Rationalizing Away Wrongdoings

Rationalizing as a Manipulation Tactic

Rationalizing for wrongful behavior is nothing new. But some folks rationalize more than others. In fact, some have raised excuse-making to nearly an art form.

Professionals long viewed rationalization as an unconscious defense mechanism. We thought folks did it because they felt horrible. They wanted to assuage a mound of guilt. so, they had to talk themselves into believing something they did wasn’t so bad. Moreover, we thought they did all this unconsciously – without really realizing it. But making excuses to justify oneself and to disarm one’s accuser is something different. That kind of rationalizing is a manipulation tactic, pure and simple.

Rationalization as a tactic has a simple strategy. Get someone to buy into your seemingly reasonable “explanations,” and your behavior takes on a whole different light. Your intentions look less sinister. And you don’t look so bad in character. Wow!  Do bad things, and look not so bad doing them!  That’s quite a feat.  No wonder rationalizing is such a popular and effective tactic.

Accepting No Excuses and Judging Behavior on its Own Merits

Conscientious folks try hard to understand. And, because they’ve been conditioned to do so, they concern themselves too much with intentions. But when it comes to harmful behavior, the reasons for it are fairly irrelevant. And when someone makes an excuse for it, you know they aren’t serious about ever correcting it. So, there’s a simple way to deal with someone’s excuses: don’t accept them.

Accepting no excuses is a powerful empowerment tool. So is judging actions, not intentions. (See: pp. 145-148 in In Sheep’s Clothing.) Besides, only when someone accepts the wrongfulness of their actions, regardless of their intentions, can they possibly find the motivation to change their ways. If you buy into someone’s excuses, you only enable their character dysfunction.

I’ve written before on the power of judging behavior on its own merits. (See the series on Judging Character.) And it’s important to remember that past behavior is the single best predictor of future behavior. For a person to truly learn from their mistakes, they must first accept them as such. That means honestly reckoning with one’s wrongdoing. Rationalizing gets in the way of that. It obstructs proper course-correction. And it keeps a person’s already underdeveloped conscience from maturing. That’s why in Character Disturbance I describe rationalization as not only a manipulation tactic but also a responsibility-avoidance behavior.

Growing in Character

People grow in character when they stop making excuses. What we do matters. How we treat others matters. Respecting that and doing our best to do the right thing builds integrity of character. In fact, you can define character deficiency as the absence of the desire to do this. Disturbed characters are the penultimate excuse makers. They always have a “reason” for every harmful thing they do. And the reason is always irrelevant in the face of the injury their behavior may inflict. So, until a person reckons with their behavior and its impact, they’ll neither change nor grow.

Now, caring about and reckoning with the impact of one’s behavior requires empathy. And as you know, many character-impaired individuals are empathy-deficient. But you can’t grow in empathy capacity unless you faithfully reckon with the consequences of your actions. And to do that, you first have to stop making excuses.

We’ll talk about a couple of the other common manipulation tactics and how to respond to them next week.

Character Matters

Character Matters should air live April 8, 2018. So, I can take your phone calls. Tune it at 7 pm Eastern (4 pm Pacific) and join the conversation!


The first of the 2018 workshop schedule has been posted on the Seminars page.

As always, thanks sincerely for recommending my books and this blog to others.



23 thoughts on “Rationalizing Away Wrongdoings

  1. It would be helpful to balance out warnings like this, so that those of us who both value intentions and have a reason for everything we do, don’t suddenly feel wrong or get attacked for it. Because intentions really do matter, but real intentions, not made up ones. The key here is, “If harm has been done,” then assess and be wary of those who make a habit of excusing wrong-doing, whether their own or that of others. But the simpler reality is this: If harm has been done and the one having caused the harm refuses to acknowledge said harm or refuses to meaningfully apologize or refuses to never do it again, then there’s a potential problem on hand worth keeping an eye on. This well-intentioned, highly conscientious person will always be the first to admit when I have err’d and make a serious effort to not repeat the error, and that is what is lacking from manipulators of all sorts. Intention does matter.

    1. PS. Love your work – and I hope I didn’t sound like I was complaining. I’ve just had too much experience being falsely accused, and I believe it is because we must teach people to look for the nuances in both behavioral directions.

      1. PM,
        In my experience with being falsely accused, I’ve found several “reasons” for the accuser to treat me this way. The main one is to deflect their bad character and try to put bad behavior on me. Scapegoating I believe is the term.
        Another tactic that has been done to me, is simply to get out of accepting they did anything wrong. I’ve recently been accused of being “too private” so that’s why this person doesn’t talk to me via social media. They only contact on my phone text. The real reason this person does this to me, is she is currently trying to gaslight me with other relatives. She was attempting to use me by pretending we were getting closer. When I asked her if we could talk about her recent inconsistent remarks to me and about me, she immediately stopped speaking to me claiming she loves me and will never stop loving me?
        I’ve been falsely accused by so many different people but their behavior in one regard never seems to change…as soon as you ever so gently confront, they seem to vanish from your life.
        It’s sad in my opinion, I wouldn’t try to build relationships just to end up confronting others to hurt them. I do it because I really do love them.

