Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition

This is the second post in a series of articles on psychological terms and principles that are often misunderstood or applied inappropriately. And because the concepts of shame, guilt, regret, remorse, and contrition have been the subject of great debate within the professional community of late and also because they have such importance to matters of character, even though these terms are not strictly psychological in nature, and even though I’ve written some on the topics before, I thought a renewed discussion of the topics to be not only timely but also of great potential benefit to the discussion to come.

Regret is the unpleasant emotional response (generally, sadness or unhappiness) we have to an external event or circumstance.  It comes from a French word meaning to “complain” or “lament.”  You can have regret about not being able to attend an event because of a prior commitment. You can also regret an unfortunate happenstance, a bad stroke of luck, or disappointing turn of events.  You can even have regret for a situation that arises purely as a consequence of your own behavior.  But in any case, the regret response is a purely “amoral” one.  That is, feelings of regret have nothing to do with the perceived moral rightness or wrongness of anything.  Rather, regret is only about the displeasure you feel about the circumstance itself and the negative impact it may have on you.

Remorse is very different from regret.  Remorse is the experience of deep anguish over something you’ve done that has created a bad circumstance or caused injury to others (whether that injury was intended or unintended).  The word comes from a Latin word meaning “to bite with more force,” and refers the gnawing feeling or gnashing of teeth a person of conscience who knows they have done wrong might experience.  It’s a moral response to a moral failure and as such, it arises out of a sense of guilt.

By definition, character-impaired folks have deficient or sometimes even absent consciences (I go into this in detail in Character Disturbance).  So, genuine remorse is usually not in their vocabulary when they do things that hurt others.  They might well have some regret for the practical consequences of their actions, but that’s not at all the same as being remorseful.  And, because they are predisposed to use their typical ways of coping (e.g., denying, lying, “justifying,”blaming, etc.) to deal with situational stressors, while they might experience momentary regret over an adverse consequence of their behavior, they usually only dig in their heels and become more determined than ever to have their way, primarily because they lack remorse.  That’s precisely why they don’t seem to learn from experience. They actually do learn, and learn plenty. They just don’t learn the lessons we’d like them to learn.  It’s because of their lack of remorse that they don’t re-assess their general approach to things and seriously consider modifying their style (I have a lot more to say about this both in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance).

Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done, whereas shame is feeling bad about who you are. The popular wisdom for some time has been that guilt is both essential and often helpful to moral functioning but shame is to be avoided because it’s counterproductive at best or outright toxic at worst. Some folks have extended the meaning of shame to include feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, or disgrace. But shame is not synonymous with any of these things (Words have to have meanings and it’s important to distinguish terms). And only recently have some researchers bucked the long popular trend by presenting evidence that some shame can indeed be good. When we appraise ourself as lacking in some way, especially with respect to the integrity and solidity of our character, it can be an occasion for us to renew a commitment not just to do better, but to be better.  And as I have written about often (see, for example: Neurotic or Character Disorder? – Criterion 4: Shame) while I have known thousands of “repeat offenders” over the years who felt badly each and every time they misbehaved, I’ve never known anyone who really turned their lives around just because they felt guilty (The great psychologists Jung and Adler are famous for regarding most guilt as a rather cheap substitute for legitimate suffering [i.e. the much harder work of real change]). Regret and remorse weren’t enough to make them change either. Rather, it was only when they could no longer live with themselves and the kind of person they’d allowed themselves to become that things finally turned around.  Shame saved them where guilt, regret, and remorse all failed. It prompted them to undertake the arduous task of forging a better character.  The groundbreaking research of Samenow and Yochelson on the criminal mind pointed out that one of the major cognitive distortions or thinking errors that kept recidivist criminals on the antisocial path was believing themselves to be “still a good person” despite continually and unhesitatingly violating the major rules and trampling the rights of others. And while they might be momentarily embarrassed at being found out, these “career criminals,” like the corrupt politicians, serial cheats, die hard swindlers and various other recalcitrant disturbed characters out there, can be best described the same way: shameless.  For more on the topics of shame and guilt see: Neurotic vs. Character Disorder? Criterion Three – Guilt and Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?

Contrition is a poorly understood concept despite how essential it is to repairing damage in relationships.  I’ve written about it a few times before (see, for example: Contrition Revisited).  The term comes from a Latin word meaning “crushed.”  The contrite person feels crushed in spirit – crushed under the weight of their own moral deficiency. And the contrite person recognizes and accepts the work it might take to rebuild a sense of self they can live with.  You know contrition is genuine by the actions a person takes.  The contrite individual 1) doesn’t make excuses, minimize, justify, or try to save face but humbly acknowledges their failures and shortcomings and sincerely strives to make amends, and 2) makes genuine and sustained efforts to not only to do better in the future but also to be a better person. Contrition is much more than saying you’re sorry or appearing sorrowful. It’s proving through your actions that you really are sorry and working hard not to find yourself feeling sorry for the exact same failure in the future.

I can’t count the number of times therapy has failed to be effective or gone awry in some way because a therapist misinterpreted regret for remorse, equated embarrassment with shame, or presumed contrition to be present just because a person showed some signs of unhappiness (You’ll find an excellent example of this both in Character Disturbance and in the article: Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing: Do They Really Have No Shame?). You always have to look for the clear signs (I’ll have more to say on the meaning of this term in an upcoming post) that someone is not only genuinely sorry for what they’ve done but also sorry in a way that can prompt them to make changes in the future.  It’s all to easy to say you’re sorry and that you “take responsibility” for your actions but all too difficult to actually accept the need for change and then to display how seriously you’ve taken responsibility by working like the dickens to make necessary changes. All too often I’ve heard disturbed characters claim that they have taken responsibility for their actions yet provided no behavioral evidence of a sincere desire to make amends or change their ways (scenarios illustrating this can be found in both Character Disturbance and The Judas Syndrome).

Perhaps the readers have some examples of their own or other experiences to share.  And, as always, the discussion will continue on Character Matters Sunday evening at 7 pm Eastern on UCY.TV.

124 thoughts on “Shame, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, and Contrition

  1. I think this topic is the most enlightening when it comes to identifying a character disturbed individual, and understanding – at least as much as is humanly possible – the mind of one.

    There are so many of these individuals out there, and so many unsuspecting victims banging their head against the wall trying to figure out what’s wrong with this person and how to “fix them”.

    It so succinctly explains how vulnerable all people (not just the neurotic ones) are to their manipulations, and why they stay and stay and stay in horrendous relationships with them.

    I remember when the light bulb went off in my head, and I ‘got it’. It was so shocking to realize that people like this actually existed. I likened it to seeing pigs fly. Nobody was going to believe it….it isn’t possible for a human being to even conceive of it. The world at large is in danger, and they don’t realize it.

    Thanks Dr. Simon….you always so eloquently describe my experience.

    1. And as well as to the good DrSimon, thanks to you Einstein…..for articulating my thoughts on the matter almost identically. I would try and try and try again…..then try one more time, thinking that in each instance the fault probably lay with me in not getting my point across in quite the right way, which is why my efforts in seeking change from Mrs Danny, or greater consideration, or more understanding or at least some positive feedback or recognition of my feelings…….was NEVER reciprocated. Until I finally realised she knew what she was doing to me but actually each time never felt any remorse or contrition (any change of action on her part only happened by way of personal discomfort as a result of imposition by me). Those feelings were and are still, so far as I can tell, totally alien to her. It took me a long time to realise. And in so finally doing I no longer chase those feelings. In fact I no longer allow her to manufacture the conflict situation in which she can cause the harm to me, only to walk away with not a care in the world through her lack of conscience. She now knows that I now know……that she hasn’t a care in the world for the feelings of others. For me it’s liberating – for her it’s a constant source of utter frustration because I no longer bite. She’s lost her power. She’s lost her control. And she knows it.

        1. Hi Puddle. Yes, situations are far better than they once were. I now have more control over who I am and the decisions I make. Not out of the woods quite yet, mostly because the manipulative other takes an age to actually realise her techniques are no longer working (remembering they’ve been highly successful throughout her life so far)… will perpetually and determinedly repeat them, which ultimately leads to increased levels of frustration on her part, which can spill over a bit. However that is a far improved situation over how it was previously. Keep smiling 🙂

          1. Great Danny……..I just think it is so sad that it can’t be worked out/ through on her end because ultimately,,,,it doesn’t serve her in any human, normal way to be the way she is. And I always think….how much MORE someone could have if they were not this way. Like your love and devotion?? A REAL and lasting relationship? It’s just so bizarre that someone would choose to remain this way.

