Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW: Remorse Revisited

Mary Ann Glynn adBy Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW, located in Bernardsville, New Jersey

Partners in our support group are often confused by the fact that after a verbal outburst, physical abuse, or once the ruse is up, sociopaths may seem remorseful. They might see the consequence of their actions, may even cry and be emotional, or apologetic. There might be efforts to change by more responsive or caring behaviors. If the relationship gets pushed to the breaking point, they may engage in therapy. Most partners’ experience the sociopath in therapy as completely blaming everything on them and/or trying to control the therapy sessions. But, some had a different, more perplexing experience.

Their experience was that the sociopaths appeared to be quite motivated to improve the relationship and to made headway expressing remorse, feelings, even empathy for their partner. Their behavior seemed to make a turnaround so that their partner believed that they had seen the light, and that the loving caring person they used to be returned. Their faith was restored in the potential for a loving relationship and intact family. It’s not impossible after all, right?

In the end, even when everything looked promising, partners reported one of these things happened: 1) As soon as therapy ended, the sociopath’s behavior reverted back. 2) When therapy started getting into deeper underlying issues for behavior, the sociopath disengaged. 3) In trying to empathize with the pain or hurt they caused their partners, sociopaths were able to speak words of empathy, but their partner didn’t feel they got or felt it. This is very tricky. Empathy by definition means that you can feel another’s pain as if it were your own. What the brain feels when you perceive someone else’s pain, or any other emotion for that matter, is the identical experience as if you yourself were going through it.

If, in a couples session, partner1 is openly sharing hurt, etc., and partner2 attempts to empathize, partner1 can always “feel” if partner2 gets, or feels, it too. If that happens, partner1 feels connected to partner2, and vice versa. What happened with sociopaths is, even if they express words of empathy for their partner’s feelings, their partner does not feel they are getting (feeling) it. The sociopath may even seem to be showing emotion, but it’s not their partner’s emotion — they’re more likely stuck in their own feelings of shame or victimhood. Pay attention to this if you go to therapy with a sociopath! When you don’t feel “heard”, like your partner can’t get to feeling your emotion, they are not empathizing with you.

Temporary remorse

So let’s get back to remorse. Remorse should affect behavior — not temporarily, but permanently. It’s about conscience, which is completely dependent on the ability to empathize. There are times we are all capable of turning down our consciences when it serves us, like telling a lie, taking supplies home from work, being defensive about our behavior, being insensitive, losing our tempers, being petty. But, once someone tells us openly how our behavior affects them, our conscience should make us have a different response.

For example, if you blow off plans with a friend several times without thinking anything of it, and then the friend comes to you and expresses hurt, rejection, not feeling important to you, or whatever, you are likely to feel their pain (empathy) and feel bad/guilty. If that friend identifies a childhood trigger in there, e.g. being blown off made them feel like in middle school when the group made rejected them, then your empathy quotient jumps much higher! Are you likely to blow off this friend anymore? No! If you had no ability to feel your friend’s hurt, your response would likely be defensive and cold, because it would just be about your indignation for them perceiving you that way.

No empathy — no remorse

If someone is not capable of empathy, they are not capable of remorse, and therefore change. Period. The brief feelings of remorse or regret you witness in a sociopath is likely to be about screwing something up they wanted (shame) or losing someone or something they wanted (victimhood) – in other words, it’s for themselves. They may believe themselves that they are making great strides in honesty and change — but it never really gets past their narcissism to feeling your pain. It’s more like a brief soiree into the anxiety of having lost control or lost something, in which they scramble to regain control and/or it. Once they regain control or what they lost, they’re done changing. Being disconnected from your feelings, they have no reason to keep up the change, and default back to being the way they were.

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60 Comments on "Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW: Remorse Revisited"

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‘Covert incest’ I can relate to that. I always had the feeling that my MIL wanted to have sex with her sons (especially with my husband). I always felt like the ‘other woman’.

That’s insane and very very uncomfortable for you I’m sure. My spath always said I had sex with my son, her was a total lunatic but it had my family thinking he may have slept with his mom. Wooooo, what knd. Of family did he come from? Peace to all 😊


Haven’t ‘seen’ you for a few days. Hope you are coping and learning. Just letting you know, if you are reading and not posting, that you are being held in my mind (and I am sure some other’s here!).

Take care of yourself,


I’ve been lurking around, reading, and pondering. Think I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all.

This has been a really hard week. I met individually with our counselor on Monday and asked what I can do to affect change. His response was not to engage my husband when he gets angry. To walk out of the room if necessary.

