Are you reading self-help books telling you to spill your guts and Save Your Relationship? If so, the Royal Narcissist does a happy dance because YOU'RE finally admitting you're a mess!
Keep your self-examination PRIVATE. Do not tell your spouse. Do not send him or her a letter of apology, listing your many flaws and faults. Many of us make that mistake before learning about pathological narcissism. There is a huge distinction between normal narcissism and pathological and one of the differences is introspection. When people who naturally introspect realize they have contributed to problems in the relationship, they take responsibility for themselves and alter their behavior.
In a normal relationship, both people recognize their shadow side: the things we do unconsciously that disturb us and confuse a partner. We see it and we change it and we grow as a result. We assume our relationship with a narcissist works the same way--that once we admit we were selfish or self-centered, they will do likewise.
Have you noticed how healing an argument can be when both people take a hard look at themselves, admit their flaws, and apologize? When someone apologizes, other people are quick to forgive because they also realize that despite their best efforts to love someone, they ALSO make mistakes. With the narcissist however, admitting your flaws LETS THEM OFF THE HOOK. What happens afterwards is that during another altercation, the narcissist USES every intimacy you revealed about yourself to justify WHY they did what they did. You feel like a failure and the narcissist is off the hook....AGAIN. As long as we admit to having contributed to the problem, the narcissist will AVOID (deny) his or her responsibility!
This is counter-intuitive for people who are NOT narcissists. So we apologize again, hoping the narcissist will mirror our behavior by doing likewise and they DO NOT. In fact, they will build on your humble admission of fault as a character trait. For example: everyone does things that are selfish (insert whatever trait you want here). You say, "I am so sorry for only thinking of myself!" and you expect this admission to trigger a similar response from your partner. Instead, each time you are taking responsibility for your behavior, the narcissist accuses you of being selfish. He or she doesn't say, "I feel neglected when you do such-and-such". No. Why not? Because "I feel neglected" is self-revelatory. Instead, the narcissist says, "You are a Selfish person. Even YOU admit it."
Most people who have written about their break-up with a narcissist, have learned to introspect and take responsibility for their part in the fiasco. Most people also learn over time, that the narcissist will use any excuse, ANY EXCUSE AT ALL, to avoid taking responsibility. Your short list of defects, mistakes, flaws, and weaknesses become the reason WHY the narcissist acted the way they did.
It may appear to others that we're pointing accusatory fingers at narcissists without examining ourselves. This is simply NOT true. We have learned, even if we aren't conscious of it, that our admission of personal weakness will be used against us.
In a normal relationship, people are LOATH to bring up any intimacy someone has revealed about themselves. They respect the person's willingness to be honest about their problems. They empathize with how it feels when your weaknesses are used like weapons of humiliation. There's an invisible line that we do not cross, even if we are angry and defensive. We do not use someone's painful revelations against them.
Most people have been taking responsibility throughout the relationship, catching themselves in the act and apologizing. They didn't realize the narcissist was gathering ammunition instead of examining him or herself. The narcissist may cry or weep or appear to be suffering when you apologize but sad to say, it's not real. You'll know that the next time you've done something really swell and the narcissist says, "You may have excelled at that project, sweetie, but that's because you are so incredibly SELFISH. Even YOU said so!"
During my divorce, I read a recommended book titled "Spiritual Divorce" and dutifully listed my mistakes, flaws, ignorance, blah-blah-blah and tried to have a closure conversation with my spouse. I did not know about narcissism at the time. Do Not Do This if you believe your partner is narcissistic. It releases them from whatever introspection they are capable of and increases your VULNERABILITY. It's humiliating when your tender admissions, offered in good faith, are used against you. Or shared with the narcissist's new rescuer.
You must be cautious when sorting through self-help books that are NOT recommended for pathological relationships. YOU, the non-N, may end up being humiliated, degraded, and your most spiritual aspects of yourself brutalized. If you want (or feel a need) to self-deprecate, please post to a support group that allows you to express your feelings whatever they may be. For some reason, most people WANT to admit the things they did wrong. We need to purge and confess to being flawed. That's the good and the bad about having a conscience.
Remember: Pointing fingers at narcissists is difficult for Non-Ns. We want to be fair. We want to be honest. For every finger pointed at the N, we have three pointed back towards ourselves. So in order to feel good about ourselves, we can admit to having flaws, shadows and defects, too. But we CANNOT, SHOULD NOT, DO NOT need to admit this to the narcissist. It's not good for YOU and it's definitely NOT good for the narcissist.
When narcissists feel threatened, they cannot stop themselves from using whatever ammunition they have to defend themselves. Some narcissists regret their behavior afterwards but not nearly as much as we regret having trusted them.
Originally posted on the Narcissistic Continuum 2011