          2. Yes, you are spot on. It was this that accurately summed up my situation……”So, genuine remorse is usually not in their vocabulary when they do things that hurt others. They might well have some regret for the practical consequences of their actions, but that’s not at all the same as being remorseful. And, because they are predisposed to use their typical ways of coping (e.g., denying, lying, “justifying,”blaming, etc.) to deal with situational stressors, while they might experience momentary regret over an adverse consequence of their behavior, they usually only dig in their heels and become more determined than ever to have their way, primarily because they lack remorse.” She never expresses genuine remorse. She will simply move on….leaving the broken shards of glass strewed across the floor….for others to clean up. She’s not bothered, it’s not her job and, btw, it was probably your fault for leaving the glass there in the first place. Once I realised I would NEVER get it, as I said earlier, it was quite liberating. The practical bit was in never ever leaving myself open to having the glass shattered around me. Communication and dialogue changes, no more endless explanations, don’t react to attempts at imparting fear and intimidation, ignore the fury and rage or the silent treatment, call the attempts at gaslighting….etc etc. She simply doesn’t know what to do with herself any longer. In a way, and though I get no personal satisfaction at all in saying this, it is compelling viewing.

          3. Your a good man Danny……….from what I can tell and feel from your words. Really. Your kids are fortunate to have you as a father and your “manipulative other” (GOOD one!), well…..I’d say she is fortunate too but it sounds to me like the situation is casting pearls before swine 🙁 I hope you can find satisfaction in your efforts in good faith Danny and that something wonderful comes into your life in the future.
            Shaking my head……..if her methods are not working…………HELLO?? If I was building a fire with rocks and the damn thing never caught fire, I might realize that the rocks are not going to keep me warm!

          4. ” It’s just so bizarre that someone would choose to remain this way.”

            Puddle, my view is that in such a person’s value system (i.e. getting their needs and wants met) they see their own behavior as advantageous. I think by and large such people are rational. They have a different value system that is not based on respecting others or adherence to prevailing standards of morality. Those are not important to them. Other things are.

          5. Yes, the rights of others do not merit consideration. Not nearly as important as compared to the rights of themselves……who are far more superior, far more worthy. There is an accompanying level of grandiosity that stands side by side with their single minded pursuit of [always] getting their own way…..I have found.

          6. I think there is a huge difference between getting one’s “needs met” and getting one’s “wants met”.

        2. Hi.

          I’m kind of struggling here… I need perspective.

          I relate to seeing some of this in my relationship, which I also desperately don’t want to see.
          I want to get perspective on what I am seeing, as I wish to avoid making narrow judgements if I can, and I can’t do it on my own right now.

          On top of it my partner believes that I am the person that this article talks about…. =\

          I don’t wish to invalidate her, I care about what she is experiencing….

          However, I just can’t shake what I’m feeling…
          I feel like I’m in crazy town… She does too .. So I can’t tell what is real. I just want someone else to help me see what I’m seeing.

          I feel scared to ask for validation from her, because there’s always an explanation that supports some argument.

          Anyways without getting to long winded …
          That’s a piece of it.

          1. Stephanie,

            Most of us are posting on the Topic Mastering Appetites and Desires. You are welcomed to join us there. I am sure with a little more information many of the regular posters would comment on the situation you are trying to describe.

          2. Stephenie,
            Trust your gut feeling. If your gut tells you that she is messing with your head, and your head spins trying to figure things out, then trust your gut she is messing with your head.

    2. Geeez Einstein! You just described, to a tee, exactly my feelings having had this and now another experience.
      “I remember when the light bulb went off in my head, and I ‘got it’. It was so shocking to realize that people like this actually existed. I likened it to seeing pigs fly. Nobody was going to believe it….it isn’t possible for a human being to even conceive of it. The world at large is in danger, and they don’t realize it.”
      Everyone thinks you are “chicken little”, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!! But in reality you are like the little boy who dared to say the emperor is wearing no clothes.

  2. Thank you, Dr Simon. These are great and distinctive explanations and we need them, laymen AND professionals, we truly need them. So clarifying.

    Also, the right side only shows 8 comments at the time. I haven’t kept track how often each and every one comments here, so I just speak for myself here, since I tend to post my thoughts and respond to many other commenters, often in just one sitting. Comments can easily drown. Would it be possible to increase the number of comments seen to, say, 20?

    1. Thanks, J. I hope you like what’s to come as well. As far as increasing the number of comments to quickly view, I’ve reset to the maximum of 10 (the max with all else that needs to be fitted on the page) but it will take a few days before this takes effect.

  3. Dr Simon it was this very subject I was most interested in all those months ago when I stumbled on this site. I wanted to know if my ex was truly sorry, contrite and really ashamed of what he’d done as he said he was…I was still in a hope bubble at the time, I wanted to believe he was and now standing firmly in reality I read this and know at this stage he still thinks he’s a “good person”. In all the years we were married I only saw him embarrassed once and that was a trivial matter that would have been a cut to his view of himself…of all the things he did to me and others no shame at all, no real remorse (though he faked it often…rather badly though at the time I wanted to believe him) as for guilt ha…he was good at pointing out how I took on guilt of course that played in his favour for manipulation. The only regret he’s ever had is that he was found out, exposed and now no doubt he has learned a lesson and that’s probably how to avoid being found out again while still getting away with operating the way he sees fit. A cunning charming manipulator to the core.

  4. You know? I think there was an underlying belief that Spathtard had……”she had it coming to her”. I can not describe the details of why I feel this way, but i do sense that he “”claimed”” (not held) the moral high ground in this judge, jury and executioner kind of hypocritical way, the two sets of rules syndrome.
    ” The groundbreaking research of Samenow and Yochelson on the criminal mind pointed out that one of the major cognitive distortions or thinking errors that kept recidivist criminals on the antisocial path was believing themselves to be “still a good person” despite continually and unhesitatingly violating the major rules and trampling the rights of others. And while they might be momentarily embarrassed at being found out, these “career criminals,” like the corrupt politicians, serial cheats, die hard swindlers and various other recalcitrant disturbed characters out there, can be best described the same way: shameless. “

    1. Puddle, as Dr. Simon mentions in his post here, words are important. Can I ask why you refer to your ex as Spathtard, what that word means to you? I haven’t run across this before. Feel free not to answer of course.

      1. Based on the term “Spath” It’s a hybrid term of Socio/psychopath = Spath. It’s pretty common on the victim sites…..some anyhow.

          1. It’s not a real word Dots so in actuality, it really needs no explanation. Think of it just as someone’s non name, I have a host of non names for “him”. I refuse to refer to “him” in any way other than terms like Spathtard or the others that I would never use on Dr. Simon’s site. No need to over work it.

      2. Actually Dot’s you’ve hit on something I wanted to ask with regards to words or language used by psychopaths or character disturbed people such as is there a common thread in the way they use language, even mannerisms. It’s just something that has struck me through my readings that there seems so many similarities in the way they speak. Maybe it’s nothing I don’t know as I don’t really know so much about it all and still learning but I just wondered if anyone thinks so.

          1. Hi Dots I’m with Puddle in that it’s hard to describe but lately I’ve been reading Without Conscience and was struck by some of the scenarios…as in one saying “you always get what you want.” When you ask for something simple… and another “Yeah but that’s just semantics” (I wish I had a dollar for every time my ex said that, usually when I was trying to get to the bottom of something that had happened and he was being deliberately evasive). And another would be the “no one understands what I’m going through” these were always common. I know they’re just statements but I’ve read similar things in other books and sometimes it’s like it could have been a direct recording from my own life. It’s weird. I know there’s the touching thing is a big thing too. I think too what Linda says, “the I supposes”. It’s not until I read something and a bell goes off and I think yeah…that’s how he would say that too! Sorry if I don’t make sense just… Danny’s “you owe me” is another but he would say something that implied that! The false flattery lines too! I just find it uncanny!

        1. Ahh, two spring immediately to mind. I would often get thrown at me “you owe me”. Or another one was “if you really loved me you’d do anything for me”. They were her fallback bargaining tools when all other attempts to get her own way hadn’t worked.

        2. I do Tori…….but I don’t know how to describe it. The basic way would be to say that something is missing. something is “formal” and proper yet shallow and flat.