        1. Lydia
          You’re ferreting out those who don’t deserve your friendship, because you’re friendship is truth-based, while theirs isn’t. People like this are energy zappers, not worthy of your time and energy.

          1. Lucy,

            You are so right. It seems very hard to find folks who really want an honest friendship these days. I asked a former friend of mine “how come I don’t have any friends, if I’m right and so helpful with others problems?” She told me, because you talk about truth and live out the truth. I said so then why don’t you really want to be friends? She said well, living that way is hard. I said well, it’s not like I’m demanding you do anything you don’t want to so… She replied, I guess I don’t always want to even see or hear you tell the truth!!!
            Our “friendship” is literally almost non-existent these days. Go figure.

        2. It is often difficult for me to communicate with the right words, so please allow me to add: The people who taught me the most about false accusations are my life-long manipulators. My story is unimportant, but suffice to say mine is not a one-time experience or romantic. The manipulator is the first to falsely accuse because that is how they project their own values. If they were saying or doing what they saw you say or do, they know they would be lying, manipulating, etc., so they assume we are doing it, too. No one accuses another better than a master manipulator, which is how I learned to be incredibly cautious and armed with real evidence before I would ever accuse, and even then, I would hand it over to someone in authority vs doing it myself. Now, back to the point of Dr. Simon’s article: Rationalization and intentions. Manipulators are masters at accusing others of rationalizing, because that is exactly how they would do it. And, they seem to have convinced themselves that their way is the right way. I suspect if we had the ability to discern where our messages came from that intentions don’t matter and that real reasons are really just excuses, we would find that those messages came from manipulators, originally. Nothing is more successful to a true manipulator than convincing a good person that their good intentions don’t matter, that their real reasons are simply excuses unworthy of vocalizing. This is how they gain power and control over others, because we believe them in the beginning, likely because they were authorities we believed we had no choice but to respect, like parents and teachers. Yet, I saw through it, even as I was forced to live it. Call these manipulators extremely covert and extremely blind at the same time, if you will. I sincerely doubt those of this type are even aware of the lies they live with within themselves, and would never, could never admit them. Their insecurities and cowardice are too great. They must continue living in the poisoned castle of their mind. And this is why No Contact was born.

          1. PM,

            You write well, and few paragraphs could have provided better grouping of similar ideas.

            I have added my comments to some extracts from your post. It is mostly rehash of what you’ll find in other blogs on this website…

            “The manipulator is the first to falsely accuse because that is how they project their own values.”
            Most of the time it is simply because, an accusation is all that is needed to throw a simpleton conscientious person to look inward toward his own minor defects with a magnifying glass, instead of looking outward at the big glaring faults of manipulator. Accusation is simply a tactic to change the focus to wrong place. It is like a magic trick where magician diverts the attention of audience toward some extraneous details like a beautiful assistant instead of letting audience focus hard on the real “magic” trick that magician is about to pull off.

            “I learned to be incredibly cautious and armed with real evidence before I would ever accuse, and even then, I would hand it over to someone in authority vs doing it myself.”
            That approach is energy draining. A better approach is to find what you really want from a relationship and simply stick to that. It is much easier to simply set boundaries and maintain them. This is also constructive approach which just may make relationship better in long-term. I wish I had protected my boundaries and pinned few people to their wrong behaviour instead of keeping quiet for one reason or another.

            “I sincerely doubt those of this type are even aware of the lies they live with within themselves, and would never, could never admit them.”
            Most of the time this type is very aware. Few will fall under category “their insecurities and cowardice are too great”, or “among birds a narcissist is actually a chicken who pretends to be soaring eagle to compensate for his fear of flying”. Such explanation is what nice folks like us apply to that type… a sort of force fitting them into our idea of a average human with some defects. But, quite often that type thinks they are super-human and their thought process may just qualify them for aliens among humans.
            As Dr. Simon says “it is not that they are aware, it is simply that they do not care”.

          2. Correction…
            it is not that they not are aware, it is simply that they do not care.

          3. And typo… 🙂
            it is not that they are not aware, it is simply that they do not care.

          4. Very well stated.
            I have found, in my particular case, the manipulator was not what we would term a “coward”, but a person who just wanted his end result. That’s why he would lie, to get his result, whether it be keeping his secret or otherwise. He may have been a coward unto himself, though, to have to really dig deep and look at what he’d become, to admit what he was to himself rather than masking feelings in alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, gambling, and living a double life. He will carry that to his deathbed, I’m sure, with no apologies to those he harmed. His false perception of how others would perceive him was more important than his actual actions, who his actual core person. He was all about perceptions.

      1. PM, ,AndyD, Lucy,

        Excellent comments. I do believe the manipulator knows exactly what they are doing. They are like the marionetists and we the marionettes on the strings they attach to us in a subtle way. For many the strings are blatantly placed due to lack of boundaries.

