A few months back, the owner of a popular specialty store in my town got into a little conflict with the owner of a neighboring store. The neighboring storeowner initiated the conflict with a rude and abusive phone call, rife with false accusations and shrill complaints. When one of the store’s employees called him on his actions, he decided to send a card expressing his ‘regret’ over how he handled things.
What is intriguing about his note are not the details of the conflict itself, but the methods employed by the writer to absolve himself of responsibility—while at the same time appearing to accept it. This is typical backpedaling behavior of abusive types. Needless to say, nobody fell for his little maneuver.
Here it is:
‘Dear K., I heard from your employee you had a negative experience speaking with me on the phone when last we spoke. I am truly sorry that you experienced me that way. I have no idea what was going on in my life or yours that would create that experience. It is possible it started when you took down the sign we put up telling customers where we were a month before you opened. [Note: This is factually incorrect.] Again, let me just say I am deeply sorry that you saw me in a negative light. I don’t believe that is who I am. Have a wonderful summer, D.’
What a sophisticated variation on the pseudo-apology! Obviously he is no stranger to this kind of double-talk. The ‘apologizer’ is saying, in effect, ‘I regret that you perceived my actions in such-and-such a way.’ This phony apology is worse than no apology at all. Pretending to accept responsibility for one’s actions while, in fact, transferring that responsibility to the one you victimized is a crafty psychological trick made possible by'(yup, you guessed it) subjectivism. Subjectivism is the false idea that there is no objective reality; that everything is determined by subjective experience. It’s very convenient. If we side-step the existence of facts, reason, and logic, then there need be no proof of guilt or responsibility for anything.
The author of this pseudo-apology provides the perfect case-in-point: ‘I am truly sorry that you experienced me that way.’ Now imagine that somebody told you a lie, or failed to pay you back money they owed you, or talked about you behind your back and got caught. Now, imagine if the person who did these things ‘apologized’ by telling you, ‘I’m truly sorry you experienced me that way.’ (Read: ‘Wow, the problem must be yours!’)
You’d react exactly like the recipient of his note reacted: ‘This guy is crazy!’ Fair enough. But what does it mean to be crazy? Essentially, to be crazy means to be out of touch with reality. But I don’t think the author of this note is out of touch with reality. I think he knows full well that objective reality exists. He reveals it by writing, ‘I don’t believe that is who I am.’ This is not the statement of a genuine subjectivist. A true subjectivist—a true crazy person—doesn’t think there’s an absolute ‘you,’ an absolute ‘I,’ or an absolute anything. A true subjectivist would not assert a fact (even a false one), such as his unfounded accusation about taking down a sign. A true subjectivist would say, ‘In my reality the sign was taken down; in your reality, it was left up.’ I don’t think the author of the note is crazy enough to believe this.
If he’s not a crazy person, then what is he? The facts support only one other conclusion: He’s an emotional abuser. When it’s convenient, and when it suits him, the emotional abuser will happily make reference to objective reality. But when it likewise suits him, he will glibly make reference to ‘your experience of me’ so he can transfer responsibility away from himself for the actions he (supposedly) regrets. By trying to have his apology and eat it too, there is, in fact, no apology, and no recognition of personal responsibility. And he knows it.
I don’t consider the subjective rants of a person who otherwise understands objectivity to be ‘crazy’ or mentally ill. I consider the manipulation to be premeditated and deliberate. These are the tools of an emotional abuser. These are also the tools of criminals and other loathsome people who insist on imposing themselves on others while refusing to take responsibility for what they do. If there is an emotional abuser in your home or in your life, my advice is to call him (or her) on that behavior. If the situation calls for it, get right up in their face. Exposed, they’ll wither away, and they deserve to do just that.
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