        3. A lot of “I suppose….”‘s and “Perhaps…”‘s and “Maybe…”‘s
          These were lead-ins to a bunch of gaslighting. These words were designed to sound like innocent thinking out loud, when in fact, they were a deliberate, calculated way of planting a seed in your mind. Creepy!

          1. I grew wise to the “I suppose” lines, which for a long time were also used successfully against me. They were definitely a leading statement, to put you on the defensive and then end up playing their games. I stopped responding to anything that wasn’t a question. If it were a leading statement (a question in disguise) it wouldn’t for me deserve a retort and would never yield anything positive.

        4. Tori, in retrospect I can picture Spathtard’s mannerisms and now I see, what at the time seemed odd or different, as almost mechanical. and a lot of watching me….like watching to see what I do first. But he was totally different around just me and out in public than he was when he was at mommy’s house and around just her. Like he turnned into a different person there. but it was his safety zone too, no questions asked and nothing expected of “his highness”. 🙂

          1. Yeah Puddle, when he was a home he’d be really smarmy sometimes and would watch with a smugness on his face…actually I remember just after I met him, he was sitting doing that, with his legs crossed up on a table leaning back with a smug smile…as I passed I made comment about it just in a funny way as I didn’t really know him then. (I wonder now as he had apparently watched me for some time before actually speaking to me if that’s what he was doing and it sends a shiver down my spine.) He always had that smugness his arms folded like he was the best thing since… usually after he’d managed to gain something. Of course around work mates, family he was never like that…totally different. 🙂

          2. Tori…..yep. I can relate. Smug, like he though he had me all figured out but he was dead wrong…….whatever Spathtard! I ALMOST ran into him today when I stopped to pick up some take away for lunch. His little play mate was still there but Spathtard had left. Blach…. the thought of him…….BLACH!
            {{Hugs Tori}}

          3. Hi Puddle and others I just found this on you tube a study on words psychopaths use. I found it rather interesting particularly with regards to future uses for social media which could be good to detect psychopaths…though I really would have loved to ask how they could spot one when social media and texting is made up of its own shortcut words. Anyway I thought I’d post the link for anyone who hasn’t seen it or might be interested. Also they did mentioned this interview with Paul Bernardo as one that would be interesting in listening to language and the mannerisms of psychopaths. Again I did find this one rather interesting to watch from that perspective.

  5. Hello all. I have a recent experience to contribute here. Customer came in wanting me to make a better harness for her “pet” bobcat — cat kept wriggling out of existing harness. I suggested using a wider webbing. She said no, a narrower cord would work better because if the cat pulled against it, the cord would sort of “cut” into the flesh and would therefore be more uncomfortable if pulled against. Customer was standing next to me at my worktable. Having had cats (domestic, not larger), I was trying to visualize cat anatomy (same, just slightly larger) and how I could make a harness to work, when, with NO warning and NO provocation, customer suddenly reached over and pinched and twisted the flesh on my upper arm, she grabbed right where I have a hidden sebaceous cyst, plus injuries from years ago which never properly healed, pinched and twisted hard enough to have left a bruise if I had had only a shirt sleeve on. Fortunately I was wearing a fairly thick sweater and shirt, so no bruise. I yelled OW!!, she recoiled and pulled back, said I’ll never touch you again. Now bear in mind that I’m not a little old lady, old yes, but 5’9″, close to 200 lbs, not a shrinking violet. And my natural impulse when attacked is to hit back. But I managed to control that impulse. She left. I gave that incident a lot of thought. I swear I did NOTHING to provoke her action. I decided that she would no longer have access to my sewing / design services. Looked on line for information about poor impulse control, etc. The only thing I could come up with was “intermittent explosive disorder” (think “road rage”), however, there did not seem to be any rage or anger associated here. I simply put her 3 items aside, so when she called a couple of weeks later asking whether they were done, I said no, since she had attacked me last time she was here, I would not be doing any more work for her. Dead silence from her for several seconds. Then she said I didn’t attack you. I replied very firmly, Yes, you did, and you were way out of line. And according to our state’s legal code (available on line) what you did was assault and battery. I did not report this incident because I don’t believe you did it maliciously. Nonetheless, you broke the law. More dead silence for several seconds, then she said, maybe you could put my things in a bag on your porch and I’ll stop and pick them up. So, did that, didn’t see her but she did pick up the bag, and she also left a note apologizing. Note said, “Elva, I’m very sorry. There was _absolutely no_ intent whatsoever to hurt you. I would never dream of that. I will miss you and our great chats!” signed _____.

    I’m still puzzled as to what she thought she was doing. It was an invasion of my personal space, totally NOT appropriate in a business relationship.
    And no, she will not be allowed in my shop again. If she has so little control over her impulses, who knows what else she might do?

    And so, I must remain ever vigilant as to what some misguided customer might try to do. Which is why I keep reading, studying, trying to learn signs and symptoms up front so as to avoid such incidents in future.

    If anyone has any insight here, I’d appreciate your comments. Peace and hope to all from Elva

    1. If she truly has trouble controlling impulses, she better seek help. Otherwise she keeps doing the same stupid stuff with others.

      Your comment, Elva, reminds me of some thread I read recently. I randomly surfed a site that handles so-called tropes often appearing in fiction as well as lurked some forums.

      I don’t claim that this is like the person you just mentioned, Elva. This is simply a loose association. I stumbled upon mentions of some really socially maladjusted person that made me clear my throat. It starts nearer the end of the page. Now, I don’t want to copypaste it here, just let me say this. If someone’s THAT socially clueless, then they really need someone to call it, that they’re acting like a creep.

      Enough people refusing to reinforce any such maladaptive behaviors could help such a person admit reason to change.

      Also, Elva, I DON’T claim this is true for the person you mentioned, but I also am reminded of a Jungian term for seemingly autonomous psychic entities split off from the main ego-consciousness that hijack actions of an ego and get a person to act unlike they’d will themselves to do. Such things of the unconscious are called autonomous complexes(furthermore, autonomous complexes of the personal unconscious Jung calls soul complexes as opposed to autonomous complexes of the collective unconscious, uncanny spirit complexes, which can’t and shouldn’t be integrated to ego).

      I do think that a concept of autonomous complex could have been seen as a driving reason for any time anyone says or does anything inappropriate and ill-considered.

      It’s important to let unconscious ‘flow’, I guess, and not push or split certain energies away, I guess. Could it be so as to get more control of such energies?

      1. Hello J — have been mulling over your response for a couple of days. Possibly your suggestions are apt, but I am more inclined to think that maybe hormonal imbalances (she is 50-ish), lack of important vitamins / minerals, might lead to such behavior. (I base this opinion on having studied Dr. Melvyn Werbach’s book — Nutritional Influences on Illness, lst ed., c. 1987. He includes several mental illnesses. When I recently wondered if there was a later edition, I found that yes, there is an expensive 2d ed. and it is being used as a textbook — it includes reports of clinical studies published in reputable medical journals. Some of the sources you cite were published before the knowledge of the importance of vitamin / mineral balances was available; therefore I think that some of their theories were “fuzzy” — they were doing the best they could do with the knowledge available at that time.

        She did mention, when we were first discussing the harness, that the bobcat had bitten her hand — “hard” — so that she needed medical attention and had to wear a bandage on the hand for several weeks. While there are some behavioral differences between different sizes of cat, overall tendencies are remarkably similar. If I do something to annoy a domestic cat, I will be bitten — not enough to break the skin, just enough pressure to get my attention to “don’t do that.” If she treated her bobcat (pinched and twisted enough to hurt) and hurt the cat, of COURSE the cat would bite in self defense.

        When she and I talked on the phone, I was very definite that yes, she had physically attacked me and had legally committed assault and battery. When that sank in and she asked that her items be bagged and set out on the porch, I think that possibly she was beginning to realize that she had screwed up badly, and she was perhaps embarrassed or ashamed to face me. And, since I had, on her earlier visits, described to her several previous customers who behaved badly and were therefore dumped (“fired”), she knew she was NOT going to be allowed back onto my customer list.

        Yes, I agree that she needs help. I’m very limited in that regard. I’m not a trained therapist, I’m “just” a seamstress, so the best I could do in this case was to put a printout in her bag of stuff. Printout was of an article that said there was frequently a chemical marker in the blood of those who have intermittent explosive disorder. Perhaps she will take that as a clue that she needs to work on better control of her behavior. What made this incident so puzzling was that she had been my occasional customer for at least 3 years and I had never gotten any hint of mental disorder or illness before.

