A common question as it relates to a toxic relationship is whether the narcissist feels any guilt or remorse for what they’ve done to their partner (a.k.a. source of supply).
The short answer is no.
In order to feel guilt, one needs to have a conscience. Because narcissists have no conscience, there are no limits to the destruction they can cause in the lives of their victims…all without an inkling of remorse.
Victims struggle with this because, as conscientious people, they believe there must be some understandable reason why narcissists act the way they do. They cannot grasp that there are people who are simply cunning and devious, and thus justify the narcissist’s hurtful actions by being all too willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Victims imagine how they would feel if they were mean and nasty to the narcissist, and further imagine the remorse, guilt, and angst they would feel in treating another person as poorly as narcissists do – especially a person they were supposedly in love with. In other words, they try to put themselves into another’s shoes.
That’s called empathy; something that narcissists are devoid of.
The Illusion of False Remorse
Many narcissists are skilled at portraying an air of remorse. They use words and gestures to create the illusion that they are sorry for leaving you for another lover, for acting cruelly, and for breaking promises. But, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Notice how they are only “sorry” when you threaten to leave or cut off contact? How they suddenly can’t live without you once you seem serious about ending it – whereas a day before, they were giving you the silent treatment and gallivanting around town with another lover?
These are the reasons for the phrase, don’t listen to their words; pay attention to their actions. This doesn’t include their hoovering or blowing up your phone and email when they’ve muffed up yet again. It means their actions when they believe they have one up on you…when you are settled nice and comfortably under their thumb.
The Harm in Magical Thinking
We’ve read the articles about physical and emotional addiction to the narcissist and how codependency is the root of the relationship.
However, there’s another culprit in staying enmeshed with a narcissist, and that’s our engaging in magical thinking. What does that look like in the context of a relationship with a narcissist? Following are some examples:
- The belief that your pain must mean something to them, when in fact, it only means something to you (and perhaps your well-meaning family and friends).
- Believing they have sincere motives when they agree to go to couple’s counseling with you. The truth is, they only agree to that to 1) keep you enmeshed by creating the false illusion that they are “trying”, and 2) to get you in the therapist’s office to make you seem like the unstable one – which, in turn, enhances your false belief that you are damaged and no one else would want you or tolerate you.
- Falling for their hoovering attempts when they show up with flowers and cards (and perhaps a few crocodile tears). This is simply the manipulative tactic of positive reinforcement, which is designed to strengthen the possibility that you will keep taking them back. What it does is relieve the crippling symptoms of your fear of abandonment, which is rooted in low self-esteem and childhood wounds.
- Falling for their “victim” act. Surely they have a reason for behaving the way they do. What with their drug-addicted, abusive ex-girlfriends/wives/husband/__________(fill-in-the-blank); the fact that they are trying to work on their shortcomings (see, they’ve been in the care of a therapist – for nine years); their horrible, racist, snotty, power-hungry boss who just hates them and wants to see them suffer (which corresponds quite nicely with their propensity towards serial job-hopping); their sudden physical injury (which you can’t seem to confirm, and by the way…why do they always seem to get hurt when you break up with them?); their grandmother’s being on her death bed (seriously, eleven times in two months?)
In short, magical thinking is when we rationalize their actions and behaviors which cannot be justified with reason and logic.
Why They Don’t Feel Guilty
The reason the narcissist acts the way they do is simple – they hurt you in order to breed fear in you so that they can maintain power and control, and simultaneously keep you as a source of supply. They need to maintain the superior position in the relationship, and that is why it manifests in their treating you worse over time, while you end up feeling more and more powerless to leave.
Narcissists try to destroy you by exhausting you, manipulating you via using your own emotions against you, instilling fear, thus having control over you, which often leads to illness (which can lead to diseases such as cancer and/or worse, suicide). This is how they are able to keep their victims engaged and enmeshed for sometimes decades.
Some victims never leave.
This is precisely why a relationship with a narcissist is emotionally and physically draining. It’s their strategy and nothing they feel guilty about. That’s why the burden falls on you to stop the cycle through detaching and going No Contact. If children are involved, modified contact is an alternative and takes a greater measure of discipline. In fact, if children are involved, it’s almost more imperative that you leave the relationship because otherwise, they will likely grow up to be either narcissistic or codependent themselves.
It’s up to us to stop passing these generational curses down.