        For others who have boundaries in the hands of a sly and resourceful manipulator the strings are attached in such an insidious way the trusting person hasn’t a clue they are in fact now a puppet of another.

        From my personal experience these CDManipulators no matter where on the continuum, know what they are doing until we enter the realm of psychosis.

        Puppet masters are in themselves unique in that as they live they create reality, amidst another reality. One can become even more confused when the are living several realities all created by the puppeteer for their personal satisfaction. This is all done cunningly with sole purpose to Control.

        I have attached a link for one of Dr. Simons articles on this topic. PM, I would encourage you, like AndyD suggested to read all the Articles on the blog Dr. Simon wrote on this topic. The articles are numerous and each article builds on the next.

        I would like say, many excellent thoughts and insights have been presented. PM, I hope you keep posting and welcome you to the blog.
        Thank you


  2. Rationalizing is described as defence mechanism in Wikipedia and other sites, really never thought it is a defence action. A part of communication, but any word, like “sorry”, “thank you” ” see you later”, can become a sarcastic or an often tool applying to the emotions in a manipulative mind. Those who think and see will notice difference, As always, if you smell a wolf, be careful and have your lines ready not to be crossed with innocent “sorry”.

    1. One of the definitions of sorry, is “pitiable,” or pathetic, etc.

      A simple, “I apologize” is not self depreciating, and less likely to be seen as sarcastic.

      Depends on the narc. Some things like tone and body language that indicate sincerity, can not be faked, not for long.

      Say it once, or it means nothing.

      1. JC,
        This is so true! Repeatedly hearing “I’m Sorry” is really just more manipulating. I have a couple of people I am working with to stop behaving this way and stop hurting themselves as well as others.
        In their case, I’m hearing less apologies as they are doing the “homework” of self-examination. They are truly changing! It has taken the past 3 yrs now for both of them to see how badly they need to change. I thank God though that they are! It took a lot of pain for them to want to change.
        They both are readily also admitting “that’s what I did” “that’s how I was” “I don’t ever want to be that way again”. I hold them both accountable, even on days when they seem happy and I know they will have to face some depressing news about themselves.
        I do agree that disturbed characters are often cowards as well as bullies. They do their bad behavior simply to get whatever result they’re trying to attain. The reason why I call them cowards is they will often start a fight by their words or actions and then runaway so it can’t be addressed.
        They are often bullies in that regard as well. In my opinion.

  3. When it involves a narcissistic person, their behavior that disregards others needs is just their warped way of thinking, and one doesn’t need excuses for something one doesn’t want to change. They know wrong and right but just don’t care. Its up to the person who is not the CD to identify the behavior.

    1. Kat,

      I was just watching parts of ALice in Wonderland. All those strange innuendos and such, I thought I saw the sock puppet. Its been awhile….Ah the games they play in the rabbit hole.

      1. Kat,

        I apologize for not finishing the above post. I was watching some drama being played out in regards to my friend in the hospital. They reminded me of how bizarre the characters in Alice in Wonderland were.

        I want to thank you for your prayers for my friend. His whole left side is paralyzed and the atrophy of being in the hospital for 6 weeks is taking its toll. He is fully aware of everything going on around him and is only able to write a few letters. He is 63, I am not sure what the odds of recovery are for him.

        It has been over 6 weeks with no food and no water, he begs for water. One of two words, the other word being pain. He is able to communicate with primitive printing. Its so sad to think how selfish others can be when life is so precious and it can be lost in the blink of ones eyes. He is one of the kindest men I ever met.

        He wants me to take care of him instead of the nurses or his sisters who are in control… Yup, that special word “Control.” I am just so tired, I have cared for so many already in my life. I do understand the dilemma of having to depend on the authoritarian that has little or no capacity to feel compassion.

        I thought of you driving home tonight. I have immense respect for you for having cared for your X. You rose above where others would had turned their backs on the CDN, truly, this is what humanity is about… This world is a better place because of people like you.

        1. BTOV, that’s so hard to see and such a hard decision. Your own health may suffer and then you couldn’t care for him. I know someone who really messed up her back from providing care and trying to lift the person, and granted she is pretty overweight, but she can barely get up and down out of a chair now, can’t bend over to pick up anything, etc. I’m sure you have been praying about direction. He is getting the care he needs right now I am assuming and as long as you come to be with him they know he has someone watching out for him. Life is so fragile, everyday we can care for ourselves is something to be thankful for. I know how I would feel, probably guilty if I didn’t and overwhelmed if I did, not helpful I’m sure but neither of those emotions is the place one wants to exist in. I will pray for clear direction and grace to go thru it. Glad to hear you are in a church family, it really helps in these times.

        2. BTOV
          What? NO food or water? He’s being fed by tube? The poor man. And it’s scary, because this could happen to any of us. Becoming dependent on someone who you know won’t take proper care would be scary. But that doesn’t mean you give up your life to care for someone. It’s tough on everyone.

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