        I do appreciate your input — always good to have other viewpoints to ponder. So thank you, peace and hope from Elva

  6. The signs – I look for some sort of pause to see if the person really internalized regret or remorse, or if they’re just giving lip service.

    1. Hello Claire — yes, sometimes there are verbal signals, and if possible, I try to observe body language. I have several books on this; I think the best one is Joe Navarro’s book titled “What every body is saying.” c. 2008, LOTS of pictures to demonstrate exactly what he is telling you. Thank you, and peace and hope from Elva

    2. enlightening article. Certain people do not even know what remorse/ guilt means. This is bc they love themselves and put their needs first

  7. I felt a little insane once the pressure of no longer having to conform or head off was gone. I felt like I was in the twilight zone and I was sometimes overwhelmed at the revenge tactics that I was facing. I started putting my experiences into search engines and came across this site as well as several others where I began understanding what I had experienced which helped me to put things into a perspective that made sense, that felt real and not…. twilight zonish. The hours I have spent educating myself have helped me considerably even though circumstances have not necessarily changed.
    That being said I believe that once you have been exposed to these individuals and educate yourself you begin to recognize the subtleties in behavior that at one time when we were innocent, we would have looked at innocently, because no one is perfect after all. Now I recognize the behavior for what it is (by the way this has helped me with my children as well as it keeps my from being drawn in to what really isn’t)I do not try to find an excuse for why or a reason for why. I used to, because I wanted it to make sense to me. I needed to create solid footing, I was living with quicksand under my feet. I had stepped into it because I did not know how to recognize it and its good at disguising itself as something solid.

  8. 1. As Dr. Simon points out, in the end it comes down to shame. I was surprised to find a lengthy and rather rambling wikipedia article on shame. It turns out to be a vast and complex topic in itself. I really don’t know what to make of it at the moment…
    2. To me the most disturbing aspect of psychopaths is the absence of shame. From what I have read, narcissists, even malignant ones do experience intense shame, but just not on the matters that we wish they would. For instance they can experience shame at having intrusive thoughts of guilt — that these emotions are intrusions that cause their defences to go awry (namely the need to maintain self-control), and so the normal shame gets inverted. This means that intrusive feelings of guilt and conscience do produce shame, but shame about having those intrusions, not about the behavior that led to it…
    3. I really don’t know how shame plays out in pwBPD.

    1. “From what I have read, narcissists, even malignant ones do experience intense shame, but just not on the matters that we wish they would. For instance they can experience shame at having intrusive thoughts of guilt — that these emotions are intrusions that cause their defences to go awry (namely the need to maintain self-control), and so the normal shame gets inverted. This means that intrusive feelings of guilt and conscience do produce shame, but shame about having those intrusions, not about the behavior that led to it…”

      WHERE have you gotten this idea from?

    2. Second, Dots:

      If a narcissist is ”not” a compensatory narcissist, then I wouldn’t be so sure.

      If anything, I’d expect a more malignant kind of narcissist to have, at best, few actual defensive coping mechanisms. Not all coping skills are defensive.

      Sure, people are a mixed bunch. For all I know, someone could have traits of both compensatory and malignant narcissism. I wouldn’t think that the malignant narcissism comes FROM any defensive coping skills a person might STILL have in such a case.

      I do remember Dr Simon writing about one female psychopath(foolishly I don’t recall the name), the Craigslist killer, who was a rare psychopath, who also actually had a background evidenced to lead to some neurotic traits that didn’t, of course, interfere with that psychopathy at all.

        1. I’ll add that I think pathological narcissism comes in many different forms, could be more than one illness, and is poorly understood. I can point to some interesting articles if anyone is interested…

          1. The case vignette doesn’t feel like a narcissist to me. Looks more like a normal, though extremely rigid person with emotional constipation.

          2. J, is there anything that could have been differentin the description of the patient that would make it look like NPD to you, or would you say that no such consideration is possible — i.e. additional detail, modification of some expression or lack of it of emotion. I am not a psychiatrist but it looked convincing to me, so I am wondering what if anything could be different in the description in your mind that would make it into NPD.

          3. I just read it, and I agree with J. It lacked for me a significant sense of this person being isolated in their own world, unwilling or unable to accept feedback, to empathize with others’ feelings, to make significant connections. For narcissists, it’s always about them. He did not come across like that. But as Dr Simon says, things are on a continuum.

          4. I am sorry, I don’t know, I was only reacting to the case study. The site requires registering to read the whole thing, and I am not going to do that. Maybe you could post here the relevant passages you are wondering about?

          5. Hi Vera,
            Well I guess I don’t think it is appropriate here to paste extended excerpts of a research paper. The registration is free. Probably my pov is not shared by any others here, but there is a preponderance of evidence in the psychological and psychiatric literature that people with NPD experience shame. They may feel shame about things which others do not, and in a self-referenential way,… and also other emotions, it isn’t necessary to propose that narcissists don’t feel shame to end up with dysfunctional behavior they exhibit. At least to fairly acknowledge the long standing literature and now more convincing empirical evidence for shame in NPD. Or not.

          6. I see. Well, I can’t generalize, but emerging fresh from an extended stay with an N relative, and a long string of broken (even public) promises, lies, and other manipulations, with incensed/baffled friends standing by, there was not a shred of evidence of shame. Only fighting, fighting, fighting against any restraint.

            Since these people are artists of impression management, wouldn’t it makes sense to be cautious the other way?

          7. Vera, the implicit shame in the other paper I referenced on this thread “shame in patients with NPD” is not conscious. It cannot consciously be manipulated.. It’s the implicit shame that is so high in NPD. I agree with the master of impression management. Some people do not care to the extent I do about controlled reproducible experiments nor the long-standing literature in psychology and psychiatry. There are always fads too.

          8. That’s interesting, Dots, that narcissists would have shame to some thing normal people have, but not in regards to things they really should change.

            Still, certain people being clever impression managers(and deceptive skills shouldn’t yet still always are underestimated), I personally am a bit cautious to believe any piece of info about unconscious shame. Yes, we all have the unconscious, yes, we can guess what’s going on there, yes, some things can mean variety of other things.

            Younger, I’ve met a few people almost my age that I suspect are not good people deep down. Another one could be intentionally difficult, when you needed stuff done, lied about trivial things, didn’t take responsibility to shape up, slowed down a team uncaringly and somewhat of an impression manager, but also could get anxious about trivial things, had trouble getting along with people due to deficient social skills and may possibly have had genuine mental health issues(though I can’t say for sure). Another one never seemed to get worried about anything. He gossiped, did a lot of public grandstanding, liked making repartees at others’ expense, disrupted lessons, encouraged others to do the same, seemed to think he was better than others just because(once I saw this side of him, I saw it for what it was), kept finding excuses to get combative about silly little things(combative hypervigilance), shallowly apologized for some immature, cruel things he said without actually admitting responsibility, did everything to avoid ever having to truly admit fault and talked like he never could do wrong. Both were very unpleasant people to be around.

          9. If that was so, Dots, what would be do with that info? I don’t think we still could reach out to those people. We’d just get sliced open and sucked dry.

          10. Unconscious shame? Is there such a thing? Seems to me like unconscious blushing. Not making sense to me…

            My spath husband once said to me, “I don’t do guilt or shame.” No kidding!

            J, you could be right about feeling shame for the wrong things. I have known a spath person to get anxious about people finding him out. (Or so he seemed. I have wondered if anything about him was genuine.)

          11. I guess some human predators could feel anxious when their own life is at stake. Just speculation, still.

    3. I’m not sure whether the recently reported “complexity” of shame isn’t really and artifact of all the confusion surrounding it. Professionals have for too long been sloppy with terms and definitions. And as I mentioned earlier, embarrassment is not the same as shame. Nor is a perceived affront to one’s inflated self-image (as often happens with narcissists) the same as shame. Nor is feeling challenged on one’s grandiose self-appraisal the same as shame. And as for the issue of “compensatory” narcissists, they are an increasingly rare breed, yet it’s simply astounding how many sites, articles, and books talk about narcissists like they are mostly of the more “neurotic” variety.