Then I met my husband for dinner at a restaurant Tuesday night (we are still separating going on 5 weeks) and suddenly he is asking me if I need more money, we are in this together, etc. But peppered throughout dinner he will tell me he isn’t going to take me disrespecting his family. WTH

We had a joint counseling session on Thursday together. The counselor admonished us for not getting together more often. I tell him that I’m not trying to hurt my husbands feelings, but everytime I know I have to get together with him my stomach gets tied up in knots and I think I am going to be sick. The counselor suggests we explore my feelings. Why do I feel this way? I respond because I feel threatened with some of the remarks my husband has said to me in the past like he went to a gun show and bought brass knuckles and it’s a good thing he moved out when he did because he wasn’t sure what he was capable of doing to me. My husband responds that he has never laid a hand on me. (This is true.) I have a sudden memory of my husband telling me once that when he was younger he lived in the country and people would bring their old animals to him and he would take care of them. I remember begging him I didn’t want to hear anymore. My husband admits that he has hurt animals before but then turns around and says I always defend my ex-husband and family!!! WTH

I am starting to believe, like others on this site, that marriage counseling is not going to help us. For one thing, my husband continues to lie about things, so what is the purpose?

Yesterday I met up with my sisters and poured my heart out. I have posted in the past that my family has always been a sore spot for me because when I was divorced previously they were not there for me. They were shocked at what I was telling them because my husband appears to the world to be the most attentive, charming husband anyone might want. What I was telling them was quite the opposite. In fact, I believe my husband has always used it to his advantage that I would never get another divorce. But just talking to my sisters was extremely carthatic for me. If nothing else, they at least know that he has an anger issue now.

My daughters (young 20-somethings) are home for Easter and I’ve been talking to them a little bit. Interesting that one of them brought up they wonder if my husband has bugged the house and the other two of us had been thinking the same thing! Is this how I want to live my life? Yet I mourn to return to what we had. But then I think, it was all a lie. And thus the merry-go-round keeps going round.

Something else has been puzzling me lately. My husband called me last week from a new cell phone number. He wanted me to have the number as he said his cell phone had just gone completely blank. He was going over to a second home of ours for the weekend so had just bought a prepaid phone. But two days later when I met him for dinner, he had his old phone. I asked him about it and he said his old phone suddenly came back on. ????? Maybe I’m just thinking too much.

My husband had open heart surgery the beginning of this year and that’s when I started uncovering a lot of his lies and deception. Oftentimes when people go through a surgery of this magnitude they are angry and fearful more than normal. And many people attribute our separation right now to that.

I am such a mixed bag of emotions. Thank you to all who post because I learn so much through others experiences.

Happy Easter to all!

I am NOT saying my ex-husband is like yours.

Don’t ignore threats of violence.

My ex-husband is a sociopath. He never laid a hand on me either. But he murdered animals. I asked him why he did it. He said, it was to teach them not to make him mad. I actually did not think he would harm me b/c my husband was not violent, until the day that I was nearly murdered.

Your husband threatened you. The therapist allowed him to deflect the issue when it was clear that your fear is valid (instead of staying on topic about your fears, his response about your defending your family has NOTHING to do with the topic. That’s a red flag on your therapist, that she allowed that.

As a cardiac care rehab specialist, yes people have emotional responses when faced with mortality fears. BUT, you know that’s not what’s happening with your husband. Rather, his surgery removed his ability to control his narrative, he has lost his momentum in being able to control you and control what you hear, think, and respond to. His mask came off, he’s trying to get it back on. If only you’d cooperate and “not pay attention to what’s over there” (to paraphrase the Wiz) and only pay attention to what he says. (i.e. All you know is what he tells you, and all he tells you is what he wants you to know.)

I repeat.
Don’t Ignore Threats of Violence.
Treat forewarning as a gift of life. Listen and BELIEVE because…
Decent NORMAL people NEVER make those kind of threats

Notwhathesaidtome ,

Your story is frightening. Your husband tried to harm you, and you truly believed he would never do that? Could you share more? Did you have intuition about it? I do not, but my daughter has always thought it possible.

I agree with Notwhathesaidtome. Don’t ignore the threats no matter how subtle they are. I hope you shared that part of your story with your sisters.

When you start doubting the facts of your life, your mind will return to the fantasy of what your life was. I do that all the time. I think maybe things could change or maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. But the facts are the facts. I have to ask myself if a friend would ever treat me the way my husband has? No. Heck,would a stranger treat me this bad? No. My life was a fantasy filled with actions that made us look like the perfect family. It wasn’t real. But my relationship with my children, friends and family is authentic. It’s real. I find joy in that fact.

Happy Easter!

Thank you so much for responding to my post. It is such a relief to have somebody validate exactly what I am thinking concerning his surgery. I have kept my circle pretty tight of confidants on whom I am sharing my concerns. Even then, I think many of them bring up the surgery as why he is acting so strangely. But, like you, I think his mask came off and so many pieces started falling into place for me.

The reality is he has had anger issues our entire marriage. (7 years) I was too ashamed to say or do anything because after all, look at how well he treated me in public. I always knew something seemed “off” but could never place my finger on it.

I will say that my therapist did indeed surprise me the other day. He indicated I may be twisting things around, my husband sees the fact that he tells me that he has never hurt me as an ASSURANCE and I see it as an implied threat. My response was that perhaps my husband should just never say anything that could be construed as a threat.

