I’ve been posting on the importance of making amends when something is said or done that damages a relationship and how folks with significant character dysfunction tend to deal with this task (See: The Importance of Making Amends and Disturbed Characters and Making Amends). Today’s article features a vignette that I hope will illustrate how some disturbed characters manipulate their relationship partners into enduring more than they rightfully should by appearing willing to repair damage without sincerely making an effort to change (as always, key facts, names, places, etc. have been distorted to preserve anonymity).
“Jan” had been urging her husband “Blake” to get some counseling for quite some time. She had come to appreciate what therapy had done for her and had hope that it would help Blake gain some self-awareness, too. Things had been rocky in their relationship for quite some time but came to a head when Jan learned Blake had been “texting” a woman at work on a fairly regular basis and with language that suggested he was looking for something other than an appropriate involvement with her. Blake appeared contrite and uncharacteristically even apologized. And he insisted that “nothing actually happened,” so there was no need for any real concern. He also had what appeared to be a perfectly good explanation (i.e. rationalization) for his “mistake” having felt emotionally neglected for some time. He made it clear he was not blaming her (actually, he was) for his indiscretion, but wanted her to understand he wasn’t just a bad guy but rather a guy who, in a time of hurt and weakness, “messed up.” Still, Jan wanted him to get some counseling because her gut had been telling her for a long time that there was something not right about the way he tended to view and relate to women, and despite the fact that early on in their relationship he treated her somewhat like a princess, things had really changed over the few short years of their marriage and the things she’d always noticed were increasingly showing up in how he treated her. And she made clear her willingness to participate in joint counseling when the time came, to work on any issues they needed to work out between each other.
Jan was elated when Blake made an appointment with a therapist. And she was even happier when he started doing things he hadn’t done for a long time like being more attentive to her, buying her flowers, and taking her out to dinner. He seemed to be wanting to make up for any hurt he’d caused and get their relationship back on track. And he must have said he was sorry a hundred times. So when she learned that he’d stopped seeing the counselor after only 2 visits, she didn’t want to jump the gun or push the counseling issue because things were generally so much better. She even began to wonder whether her gut instincts were valid. Perhaps she’d totally misjudged him and how badly he really needed professional guidance. And even when he started sliding back into some of the same old ways, she was hesitant to sound the alarm because some things were still a lot better than they were before.
Jan couldn’t really say that she was totally “blindsided” several months later when she learned of not one but two affairs that Blake was having. In her heart, she knew something was still not quite right but there was all this evidence that he meant to do better, so she doubted herself. Still, it was pretty devastating to have her worst fears confirmed. Later, upon reflection, she knew the red flags were there. After all, it’s one thing to make all those apologies, say all those nice things, and do all those ostensibly nice things he’d done, and quite another to accept the need for and then follow through on getting the guidance he’d promised to get. Therapy is about taking an honest and serious look at oneself. She knew that all-too-well. And looking back, she could see that change, was not really what Blake had in mind. He really wasn’t out to make amends, only to appease. And in the process, he only helped prolong her ordeal. His insincerity only became clear after even more damage was done.
When I was doing my clinical research for In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, I made a mental count of the number of times I’d hear someone say they weren’t blaming anyone other than themselves for problems while simultaneously doing nothing but casting blame, and the number of times they would appear contrite and acknowledge a “mistake” (which in itself is often the tactic of “minimization” at work) without accepting the greater responsibility of an honest self-reckoning. Of course, I lost count early on. Talk, as they say, is pretty “cheap.” And most of the time, fancy gestures are equally devoid of substance. When a person really intends to make amends, they not only willing to repair damage already done but also to take action to help ensure they won’t inflict the same damage again. As is the case in all of nature, really mending a wound is more than merely applying a bandage, fancy dressing or offering comforting words and much more a matter of recognizing what caused the trauma in the first place, rallying all the resources possible to restore a healthy balance, avoiding actions that might impede healing (i.e. “pouring salt on the wound”) and taking affirmative action to prevent re-injury.
This week’s Character Matters program will again be a live broadcast, so calls can be taken. It will also be an open forum program.