      1. Dr. Simon, I was referring specifically to the wikipedia article, which is only one source, of course. Still there seems to be legitimate complexity about what shame is and what it isn’t. My example with narcissists was not of the examples you gave but rather that when a feeling like guilt is triggered, or some other intrusion of conscience, a person feels shame at the loss of control in themselves for having this intrusive feeling, rather than shame attached directly to the guilt and it’s original trigger. I guess it is possible that the people who write such things are just making things up, or choose to believe it because it is convenient.

        1. I understand, Dots. But I still think much of the “complexity” around issues of shame has less to do with shame being a complex construct in itself and much more to do with the fact that folks will often label something as shame when what’s going on is really something else. I’ll have some examples illustrating this in an upcoming article in a few months.

          1. I guess I don’t have enough insight into your pov to agree with it at this time. In the dozen or so scholarly papers I’ve read on pathological narcissism they all seem to share your view of what shame is and also state that shame is at the root of pathological narcissism. Would you agree that the last statement is a fair appraisal of the situation?

            Thanks for reading and replying!

          2. While this doesn’t correlate, it’s just like the matter of discomfort.

            Sure, many CD personalities have actual accomplishments to back up entitled self-image, but that delaying certain gratification is apparently too uncomfortable, which is why they are so problematic.

            I also made a guess that poor tolerance of discomfort could’ve been confused for low self-esteem.

          3. In less pathological an example, if someone’s lazy, then that poor self-discipline is more likely a case of not wanting to deal with discomfort rather than truly low self-esteem.

          4. Narcissists don’t feel shame. They feel anger, hostility and resentment when their over-inflated self image is challenged. Their seeming withdrawal may look to the casual observer like shame, but it isn’t. We expect them to feel shame (as we would), but that isn’t what is going on. They aren’t sorry, and they aren’t learning anything. They are figuring out how to best punish you.

          5. Brilliant Einstein. I didn’t quite get to the end of reading your comment and was about to respond by saying something similar. The quietness should never be interpreted as remorse let alone sorrow or even being sorry. It is imv mostly seething anger, regathering their thoughts and strategy based on retribution, revenge and or regrouping to make another attempt to gain what it is they desire. It is all entirely self seeking.

  9. I add that I neither agree or disagree with the notion that shame, or even toxic shame, is at the root of pathological narcissism. I am not an expert == just started looking into it recently. The reason I bring it up here is that this post focusses on shame as being the key to change antisocial behavior. If shame is a core and highly problematic feature of a personality disorder, then it would make sense that such individuals are highly if not wholly resistant to change… It makes sense that way.

  10. I can quote for instance from a very recent paper about the complexity of shame and it’s measurement in NPD populations compared to controls:

    1. “Shame in patients with narcissistic personality disorder” [Psychiatry Research
    Volume 215, Issue 2, 28 February 2014, Pages 429–437]

    2. Abstract: “Shame has been described as a central emotion in narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). However, there is a dearth of empirical data on shame in NPD. Patients with NPD (N=28), non-clinical controls (N=34) and individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD, N=31) completed self-report measures of state shame, shame-proneness, and guilt-proneness. Furthermore, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) was included as a measure of implicit shame, assessing implicit shame-self associations relative to anxiety-self associations. Participants with NPD reported higher levels of explicit shame than non-clinical controls, but lower levels than patients with BPD. Levels of guilt-proneness did not differ among the three study groups. The implicit shame-self associations (relative to anxiety-self associations) were significantly stronger among patients with NPD compared to nonclinical controls and BPD patients. Our findings indicate that shame is a prominent feature of NPD. Implications for diagnosis and treatment are discussed.”
    3. Definitions: “Shame encompasses an emotion resulting from a negative evaluation of the stable, global self, elicited by a perceived failure (Lewis, 1971 and Tangney and Dearing, 2002). Explicit shame is defined as a deliberative, reflected emotional response towards negative evaluations of the self and is assessed with direct self-report measures (e.g., Lewis, 1971). Implicit shame is an automatic, overlearned, presumably non-conscious emotional response and is assessed with indirect measures (Greenwald and Banaji, 1995, Fazio and Towles-Schwen, 1999, Pelham and Hetts, 1999 and Rüsch et al., 2007b). Furthermore, shame is often associated with characteristic bodily postures (e.g., posture that make the body appear smaller), head movements (e.g., head tilting down or to the side), covering the face with the hand and downcast eye-gaze (Keltner and Buswell, 1996).”

    1. I lived with a narcissists long enough to laugh at the notion of shame being a core feature of these guys. What these people are isn’t rooted in neurosis, it’s rooted in lack of human decency.

      I’m not kidding when I say they aren’t human. Not like we understand human to be anyway.

      1. I can see that my referencing a few results from the 100s if not 1000s or 10,000s of papers looking into the subject of shame and pathological narcissism or NPD is not worth more than laughter… I don’t think all those researchers could be misguided, and all the results they measure meaningless and wrong.

        1. HI Dots,
          thank you for your input. It is so important that we consider all angles of this complicated stuff.
          I, too, thought along the lines that you do with regards to NPD (et al) and guilt/shame, and for a very long time. My thinking has changed drastically, and all it took was a bad experience with someone, reading Dr. Simon’s work (and some others- many referenced in his books)and then considering an alternative to the theory you propose.
          Consider this:
          What are the measures in these studies? I haven’t read much of the literature you refer to, but those I have read relied on self-reported variables for their measures.
          The problem is that these folks lie, lie lie like a rug. So if the questionnaire is asking, “On a scale of 0-10, how ashamed of yourself do you feel when you tell a lie?” The NPD (or other character-disturbed person) knows what he is supposed to say– knows the “socially correct” answer is “10”, and doesn’t hesitate to give that terribly false information.

          I think that the other issue is that many studies have a theoretical framework, which provides a rationale for predictions about the relationships among variables. It is the foundation upon which the research is built.

          BUT The problem with this is that one size does not fit all. These theories poorly predict certain things in certain people under certain circumstances. They simply cannot be applied. It’s like putting a square peg into a round hole.

          I am not a regular with the psych literature at all, but I imagine that Freudian and other older theories are the foundation for many. As Dr. Simon says, says, individuals and professionals are “steeped in traditional psychology.” How many authors of these papers are steeped in traditional psychology? And if they are, would they be looking for the alternative theory/construct at all?

          Now, if you start to look at things with fresh eyes, and get rid of old beliefs and theories about why people do what they do (“it all comes back to guilt and shame!” (not)) and start considering that guilt and shame belong to some (more neurotic on the spectrum) but not all… and in fact narcissistic personalities and other disturbed folks might just be FAKING guilt and shame as part of their whole game of impression management- well, then you have a whole new enchilada.

        2. That and how many supposed “narcissists” are actually narcissists? How many of those studied personalities just happen to fit the preconceived mold? Could they really be other types of personalities?

        3. Dot’s are you saying you have read 10,000s of papers on the subject?
          Not sure I’m understanding exactly what references you are referring to either, the period of time the studies were done in etc……
          I know that more and more is being understood and discovered all the time.
          And Linda, I was thinking the same thing earlier and almost posted something abut the “self report” aspect . It would be interesting to know what the people who live with them would say about their self reported answers!

        4. Hello Dots. Having followed this thread all week, I’d like to add a few comments. And I apologize in advance for the length of this post

          You’ve said you recently became interested in NPD, so you have read papers on the topic. “In the dozen or so scholarly papers I’ve read on pathological narcissism…” Then in a following reply to someone else, you reference having read “100s if not 1000s or 10,000s of papers looking into pathological narcissism…” That’s confusing because your numbers don’t agree.

          You say the authors of said papers must be right. “Publish or perish” is unfortunately alive and well. I say that over the course of medical history, a great many ideas that were considered “gospel” when they were published were later found to be WRONG. For one example, check out
          Also see the life story of Ignaz Semmelweis.

          During my lifetime, it was considered normal for medical doctors to promote smoking as a means to relax, etc. Nat King Cole smoked heavily because he thought it helped the sound of his voice. He died of lung cancer, age 45, in 1965.

          Just last week, a supposedly peer reviewed paper was in the news. The article describing some of what happened is by Will Oremus, and is titled “This is what happens when no one proofreads an academic paper.” Posted on, Nov. 11, 2014, 7:28 p.m. First and subsequent paragraph read, “By now we all know, or ought to know, that just because something is published in a peer reviewed academic journal doesn’t mean it’s true. But we can assume it’s been proofread, right?”