Between us we have four adult daughters and I asked him how he would feel if some guy made those kinds of remarks to any one of them. He responded he has never hurt me, unlike one of my daughters boyfriends who hit her several years ago. Again, my response was whether it is physical, mental, emotional abuse, NONE of it is acceptable. He did admit, in front of the therapist, that he knows he mentally affects me.

NotWhatHeSaidofMe, I am sorry your ex treated you so poorly. Do you mind me asking you how he tried to murder you? Or have you posted it on another thread? I’m not trying to bring up painful topics, and if you’d rather not share I understand. Right now it is the constant see saw of emotions.

Thanks again,

Yes, the reality of what my ex-husband turned out to be was REALLY hard to wrap my head around. How he tried to murder me is irrelevant. That he did (and barely failed) is what matters.

My ex is a COVERT sociopath. He’d smile so warm and kindly while telling me that if I committed suicide, it wouldn’t be his fault (I NEVER considered suicide). I thought he was a malignant narcissist until I found out what he did to animals.

But was I smart? NO. I reasoned “he won’t do that to me, I’m his wife, not an animal.” But I was mistaken. To a sociopath, my ex-husband, I am A THING. I was the thing that failed to do what he commanded and therefore needed to be taught a lesson.

Platinum’s husband bothers me because not only does he say terrible things, but he has NO REMORSE.

We’ve all gone too far, spouting off when angry. But if our loved one, the one we want to stay married to, says here’s what you’ve done to scare me… the response is not to change the subject. The response should have been to take full ownership and express sincere remorse.

DECENT people don’t behave this way. This is the behavior of controlling abusive people.

And your therapist SHAMING YOU for what is a NORMAL response? In essence, implying that the little woman is over-reacting? Ummm. BLAMING YOU?

I’m saying I’ve been down the path of red flags, all the shame, no remorse for his cruelties. You are being treated like a THING, HIS object. You are his servant, not someone to think or require that he treat you with dignity and regard (MISSING)

I ignored the red flags. I am LUCKY. Others ignored red flags. They are on the news murder shows.

I can’t say it strongly enough:
You need your own therapist, one that will support you, one who will NOT invalidate/trivialize your NORMAL responses.
His threats are a red flag. He told you what he’d do. So BELIEVE HIM. His lack of remorse is one of the traits of a sociopath.


Thank you for your insight and for taking the time to share. Even when my head knows and sees the red flags, I desperately cling to thoughts that there may be an answer, a solution that will make everything better. I know that thinking is not productive. I am trying to figure out how and when to leave.

My husband last week signed a three month lease on an apartment (he had been living in a hotel for 5 weeks) so at least I think I can breathe again. This is buying me a bit of time to figure some things out.

And to all of you who post about the red flags from these posts and their stories, thank you. This web site has helped me identify behaviors that I probably would have overlooked. Knowledge is power!


I could not post to you on this thread yesterday, because my work computer wouldn’t open it. It would open some of the other’s, but not this one?! Who knows why? Must have been a firewall trigger or something.

I echo what Hoping and NotWhat have said to you. One of the men I just ‘dated’, when I broke it off, sabotaged my truck and I nearly crashed and injured myself. He must have crawled under it when I was sleeping. The repairman said I was so lucky that I brought it in right away, when I noticed something didn’t feel right about the truck.

But here’s the other side of it: even if he DOESN’T ever kill you do you really want to go back into the lies and cruelty? EVEN if ALL he ever does is keep you in the dark and feed you lies do you want that? Even if all you have to do, day in and day out, is pretend that how he treats you in front of other’s is real, and that how he treats you in private NEVER HAPPENED, do you want that?

Here’s the other deal. Once you know, Platinum, you KNOW. There is no going back, only forward.

You know he lies. You know he is abusive. You know your daughters think he is deceptive. You know he confuses the therapist. You know he has hurt innocent animals. You know he has threatened you. You know he manipulates other’s into believing his lies.


You think he might change. I can ‘almost’ guarantee you he will not. I am 99.99999% sure. Even without ever having met him.

And, if he does change, it WILL NOT BE BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DO. It will be, totally, because he comes 100% clean and decides, OPENLY, that he has a serious character disorder and starts to openly work on it. Period.

You are not going to save him with your love, commitment, loyalty, devotion, and understanding. In fact, unless HE embarks on a healing path, he will use all of your qualities, all the things that make you a real caring human being, against you….to confuse you.

Just like the friends who keep trying to think of a RATIONAL reason why he is ‘suddenly’ acting like he is, you are also looking for a rational solution. An adult solution. But these types FORCE us into a solution that feel alien: NO contact. Complete dissolution of the relationship, and a complete acceptance of it’s falseness.

There is no rationality to it. Not in the ‘normal’ sense.

Protect your HEART and MIND (not to mention your life). It is your life, don’t too much more of it on him. He will survive. I can guarantee that too. He only looks out for himself. So don’t worry about him.

Take care,

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