|photo from Tactical Awareness & Combat Techniques|
This dynamic has been all over the news lately, because of the egregious and very public bad behavior of radio commentator Rush Limbaugh. But it's something those of us who've lived with or loved somebody with a personality disorder have experienced, over and over again. And sometimes, when we've been in the fog long enough, we actually blamed ourselves, because we couldn't forgive and forget.
Didn't they say they were sorry? Isn't an apology good enough for us?
Let's use this whole incident to examine the cycle, from offense to faux-pology to backpedaling.
Part 1 - The Attack
Sandra Fluke, a 30-year old law student from Georgetown, appeared at a Congressional hearing to testify about how the lack of insurance coverage for birth control harms fellow students, including those who desperately need hormonal contraceptives for medical conditions.
“She was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction. She provided a model of civil discourse.”Fluke did not verbally attack anyone. She did not name any names, except in reference to those sponsoring a particular bill. She did not ask "the government" to give her anything for free, and she did not mention her own or anyone else's sex life, except obliquely. (That one friend was married, that another was gay.)
Wealthy radio commentator and drug abuser Rush Limbaugh went on a three day tirade against this young woman. As shown in the linked video, his tone of voice, his body language, and the lewd suggestions he made (you owe us a sex tape) are particularly vile and disgusting. He attacked her for things she never said. For her (alleged) need for condoms in elementary school. He accused her of "having so much sex it's a wonder she can walk." (Sick imagination? Deliberate slander?) There's transcripts of her testimony available, so if he had watched or even listened to it, and forgotten the specifics, he could have referred to it, if he wished to respectfully voice his opinion on anything she actually said. But spewing slander and spittle, judging by the video clips, is more his style.
Part 2- The Consequences and Faux-Apology
Many Americans, be they supporters of Ms. Fluke's position, or simply women who don't appreciate being called sluts because they use birth control - and the men who love them - took offense to this extreme bullying of a private citizen via public airwaves. They began contacting sponsors of Mr. Limbaugh's radio program. Said sponsors begin jumping ship, one after another after another.
After many (at least nine, possibly twelve) advertisers had ended or suspended their advertising with the program, Limbaugh releases the following written press release as an "apology."
Yep, it was not really a personal attack. The problem was with the "word choices," not with the deliberate distortion of Ms. Fluke's testimony. Coming, as it did, only after the program began hemorrhaging sponsors, the timing is entirely suspect.
Part 3 - The Backpedaling; The Aggressor as "Victim"
Additional verbal "apologies" begin on Limbaugh's radio program the following Monday that basically retract what little apology was given. “I acted too much like the leftists who despise me.” Limbaugh claimed, “In fighting them on this issue last week, I became like them....I descended to their level....I became like the people we oppose.”
He whines about the sponsors (the meanies!) abandoning not him, but his listeners. You see, he's really the victim here. Betrayed. He's not responsible for the vitriol that pours from his mouth; it's those other people, they made him do it. They set him up. Everyone should be sorry for him. Then he continues attacking Fluke - albeit without the "two words" that he apologized for.
I don't know if Rush Limbaugh is actually, diagnosably mentally ill with a Personality Disorder (though I suspect he is). But I do know that, as far as it comes to dealing with someone with untreated OCPD or another Personality Disorder - this whole scenario is waaaaay too familiar.
Next, while you are emotionally bruised and bleeding and hurt, comes either no apology at all, or a faux-pology. The lips might say, "I'm sorry," but the body language, tone, vocal inflection, and word choices indicate, "I'm still furious."
There's a cliche in movies, "You're not sorry, you're sorry you got caught." If your partner had not felt compelled by circumstances to issue an apology, they wouldn't be doing it. And they resent you for it.
So now, you have the bitter choice to accept an apology that does not feel genuine in any sense whatsoever, or refuse to accept it, and "become the bad guy." This is the second prong of the attack. No matter what, it's a lose-lose scenario for you.
Third prong of the attack: Even if you do accept the apology, the spin begins. Within a week your partner is making you pay with the Stomping but Silent Treatment, snide remarks, and other insinuations because you made him/her feel bad. You provoked a fight. If you didn't accept the apology right away, you were holding a grudge. If you did accept it verbally, but your tone and body language betrayed that you still felt hurt, well, you were just trying to make your partner feel bad. You were being manipulative.
If you have been in a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship for long enough, you might even believe it. Feel guilty because you can't simply forgive and forget, and move on. If you are a [Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, fill in the blank] you might have it thrown in your face that you're certainly not being a very good one.
No. We are not obligated to face personal attack after personal attack with a gracious smile. Not when it comes from a partner - who we should be able to trust - nor when it comes from somebody bigger and more powerful than us. That is bullying, plain and simple.
When and if we accept an apology, it is totally up to us. We are not bad people if we refuse to accept some mumbled words, or even a press release, that screams out "I'm saying sorry because I feel I have to, but it's not like I'm really sorry." We are not obligated to accept an apology that drips with sincerity, until we are emotionally ready to do so.
We get it. The offender wants to be let off the hook, as quickly as possible. Not. Our. Problem. We get to set the timeline on this, not the offender.
And whether an apology is accepted or not, it is not ever, ever acceptable for the attacker to come around with another salvo, when we haven't yet healed from the first attack. That simply demonstrates how phony the supposed apology was in the first place.
As a P.S. on this - it is not up to Ralph Reed, Mitt Romney, Bill Maher, or any other man (or woman), to accept RL's apology. It is up to not only Sandra Fluke, but every woman offended by slut-shaming and personal attacks, to accept or reject it, in such time as we choose, if we choose. To discuss it until we are ready to let it go, and not before. Shame on the Good Ol' Boys' Club for trying to play the game of "Okay, we don't want to discuss this any more, so the conversation is over."
The conversation's just getting started.
Have you ever been through a three-stage fight cycle like this?
Been put in the position of being pressed to accept a faux-pology?