          “Apparently not. A priceless gaffe, which has been making the rounds of academic Twitter this week, is Exhibit A. “…..should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?”

          And the websites I visit frequently have, over several years now, mentioned this research paper and that being retracted because the researcher fudged his results, or completely falsified something or other. Just because something is “in print” or has been posted does NOT mean it is true. Another point: one local psychiatrist who was my customer, called me on the weekend (which is NOT appreciated) just to let me know that he was heading back to town after having been in another location for a week. He left a message saying so. Then he called again, about 4 hours later, didn’t leave a message. When he finally showed up to pick up his suit, I told him he would have to find another seamstress, because I simply don’t tolerate customers who think they are entitled to intrude into my personal time. He at first flatly DENIED having called, even though I had him on caller ID. Then he finally said, well, if I did call, it was just to keep in touch. There was no need whatsoever for him to keep in touch with me on the weekend. When I discussed this with some other people who knew him, they all agreed, yeah, he’s weird. Point being, the psychiatrist community has a (perhaps smaller) share of odd people.

          When you are studying any particular subject, it is common sense to read about it, but you also need to talk to people who have survived being so terribly mistreated. I suggest that you google for Joanna Ashmun, and the blog A historian doing a book on World War II will of course study what the commanding officers did, but s/he should also talk to the enlisted men who served in the trenches.

          I clicked through to the one case study you referenced, and my immediate response was “what a bunch of bafflegab. This psychiatrist has obviously never LIVED with a narcissist.” I read it again, twice, to see if I had missed anything. Same reaction.

          You are, of course, entitled to your opinion. If you are expecting sympathy for your apparent viewpoint that narcissists are at base ashamed of themselves, you’ll get very little sympathy from those of us(myself included) who have lived with, or under the rule of, said narcissists and survived to tell the tale.

          If I recall correctly, you mentioned that you were doing a blog on NPD. If you post such as your opinion only, then people will know how much weight they should give your views. But if you post as official information, you could be responsible for leading uninformed people into danger. (remember Jim Jones and his congregation who fed their own children poisoned koolaid.) So please be careful. Peace and hope from Elva

          1. Hi Vera, Great post, thorough and well worded.
            I will say this about your customer calling you on the week end…………
            Something odd happened to me several weeks ago. If you read, I’m going through a really bad time with a contractor and struggling to keep my head above water, really upside down in just about all areas of my life. I went to the post office one day several weeks ago and was next in line and overheard the post master wish the person in front of my a good weekend…..I was completely disoriented by his comment and said. “good weekend”?? and they both looked at me and said, “yes. it’s Friday”! I am not kidding here…….I thought it was Monday! ANYhow, the next day I woke up early and was running some options through my mind about some work this other contractor was going to do to get my place back on track and it thought……maybe I should ring him up before he heads out to work. It was 7:30 am or so. Well I did but was only able to leave a message. When he returned the call later in the day he firmly told me that I was not to call his phone so early. I kind if shrunk back and basically felt scolded but I apologized and we ended the call. I didn’t even think of it during the call but a little while later I realized what had happened…….because I was so out of sync day and date wise, I had thought it was a week/ work day when I rang him but in reality it was Saturday!
            SO, the next time we spoke, I explained this to him but got this distinct feeling that he thought I was making up a story to cover my faux pas. It was the weirdest feeling because I could read him and his response to my explanation, knew I was telling the truth but felt ashamed because I knew he didn’t believe me which made me feel guilty even though I knew I wasn’t! I don’t know if you have ever had this happen but it happens to me all the time because my brain shuts down and starts reaching for something to say to get my thoughts and intentions back on track but it turns into a hem and haw quagmire until I finally give up in resignation. I don’t know how many times I say ………….. “never mind…….I’m sorry,,,,fill in the blank”.
            I don’t mean to discount your experience with this man….
            You sound like a very assertive person Vera! It sounds to me like you usually stand up for yourself very well! 🙂

  11. Random thought of the day: Cultivating individuality is supposed to help each individual to find their inclinations and develop to contribute something both unique and valuable, not just get limited to what all others have done. If more and more people started realizing this, we’d be better off.

    Individualism has mutated into entitlement-thinking and egomania.

    Is there any fact mixed in my opinion?

    1. J, maybe entitlement thinking and egocentrism are the lazy-man’s path to individuality. Lazy because they do not require making any actual contribution to the world.

  12. Dr Simon, you asked for examples. I am dealing — once again, gadz doesn’t it ever quit? — with someone who had been an acquaintance but we grew closer over the last several months. Then, 10 days ago, I discovered she was involved in a scam where she was sending gobs of money to foreign crooks who promise prizes, and had lied to me in elaborate ways around this. I was shocked.

    She at first acted contrite. The emphasis is on acted. She talked very sadly about how horrible SHE felt when she was lying to me and other people. She never apologized. She never showed recognition of the pain she caused others, and the damage she did to trust between us. I pulled away, but continued to be kind to her in emails. She just attacked me out of the blue as the bad guy, suggesting that I am painting her as the devil and myself as the angel. Lecturing me how that’s a false view of reality. And demanding we renew our friendship as it was! Ha. The really precious part was where she insisted that “she won’t keep on apologizing.”

    I have noticed that there are two approaches among them. One is never to apologize, and the other is to apologize and to pull a manipulation/power play soon after to even out the score and be one up again. I never did notice any shame, or remorse, at all, with any of them who are confirmed in their ways.

    Here is the gist of my journey: the scales fell off my eyes 2 and a half years ago. It took me two years to reeducate myself enough to be able to apply consequences with success. Once a good consequence is found, the behavioral change is fast. But the entitlement thinking persists and the manipulation just morphs into another area. Unless a person is committed to change, it’s an endless unpleasantness and not worth it. (Still, it makes possible short visits with a CD relative.) They just get nice enough to keep you going, then hit you again.

    Most of my energy in the early days of my reeducation went into recognition, and I have that down. Sometimes it’s almost instantaneous, other times it takes a conflict of some sort to see what’s going on. Some are pretty obvious about what they are doing, others highly stealthy. I am also thinking that it would be a good thing to test a person early on in the relationship with some sort of a challenge, rather than waiting until a challenging situation presents itself, as with this woman, who was very supportive and friendly early on. I am still a sucker for the older woman mother figure!

    Dr Simon or the other folks here, how does one confront a person for not apologizing without sounding like a prig? 🙂 Any examples of such an interaction?

  13. Vera, I’m not sure asking for an apology is worth it. I found when you ask for one all you get is a false or even outwardly disdainful sorry which means nothing in the end. As you alluded to earlier if they do give you an apology it just opens you up for round 2. My ex said sorry, said he was ashamed of himself, didn’t know if he could live with himself for what he’d done in one breath…then deny some of the things in the next. Or worse just start the cruelty all over again. Sometimes he would cry bucket loads and then in the next moment turn nasty. It’s hard because at times he appeared to be a really loving person and that’s what I and my family have trouble with reconciling the two extreme differences.
    I think as Dr Simon says there has to be a real contrition and it has to be shown through actions as well as words. It hurts so much but I realise there is no point asking or waiting for something that is never going to be expressed.

    1. Ah Tori you are so right. Sigh. I just keep giving people more chances… and sometimes, I think would feel like the chance meant more if I expressed clearly I wanted a real apology. Dr Simon does confront them as part of his chances, and I still don’t know how to do it.

      Yup, they just look for another way to play you, if perchance they do apologize. I really need to stop playing patty cake with these people. 🙁

      1. I empathise Vera 🙂 I was told just the other day that the problem with me was I was too nice! I agreed! Ha, then I thought well yes, I am a little reserved, a bit nervous and I do lack confidence in certain situations but we need all sorts in this world and in jobs etc… It doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for my rights though like you I have had trouble doing that at times. A friend once said that some people think being nice = being stupid. There may be some truth in that but I guess as us quiet shy types get more empowered those who do will be surprised! 🙂 Like you say we need to stop playing patty cake and giving second chances as difficult as that is! Stay strong Vera 🙂

  14. What happens with a brain injury? I knew someone who had a cerebral haemorrhage and this affected the emotional part of their brain. Does that mean suddenly this person has no empathy, or can’t feel remorse?

