my kids because unlike most men when you let them come back it's the honey moon faze not with him as soon as he puts his foot in the door he starts going off how things have gotten out of control since he's been gone and he's back so stuffs gonna change. Then right then I know I made a mistake and it starts all over again

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  15. Sorry I keep putting more but I just feel the need to add. With him I have realized he's everything I'm not. As in I love being around my family I would do anything for them. I have a big heart, I have respect for my elders, for my mother. He is none of that just selfish and so disrespectful to everyone, cold hearted and mean. I never thought this would be me and it was or is I'm trying to be strong I'm trying to think of my kids but he has gotten in my head and he knows just what to say. Being in this relationship has been the most miserable, dark, and lost feelings I have ever felt. You would think one would say that's it but for some reason they draw you into them and it's not that easy it makes you feel maybe he's right maybe I do like this maybe it is my fault hmmmm those feelings are so hard to swallow but I have to realize the last ones weren't like this so no it's not my fault it's his. He's the one with problems don't blame yourself get out get enough of the being alone in a dark place get tired of being scared and being called names or wondering if he will hit you this time have strength and know your beautiful!!!!

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  16. He said that he didnt mean it! and this was the first time he said that. what should i do?

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  17. Thing is, my husband IS a good person underneath. With a big heart. He has never hit me but can be incredibly nasty, mocking, bullying and sarcastic. It has really taken its toll. He says he can't do counselling because he is worried that it might get worse or he will break down. He is a full time teacher. The apologies drive me mad. He means it at the time but I start to think it is my fault. He will say he is sorry for being 'grumpy'. I know that is minimalising it. I have an 8 year old in counselling and an 11 month baby. Both my parents are dead, I live in Germany and have no friends here, my brother is in Canada. I keep thinking I'm overreacting. I don't k now what to do. He is the only breadwinner.

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