    1. tori, I’ve had several brain injuries, and I actually think I’m more empathetic than I was when I was younger! Seriously! But also, FASD is a brain injury that you are born with to varying degrees. It seems to me that I’m also “smarter” now than I was. Like things are more easily understood than when I was younger. Interestingly though, the way I learn as an adult is different than when I was in school. I can learn what I want to learn, what I feel a desire to know, what resonates with me, rather then being made to learn something I have no interest in or diminished ability to learn.
      I saw a show about a man who had something happen to him, a stroke i believe. It changed him drastically and now he paints almost non stop. It was fascinating.

      1. Hi Puddle — although you addressed your reply to Vera after my post above, and we do share 3 letters in our names, I’m Elva.

        Yes, I am assertive. I have to be. General run of customers are nice, but if you try to be polite and agreeable to everyone, you get run over. My boundary in this matter is that I am not an emergency responder, if you want to talk about business matters, you call during business hours which are posted on large signs front and back, printed on my business cards and invoices. Have discussed this with my colleagues, we 3 all have stories about people who thought that since we are peons on the lowest rung of society in their eyes, they should be able to call us or drop by our home/business anytime they want, because we are (in their eyes) not entitled to have any personal time or life.

        I’ve gotten calls from 7:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night. Since I struggle with insomnia, a call that wakes me up when I have finally managed to get to sleep is really infuriating. I do understand about being at a loss for words sometimes, it happens to me too once in a while. But the psychiatrist who called me on Sat. 2:30 p.m. — everyone who I discussed this with said it was really weird, even “hinky” maybe, like he was trying to set up an alibi for something.

        I even had one guy come in and try to rent some space from me because he had a massage clinic in the small town to the north of us, he said he wanted to expand down to our town. In the first place, this is my home. In the second place, there is NO ROOM in my home to let another business in. In the third place, if you have a legitimate business need for space to expand, you go to a rental agency or real estate office and say “I need to expand, I need space with ______, do you have anything available?” It just seemed so wrong somehow that I got online to see what I could find about him. Seemed like maybe he wanted to be selling drugs under the local law enforcement radar. Found enough to be more suspicious, typed a report, called my customer who was the local FBI agent, left message. He called back 5 min. later, said he was out back in my parking space, could he come in (it was slightly before opening at l0:00). I explained why it seemed so odd, he agreed, asked if he could keep the printout, said we (meaning law enforcement) had access to other information that ordinary civilians don’t. I never heard anything more about that particular incident, but when I mentioned it to one of my other customers, a local police department patrolman, he recognized the man’s name and said he’d had dealings with the man just recently. He didn’t give any details, nor did I expect him to.

        And regarding Vera’s example below, the customer who called here at 7:30 in the morning announced when she came to pick up her jacket that she had another project she would be bringing. I said No, I wouldn’t be doing any more work for her (she gave off NPD vibes) because of the early morning call. Her response was “I’m sorry you feel that way” — typical non-apology. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, some other customer comes up with another kind of weirdness, so I share names / phone # with my two colleagues (we are friends, not competitors). Keep studying, keep looking up! Peace and hope from Elva

        1. Hi Elva, so sorry about that. Trying to type and keep the comments straight on this phone is a little tricky. Same with typos. Just not enough screen available to really see everything you can on a normal screen.
          I can understand the necessity of having to keep boundaries solid with the type of people you describe. They also sound like the types that if you let one thing slide or made an aception there would be many problems on the future.
          I do know this, sometimes I really need things spelled out for me and I actually appreciate it when someone is up front and clear about where their lines are. Ii think its pretty telling when you set a reasonable boundary clearly and someone walks right over it.

        2. Good grief! Mught it be a good idea to get a second line or a voice mail to answer during those odd hours?

  15. Just in. Another example of what they do with apologies. A CD I know has just made the blunder of sending an email to about 100 people (who know each other or are neighbors) that was not meant to be public, and where she backstabs a person in that community.

    She immediately sent another email profusely apologizing for… being careless in sending that email. Nothing about the actual harm done to this other person by her snide remark.

  16. The implicit association test: ( was used to measure the implicit shame and anxiety in the study i mentioned. It can be used to measure other think like prejudice that people are not aware of etc. It is not a crack-pot method by any means.

    2. I did a search for articles, books, chapters, dissertations in a library database and got 60K hits for “shame narci*”. If only 10% of these focus in detail on shame in pathological narcissism or NPD that would give 6K works on the subject in the research literature. If only 1% that gives 600. That was what my comment indicating the uncertainty and range of published works was about.

    I am starting to think that my comments here may be viewed as disruptive by others. I do not wish to do that. I was hoping instead for a broad discussion of this topic. My understanding is that most of the CD individuals do not have a PD, and only some of them in any case would have BPD or NPD, where it seems shame may be an important factor. I do wonder why I am left feeling that my presence here has been disruptive on this topic. In any case, I am done with it here…

    1. Dots, I would not say your presence here is disruptive! I think part of the problem with the topic of shame having something to do with why these types do what they do is that there IS this “continuum”. I get the feeling that some of the people on the forum have encountered the ones at the low end and it’s really hard for me personally to see any aspect of shame in Spathtard (psychopathic, parasitic, deceptive manipulator….albeit amateurish and low level) or my mother (fairly above board, socially acceptable and relatively benign). What I see is that they were both put on a pedestal as children and have no intention of leaving that pedestal. anyone who sees through their shiny veneer and dares to speak the truth or cross them will pay and be considered fair game for retribution and punishment. I think Spathtard hates and disrespects any woman who sees him as anything less than the God his mommy has done her best to let him believe he is. it’s very sick and very complicated.

      I think there may be some misunderstandings about your references and a communication gap perhaps? I know that on another web site about psychopaths they are very adamant that shame, and what they call bypassed shame, is a key ingredient to the make up of these individuals. I do see some connection or evidence to what they call by passed shame, as in they project their shame and sins onto their victims.

      So maybe these 10’s of thousands of papers you have looked into are speaking to a different type? I don’t know. I haven’t read them.

      Dr. Simon, Would you please address this shame issue specifically, if only in brief ?

  17. I just want to note how thoughtful and potentially helpful to many the discussion on this post has been. This blog is fortunate to have the contributors it does and I’m sure there are readers out there who are just as appreciative as I am.

  18. Hi, first time here. Discovered site yesterday. Probably off topic, but I wish to ask a question. I wonder if these people who manipulate and want to “win” and shape others view of their character are doing these things for a deeper reason. Someone who is raised spoiled and taught the ropes by a carer acting the same way may well have a belief system that is entitled and manipulation is the means to this end?
    Does the hard nose approach, condemning their behaviour really help? Or am I looking at this too simplistically?
    Hope this is at least partly undertstood by the reader
    RS (no ‘O’)

  19. …or a person neglected and ignored as a child. Does he have a penchant for having HIS needs met and having never been shown unconditional love and kindness, is unable to do that himself with others. Maybe his egocentrism is born of a selfish environment?

    1. RS, that used to be the common opinion. Mainly, as Dr Simon, Lundy Bancroft and others have plentifully illustrated, because the people who manipulate others as a means of getting what they want, were successful in playing the poor me card. There was a study done of sex offenders and their claim they were themselves sexually abused. When they were told they were facing a lie detector, the percentage dropped from something like 79 to 30. No doubt that would drop further if their background were carefully investigated.

      What evidence do you have that if people are shown “unconditional love” they will not have character-disturbed people among them, including psychopaths? Genetic factors play a role.

      I have a question for you. Why do you think willfully harmful behavior should not be condemned? Mind you, it’s the behavior, not the person, that I am talking about.

      1. Vera,
        Thank you for your response.
        I do not doubt “CD people ” lie and manipulate to evade responsibility. I am wondering WHY the do it. Yes, to ‘win’ and ‘manage others vies of them’…. but WHY do they do that?
        To your last question… I think coercing the CD to be shamed isnt likely to be successful in inspiring them to grow a conscience.

        1. Hi RS, they do it because they CAN do it, and it has worked for them their whole lives. They have no use for a conscience because a conscience is for the benefit of others and others are only there to benefit them. In order to “grow a conscience” as an adult you have to be properly motivated to do some serious work on yourself, see the reason why you need to do some serious work on yourself. They don’t see that there is anything wrong with themselves just the way they are. All they need are their blind followers and cohorts who keep the monster fed. it’s all so twisted up.
          Short answer to WHY they lie and manipulate to evade responsibility?? Because they don’t want to be responsible! In the words of Spathtard, “It’s too hard”! He just wanted to be taken care OF………………………..which is why he lives in his mommys basement for free at the age of 50!!!!!! Bwwwaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!

    2. That AND some professionals tend to fall into a trap that a victim must’ve done something. In Character Disturbance there is a vignette about a misbehaving teen, who says cruel, hateful things to his mother. There’s even a mention that some professionals would actually wonder if the mother did something to -coughs out lungs- trigger the son’s abusive behavior.

      Meaning that some misguided professional seem ready to believe that someone IS a bad guy, just not the one, who obviously is misbehaving. It’s not a piss-poorly behaving person’s fault, it’s either a victim’s fault or someone else’s fault, but not fault of who behaves piss poorly.

      One pal of mine had a great things to say. I told him about the sinister man during my army stint. Shortly, this man was a maladjusted personality with poor empathy, CA traits and possibly also some mental health issues, who just wouldn’t modify his behavior. He even acted provocatively towards some he envied, because apparently they put in more effort to be chosen for leadership training, exposing his own poorer-than-poor discipline(that he, mind you, could have easily improved just a bit, unless of course those mental health issues actually were for real and actually interfered).

      I was the unfortunate one assigned for a guard turn with him once. I lasted it and he did stop his immature verbal digs once he saw I didn’t act like he probably expected me to(whatever that was). That wasn’t the point here, however. Hours before, some teammates had told me that the SM had “low self-esteem” and he could thus have some problems. Deep inside I didn’t buy it for one second. If that actually was the case, it would just be one issue clustering in his problematic being.

      My pal, hearing me tell this, even remarked: “Some must believe that let’s help that guy recover from his low self-esteem and then he no longer acts badly. Yeah right. It’s such bollocks that so-and-so must have poor self-esteem because he is such an ***.”

        1. Thank you for simplifying… simple Aussie here 🙂

          You seem to be touching on an injustice, but not sure about what else

          1. What J I think is alluding to, is this. It is difficult for us, who have been abused severely by character-disordered people, to see a newcomer walk in with primarily asking, in essence, “where is your empathy”? We would really much prefer for that empathy to extend to us, first.

            As for shaming people in order to change, no, it does not work. Dr Simon talks about that in his books. He insists that any confrontation must be respectful. But when we talk among ourselves, we come down pretty hard on those behaviors that have caused so much damage in our lives.

            Shaming, RS, is what manipulative people do to others, their targets. Lets be clear about that. And when manipulated people slip into it when trying to stand up for themselves, it’s still manipulation. We are all tainted, so to speak, by a system that promotes the domination of some human beings over others.

            Some of us are refusing that system, and working hard to learn a new way. Are you one of that number? What brought you here?

  20. Vera (and J?),

    I am not here to question anyones ethics. I think it is really helpful to equip oneself with protection from those whose behviour might hurt others.
    I am here to find out more about this way of thinking about “CD people”. I have always taken a position of thinking there is a reason for everything – including deficiencies in character and empathy.
    My initial question was to George Simon, but was happy if anybody else could enlighten my thinking.
    I am sincerely interested in WHY the CD is the way he is and this does not equate to me making judgments about others here or lacking empathy to those who suffer.
    I hope this clears things up for you (both).

    1. There are various ways for people to go wrong. It’s not just one way that a CD person can end up like he is. Many enough backgrounds have similarities that can be generalized(like having aggressive behavior work and thus be reinforced or not facing enough consequences when there ought to be such).

      1. Vera,

        It makes sense in as far as that is the behaviours’ function. I am more interested in the origin of their behaviour. I must not have been clear on this… thanks.

  21. Vera you are so right in that we all are tainted to some degree by living with a manipulative person or CD… you can’t come out of it in one piece. How many of us acted in ways we are not particularly proud of because of the circumstances but therein lies the option of choice. We could choose to continue down a road that can cause others pain or we choose to get help and live our lives as a constructive and caring citizen. In my opinion taking out the idea there is a definite mental disorder in an individual that contributes we all have that choice… CD’s too. No matter what life you’ve had the misfortune to live. I think we can have a desire to help these people and people like Dr Simon are equipped with that knowledge, the rest of us can learn from him on how to engage or not engage with these individuals for our own benefit. Maybe that’s all too simple I don’t know. But since leaving my relationship and from learning from this site, Dr Simon’s books and others I do find that I am learning signs to detect or those red flags that I do not let wave anymore. Recently two people have come into my life and both have give me pause to wonder as little red flags were waving…the old me might have bounced on in thinking the best of people, the new me sat back and thought about it and decided to go with my gut. Now they may be wonderful people and if perchance they turn out to be then great but I am not investing too much of myself into interactions with them, I can be pleasant with them but that’s it! In the end what I am saying is we can choose how we want to act, we can choose to invest in ourselves and get help, so the CD person has that choice and that for me is the bottom line. No one has the right to treat another person badly no matter what has happened to them and the one’s who treat others badly because they like it…well that’s a whole other can of worms that’s best left to the professionals and us lay people stay right away!!! 🙂

  22. I just found this site today. My eyes have been opened to how my spouse is CD. The lies, the cheating, the way he plays the victim, the belittling, the lack of emotion and remorse, the control, the manipulation, the verbal abuse, his refusal to change even though he has never been able to successfully maintain a relationship (until me, and now I’m thinking that we may not last either). His own family thinks he’s a psychopath. We have kids together, which complicates things. He’s taken my independence, he controls everything, especially finances, so that I’m left under his feet. And even when he does something wrong, somehow, I caused it. I’m in shock.

    1. First time commenter here as well. Awakened, I am in the same boat. Except, however, I have been studying CD (character disordered) people and NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) for several months now.
      Although I saw these traits in my husband right away, I continue to be surprised. I will find something new in the literature, or a memory will pop up and his past actions will make more sense in this new light.
      This is the result of splitting. Splitting is a form of denial, in which we separate “good” husband from “bad” husband (think Jekyl and Hyde). I tried everything in my power to get rid of bad husband and to usher good husband back on the scene.
      This does not work because Jekyl IS Hyde.
      One could argue that jekyl is just Hyde wearing a mask, or v.v. Ultimately it does not matter because as Chumplady says “Is this relationship acceptable to you?” That’s what matters. The cause of the behavior makes no difference.

      I do not know how to embed links, so here you go:

      Also the article on splitting came from this site, perhaps? I am posting with my phone with limited capability, so when I find the link I will add it as a comment.

        1. Hi Lionhearted,

          Nice to hear you are getting some relief and figuring some things out about the CD.

          I could be wrong here and it is only a technicality (meaning is more than words!) but the psychological term for what you are describing is ‘cognitive dissonance.’

          You bring up a few very good points about how normal people perceive the character disordered. Trying to reconcile opposites is impossible, so the hopeful will choose Jekyll as the primary personality with Hyde as the less dominant type and one they hope they can ‘heal.’

          With an overt type what you see is what you get. A child who is loving when things go their way and a tantrum prone monster when they don’t.

          Please join us on the comments section of Dr. Simon’s most recent post. That is where us regulars congregate!

      1. Lionhearted,

        “I tried everything in my power to get rid of bad husband and to usher good husband back on the scene.”
        Attempting to change other is recipe for headaches, heartache, and full blown depression.
        It appears you tried to change your husband. That doesn’t work. You have absolutely no power to change another person. You can only change yourself. Quite similar to “Is this relationship acceptable to you?”, you only need to ask yourself “Is this behavior acceptable to you?”, if answer is no, then only person you can control and change is yourself. That is where your power lies… in yourself.
        Quite right… cause of behaviour doesn’t matter.

  23. We went to counseling, where he played the victim and lied to the counseloe.i went there broken, completely open and honest, crying over the hurts in our relationship. He basically said, “see what she’s like? See what I have to deal with?” Someone close to me told me my husband was cheating. I confronted him, and was met with denials, etc. He belittled me to the counselor, saying that I had no proof, and that he wasn’t cheating. The counselor sided with him, saying I shouldn’t have broken down emotionally without actually having proof. Guess what? I found the proof months after we had last attended counseling. An email from the girl saying she found out he was married and how he lied to her. This is what had kept me from going to counseling, thinking that no one will be able to see through him. That I will be subjected to “how did you cause this?” rather than “I cant biebe he’s doing this to you and you’re letting him do it.”

  24. Hey I was wondering if there was one word that means to make someone regret what they did to me… Like how revenge means retaliate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *