The Narcissist and Apology

Would a narcissist ever apologize? Yes. Would they ever be truly sorry? No.

An apology is a process. You apologize, experience regret/guilt/empathy, find out what you can do to fix things, and then you don’t repeat the same mistake again. All of these are important parts of the process. Most important of all is acknowledging one’s part in the process – admitting guilt.

How do you know if the apology is sincere? The test is this: ask the person if they would, under identical circumstances, do the same thing again.

“A truly repentant sinner will unhesitatingly and believably say “No”, while a person protecting the grandiose self will tend to launch into a series of hedges, rationalizations, or less than credible denials.” (McWilliams and Lependorf)

Healthy people use words for communication and to understand. A narcissist uses words to control, manipulate and cultivate ‘Narcissistic Supply’ (attention, admiration, capitulation, etc.). They lie all the time and faking an apology is no different. If anything, an apology from a narcissist is yet another way of exercising his power and control over you in order to get what he wants — Narcissistic Supply. Apologies don’t have to be sincere to work in the narcissist’s favor.

When a narcissist makes an apology to repair a relationship what is repaired is not the damage to the relationship, but the narcissist’s illusion of perfection. Narcissists may be incapable of genuine expressions of remorse because inherent in an apology is the admission that one is guilty. In milder cases of narcissism, the avoidance of apology is subtle and less visible to those who might legitimately expect a sincere apology. What a narcissist seems to do instead of apologizing is to attempt to repair his or her grandiose self under the guise of making reparations. There are several different ways that narcissists substitute another kind of interaction for an apology.

1. Undoing

When a narcissist has inflicted some emotional injury upon their significant other, instead of apologizing, he or she is likely to later go out of their way to be especially attentive or considerate toward them. Another example is a father who has unfeelingly criticized a child may similarly avoid admitting his insensitivity but instead offer some attractive treat afterward.

2. Appealing to Good Intentions

Narcissists may become skillful at giving professed apologies that really amount to self-justifications. Narcissists do not seem to understand that saying one is sorry represents an expression of empathy with the injured party- despite whether the hurt was intentional or avoidable. The woman who is kept waiting and worrying when her husband is late coming home will feel immediately forgiving if he expresses genuine sorrow that she has suffered on his account. Narcissists seem to go by the general rule that such expressions of sympathy and regret are called for only if they were “at fault” in some way. Accordingly, the narcissistic husband who is late meets his wife’s anxious greeting with, “It wasn’t my fault; there was a traffic jam.” He communicates resentment of her distress rather than remorse.

The overriding issue for narcissistic people is the preservation of their internal sense of self-approval, not the quality of their relationships with other people. As a result, when they feel their imperfections have been exposed, the pressing question for them is the repair of their inner self-concept, not the mending of the feelings of those in their external.

3. Explaining

Another substitute for apologizing is the practice of explaining. Unless the listener is attuned to it, an explanation can sound remarkably like an apology. In fact, a relationship between two people can go on for a considerable length of time before the party on the receiving end of explanations begins to feel a troublesome absence of genuine remorse in the other. “I would have visited you in the hospital but my schedule got really crazy,” or “I must’ve forgotten your birthday because it came right on the heels of my vacation this year,” or “Your dog just ran in front of my car and I couldn’t stop fast enough” are the kinds of apology-substitutes that may seem to imply remorse, but actually do not express sorrow or attempt to make emotional reparation.

4. Recriminating

Narcissists have a tendency to engage in self-berating after an undeniable failing toward someone. This is a process even more subtle than explaining, and harder to distinguish from true apologizing. This recrimination is expressed to witnesses and victims with the implication that the narcissist should then be reassured that despite the lapse, he or she is really fine (i.e., perfect), after all. In the case of a person with a narcissistic character disorder, recrimination is probably as close as he or she ever comes to apologizing, and is doubtless believed to constitute sorrow and reparation.

Evidence that a genuine apology has not been made can be found in the state of mind of the recipient of the transgression: explanations without apology produce either pained confusion or understanding without warmth.

5. Deflecting Blame

The readiness of narcissists to convey criticism is equaled only by their resistance to absorbing it. They seem to have mastered the art of deflecting blame. As an example of this, consider the husband who flies into a narcissistic rage and then blames his wife for causing it. A response to the effect of “I’ll admit that I acted out of line, but I think you have your part in this, too,” is typical.


Narcissistic Pathology of Everyday Life: The Denial of Remorse and Gratitude; Nancy McWilliams, Ph.D. and Stanley Lependorf, Ph.D.

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31 Responses to “The Narcissist and Apology”

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  1. candice says:

    I am new to the knowledge that I have been living with a narcissist. I am learning to understand my marcissistic and I am quite shocked,hurt and at the same time empowered to know that I am not alone. Yet I feel so alone.

    • Melissa says:

      I’m sorry. I know this life isnt akways easy.
      Living with a narc can indeed be a lonely life. Specifically, they are self-absorbed and can be anti-social. I honestly believe this gets worse with age and often with lower serotonin levels.

  2. Nayhan says:

    Oddly enough my girlfriend is named Candace. We got back together 4 weeks ago, and boy did it quickly revert back to old ways. I came to the realization that she’s a narcissist yesterday morning. Spent a lot of time reading up on it. Approached her completely different tonight. Like I now understand her, and she feels that way. I’m curious to see where this leads, and if I can deal with lack of remorse, empathy, listening, etc. I’ve read some good stuff about rapport.

    “Besides, having compassion and respect for the narcissist will feed their egos, so they’ll listen to you”

    • joanne says:

      Nayhan: how’s it been going? I am curious to learn how to get my narcissist to practice what he preaches.. I too am trying to understand him and have been letting a lot of things go. But I’m currently upset with him and it’s making me more upset that I can’t get past it since he won’t apologize or actually feel bad about what he did because he said I deserved it. He is a huge part of my life, I’m not ready to think about breaking up with him (even though i tell him i want to)

      • Laura says:

        I am in this very situation and I gave up my apartment left state with him to an unfamiliar place where I have no friends I sit alone n a hotel room waiting for him to get off work and pray he won’t snap if I only knew this then I would have stayed in my apartment its scarry and I dnt want to tell my family because they think so highly of him that charming card really worked I’m just so worried he got me in a bad spot I have no money to leave idk its a bad situation because someone u trusted can change its creepy

        • Jane says:

          If you haven’t already. Please go home. Narcissists are afraid of losing face and buery their head in the sand. Please don’t fall into this trap. If your family and friends truly love you, they will accept you home with open arms.

          • Carla says:

            What if the family of origin supports the narsisist and not their blood. Likely because of these tendencies there. Sadly I will not be welcomed….by them…!

        • monique says:

          RUN!!! GET out and DO NOT ever think about having children with this kind of person. TELL your family he’s a very good actor and has played and conned you all and you need help. Please get away asap. Do NOT worry about money, just find a way asap….. I see this is written in Feb… hope you are far, far away by now.

      • LJ says:

        He is incapable of being sorry or forgiving, the cycle will always, always lead to you feeling as if it is your fault and you have to fix it. When you say you want to leave, do it! The cycle will not stop, but your self esteem, your finances, your feelings of “if I only…, next time…., this time…,” will continue til you are a depressed mess and than he will walk away. You will be crushed and he will feel nothing. Leave now do not wait till you spin out of the cycle. Good luck! And keep learning about this.

    • Christine Smith says:

      I waited 20 years too long for my ex-husband to change his narcissistic personality; it never did. I divorced him in my fifties. Wish I’d done it sooner. His lack of empathy and verbal abuse has affected me in a lot of ways; don’t know if I’ll ever have another relationship. I hope so. Don’t waste your life on a narcissist, they don’t change.

    • Karen Schmid says:

      if you value your mental and physical health run away as fast as you can and don’t look back…. its not as simple as that when its your own mother who’s the narcissist. A relationship with this type of person is draining and unfulfilling. If you value yourself you will think about ending it before it consumes you and leaves you a broken person.

      • Colleen says:

        Dear Karen, I hear you.
        The pain of my mother and sister being narcissist…probably as a response to my narcissist father is ongoing.
        I’m “bad with money”, “ungrateful” and a “troublemaker, while my sister is the “golden child”.
        I hope that being able to understand, and explain their behavior it will eventually lessen the pain.
        I know I’m not alone as the “family scapegoat.”

    • Rebecca says:

      I suggest that anyone in Nayhan’s position stop… just stop… and hear himself or herself. And ask, “What do I deserve?” “Why am I even considering devoting myself to even attempting to be close to someone who FAILS TO CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATE respect, empathY, listening and remorse with me?”

      Nayhan’s “I’m curious to see where this leads, and if I can deal with lack of remorse, empathy, listening, etc. I’ve read some good stuff about rapport…” screams out for him to back away.

      Highly revered experts on compassion, like the Dalia Lama, other Buddhists and mystics, caution against opening yourself to the life-threatening risk that resides in convincing yourself that you are not hungry emotionally.

      Compassion must encompass all beings including yourself. Compassion is as strong with “No” as with “Yes.” Why would any balanced person try to lie to himself or herself about their healthy and innate (for it exists simply because one is alive) need for “remorse, empathy, listening, etc.” ?

      We do it out of fear that this is the best we can get. But there is a better way.

      The way to get “more,” the way to get fed the soul-bread we need, to get desperately needed water from the dry well, is not to “play” or “manage” or “strike up rapport” with a narcissist — a fool’s task in which you will necessarily fail (because the narcissist is simply incapable in any true and sustained way).

      You will end up drained and potentially, eventually, destroyed in ways you perhaps cannot imagine.

      The way to get what he needs, what you need, what we all need, is to go toward those who consistently show integrity and kindness and you must start by providing it from yourself to yourself. Show a compassionate “No” to the narcissist, and a compassionate “Yes” to those who in sustained and true fashion show integrity and kindness.

      A professional therapist equipped to deal with narcissistic personality disorders is the person who should consider investing in building rapport with a narcissist — in order to deliver treatment for an illness. You are looking for love in the wrong place.

      Try simply starting with loving yourself enough to embrace that you deserve better treatment and are going to give it to yourself by entirely cutting out the narcissist. “Don’t expect a cat to be a giraffe.” It simply will not, ever, be.

    • Misha Fritze-Shanks says:

      Leave! The relationship will only end badly for you. You cannot maintain a relationship with a narcissist in the long term. To do so is inviting chaos, a fractured self-image, self-doubt, emotional turmoil and a sometimes even a complete loss of self worth and self identity. These people lack any remorse, empathy or genuine feelings for another person. It is always about them and how they feel…it is NEVER about you. You are just the “supply”…the heroin hit to their ego and self esteem and sense of self worth. These people are EMPTY. They rely on others around to give them a sense of empowerment and self actualization. Take that away and you unmask a very ugly hateful vengeful individual hell bent on your destruction. That is the key. They will ultimately destroy everything and everyone around them. It is their nature to destroy…never to create. How do I know? I was married to a woman for 14 years who was a complete narcissist and she then ended the marriage and has since turned her narcissist tendencies and rage on my children. I’ve needed to deal with that for the last 10 years….so I kinda have a combined 24 years of experience in dealing with an extreme narcissist and studying their behaviour. It’s scary stuff. These people are dangerous in a very subtle and disturbing way and you WILL end up a victim unless you leave and make no further contact ever. Just some advice. Take it or leave it.

    • Lyn says:

      Why would you bother? Read up some more then get the hell out. Don’t you want a relationship with someone who loves you, is able to show you empathy and be able to say sorry. As the survivor of a relationship with a narc I want better for myself. I don’t want to understand them and then make allowances for the sorry excuse for a human being these people are. Get out now & never look back.

    • Elaine Daguanno says:

      I agree with you on learning how the narc “ticks”. I had to do the same. But, at some point you will see that emotionally it is a one-sided relationship. The narc is always the taker.

  3. K E says:

    I dated a Narcissist, and I know for personal experience that their apologies are just meaningless words, intended to keep you enmeshed in a unhealthy, toxic relationship with them. Period.

  4. Enlightened says:

    My ex narcissist boyfriend tried to makeup with sending gifts at the holiday. By better judgement returned them. Shortly afterward saw a Amazon review he posted for a pocketbook he, “purchased for his girlfriend’s birthday she loves it room for all the stuff she carries around that he never sees!” That wasn’t me. I confronted him off guard when he called he came up with a story it was a for an old friend who I’ll meet some day, you’d like her. What poposterous lies. Went on and on, how I’m the only one for him and he’s the only one for me. He wants to do things right and have a life with me. Any hint at remorse was always followed by, “no placing any blame on either me or you.” Imagine?! Of course they wasn’t any blame on me but the nerve to word it as such, it’s a back handed apology. Needless to say I told him it’s over, I’m done. My self worth is back and I realize I was way too good for him.

  5. Kat says:

    I am struggling with the after effects of a 5 year relationship with a narcissist. I found out that he trolls the dating sites with a profile that is totally fabricated to make him look good. After the honeymoon period, he stopped the sex and I found out he is adicted to p**n. He told me he had been tested for low testosterone levels but that wasn’t the problem. He also had a woman at his place saying he was helping her with her back problems, similar to his. I made him call her and I spoke to her. He had pix of 2 women on his phone and claimed they were friends. Turned out they were people who lived far away who he would never meet that believed his profile. Two weeks ago I began to realize what was going on. He claimed he would get off the dating site and he said he went to see his therapist, someone he sees only when he gets caught. Said he was going to work on this addiction. Well guess what, he’s still on. I have not seen him for two weeks an only spoken twice. I told him about NPD and naturally that was not him. I’m done! I think I may have to do some therapy myself. I’m no spring chicken at 66 and feel bad I was taken in by him.

    • Mercury says:

      I too have a narcissistic boyfriend with an addiction only his addiction isn’t p**n it’s alcohol. The lies are the same. The empty promises are the same and all in al that was what caused our rations hip to spiral out of control. I turn into an ugly person when we fight and I end up feeling horrible about it so I always apologise first. When he bunged I would go stay with a friend because there is no reasoning with him and he still makes me feel bad about how I couldn’t stick around through his tough times. Ultimately I am the one feeling bad for everything and it’s actually not even my fault.

      I now need to try to fix myself because I fear I might have turned into that kind of person too. I am scared and sad because I love him him but I know this is the right way. I have to get out and I have to move on with my life.

      It is empowering to learn these things but it is also sad because I truly believe that people can change if they wanted to and there is a little bit of in everyone and they just need to dig deep yo be that “good” person.

    • Louise says:

      I thought you was talking about my ex colin !! Narcissists are so alike..once you know shat to look for. Louise

  6. Gaylene says:

    My ex husband was chronically late .. with no remorse for creating anxiety (and anger too). He would trot out the same old rubbish in response .. in fact the same lies would repeat (whether he was aware or not). He could leave me sitting in a restaurant for a couple of hours and then expect me to understand. No call – no text – would not answer his phone. His blatant disrespect for me in the end was the one thing that finished it for me. Not the rages and sometimes aggressive behaviour. They were intolerable and obviously I chose not to put myself in the path of those anymore either. But at the bottom of it all was this disrespect. He once famously said (in honeyed tones) “you might be a stupid little @#!k up, but you’re MY stupid little f@#k up”. To which I said “you may be partially right. I MAY be f@#ked up and certainly I’m little ..but I’m not STUPID”. At which point he had big fat narcissistic tantrum and stormed off ….

  7. Disturbia says:

    I have become this person full of rage. I don’t have any patience for it anymore. I’ve been promised over and over how things will be different. I know better than to believe it, since it’s usually said with the hint of sarcasm, or this face of “right you were abducted by aliens” expression. Lately, I’ve been so ashamed at how mean my responses are. I say the things I know attack his self esteem because I want to cause pain. You know what? He doesn’t skip a beat… He just keeps trucking along this endless bickering. We can go back and forth like a couple of savages. To make it stop, I can’t leave as that would cause me weeks of silent treatment and more sarcastic muttering. I feel like he keeps popping in my space and going back upstairs. It’s maddening to hear him snoring shortly after as if I’m not at DEFCON 1. I’m left with my wheels turning and this unresolved issue. It will go on for days and is polluted with so many new accusations or false statements that it takes me hours to work backward from if I ever want it addresses. When it is its met with eye rolling while his body is emitting all the hate he can muster. I’ve become his monster. How sober monster, now. You know the main reason I got sober was because he would say things like “that’s not how it happened, you were drunk.” What could I say? No, I remember exactly how it went. I’m the drunk that remembers everything.

  8. DaShar Ramsey says:

    I have just come to terms that I was dating a narcissist. We were together 4 years. I was always confused why I had to keep repeating myself to him about what bothered me. Than every time I brought it up again and again he gave me a sorry “BUT ” and in the back of my head I’m thinking “that’s not sincere” . He’s had outburst and tantrums like he was a 3 year old not getting his way and I loved him so it was always forgiven. I could never tell him how I felt because he always said “I was trying to argue ” or ” its a bad time because I’m in a good mood ” . That hurt so bad so I had to always stay silent about my problems . Now I broke up with him about a week ago and he just doesn’t get it. He keeps sending me messages saying he’s sorry and now he knows what he messed up on , but truth is he AWLAYS knew just didn’t care to show it . He is texting me like we are just “fighting” and I’m going to get over it but I told him enough is enough and I’m emotionally drained. He still won’t let up. I don’t know what to do beside ignore him .

  9. Steph says:

    The only time he seemed to give an apology (really was recriminating) he was doing it to rebuild himself after a major public failing. I thought he was doing it to rebuild our family and show me love, but it ended up being all about rebuilding himself in the eyes of others. The rest of our 20+ years together has been a long series of him never apologizing. Not for anything. I expected too much or was oversensitive. When he left he projected that onto me and said I would have been easier to live with had I just apologized for all the things I had done to him. I am nauseated just thinking about it. The decades I have poured into the jack*$$!
    “When a narcissist makes an apology to repair a relationship what is repaired is not the damage to the relationship, but the narcissist’s illusion of perfection.” BINGO!

  10. Agnes says:

    I learnt from childhood that love is hard to get and that love can only be shown when worked for it. I grew up always fighting and been nice to men who do not love me. I will accept abuse in all kinds hoping they will love me eventually if I continue to be fixing their problems. I ended up marrying a narcist just after I broke up with a previous one. I did not allow myself to heal up from all the mind games. I became more confused, I wanted to just die. My narcist husband will emotional and phsically abuse me infront of my kids from the previous relationship. Call me names, blame me for his mistakes. All I did was feel guilty and hoping that he will change. When I say I will leave him, he will cry and beg and make series of promises. My advise to all who come in contact with a narcist, please please do not fall for their charms its a trap to make you believe they care. When they get you in their world then the abuse begins. Flee at once please do not let them drag you down. The no contact rule is the best way for you to break off from people with NPD. Thanks.

  11. G says:

    I was in a relationship with a female N and Sociopath by her own admission. It was a little tiring listening to stuff like, ” you like my a*s, don’t you” and, ” I know why you wslk behind me!”. She also molded me into what she liked. She haf me change my hair, shave my chest. and other areas. She told me what to eat. Which car i should buy, what i should wear, and when to call. I was de-valued and emotionally abused. All for the sex. She screwed me one day, left the next. I would call and tect, but she wouldn’t respond. It was horrible. I am in therapy, i have lost friends, and i have lost years on my life from the stress. She could care less. She got what she wanted, then moved on.

    • Alexander Burgemeester says:

      Hi G, that sounds like a terrible part of your life. I hope you can leave it behind you and focus on women who are worth it and make you feel better instead of worse. Never continue dating someone if the person is not making you feel better and appreciates you for who you are.

    • Monica says:

      Living in narcissism is like living in the twilght zone.

  12. Hubert says:

    I am in a slightly different situation. I was not technically the girls boyfriend , but she was the gf of a guy who treated her the way she treated me, and she apparently does to everyone. but I was her probably number one target (I know this seems complicated) but actually the bf, and her broke up over 100 times a 5 years, but see, I don’t know if after the fact at this point if he was actually using her and he didn’t do certain things and treated her in certain ways because of her own behavior and just did what he could do to keep her around (she was hot as hell and sexy as hell, and certainly fun and funny, a good cook and she was completely infatuated with him) and did she lie about things he does and says. But I assure all of you, as I findally started to realize, everything she said she was upset about him saying this and doing this to her and picking fights because of this or that. well I completely understand, but still think he himself was definitely using her. and stringing her along, plus he is suppsodely very rich so I think she wants to have him marry her to live the easy life. now getting backt o me personally.
    I believe she demonstrated every single type of thing on this list above.
    sometimes she would apologize (however a couple times I realized her way of apologizing was a lie I caught her in) like walking all over me one day and 2 days later apologizing that it wsa the other persona nd not me, she should not have done that to me, and should have called me but her phone was dead. and needed to be recharged, yet, 1 hour after she walked out her phone picked up, the kind where it just does and you don’t know the phone is on, IE you hear their voice it sounds far away and tons of background noise well her phone was on for 10 minutes. so she was lying in her apology.
    athere would be times when she would say things like “I am so sorry for yelling at you, but you know how I get sometimes, I can be such a b**th. I am so bipolar, if I had stpped back and done it again I probably would not have yelled at you. . or things like “I am not good to anyone, I need to be better, maybe karma will treat me better”
    and of course many times when “I was late beasue of this or that and this and that other thing, it ws someone else’s fault”
    this girl did all of it.
    but the one thing that tells me she is a narc, is one time early on all I said was something about how it was good she was calling her grandmother the one person I know is always on her side. after calling countless people at night wondering why theyd on’t answer the phone (you know like they have to get up for work tomorrow morning on a weekday>) so that’s all I said, se gave me this stare and said “what the hell is wrong with you? do you know her, are you and my grandma best friends? dating? how would you know so much>? your parents are looking down at you from heaven and are highly disappointed in how you treat people and are rolllig over in their graves” of course 2 minutes ater she said, oh I am so sorry about that, because I am just so stressed out I am on PMS and this friend almost died. well ok so this was early on and I am inexperienced with girls so I made an excuse that this is probably really stress and pms thinking it is some female thing. but what I really saw was the mask slip a little and recovered.
    didn’t know that til now.
    but I think back to another thing . that same night ealier she said to me (and I never aksed a question) “I hope you don’t ever think I am using you, because I would never do that”
    also, oneimte on her facebok way back over a year. she posted about getting something, like a gift from so and so. forget who. her post gave a shout out to that person and thanked them, but the ver next sentence In her post was something like “it is so nice to get these thing, and this happens often, being s super good friend to people pays off”
    um, wtf? being a goof friend pays off? really?
    this is a foreign concept to me. I don’t become friends with anyone because I feel it is going to pay off, other than in the sense that I have a trusted person I can share experiences with , which is rewarding, so in that sense, it pays off, but getting gifts and sayint it pays off. that is just plain strange. I wonder if shew as alrady saying what she was.
    however, she had me so often in a position where I didn’t know exactly what she really felt about me. ever. mostly it was good and she gave me lots of attention, but he first several months it felt truly good. however, in the final 3 months, it just suddenly getting more and more crazy and thea last 5 weeks she really started to go more and more in the area where she was goin gway outside of bounderies, showing me I meain nothing while trying to say I did. so I fainlly called her out on her BS, and that is when she went ballistic, she threatened me, told me to die, and was willing to go to jail for knoking my teeh out, said I better watch y back. why? she claims it is because I wrote her a love letter, but moreso because I lied about the 7 things I called her out on, which is barely scratching the surface.
    the wired thing about this the most, ist hat even though I have gone no contact for 3 months and even just reblocked her numbers as the block expired, well I know what led to all this, and sometimes I wonder if she eve rliked me, I think in some way she may have really liked me but did she? was it all fake? was it90% fake, was it half fake? and I also feel sorry for her at some level. and miss some of the good times. I mean sure, I know the good feelings were on a fake prmise but the good feeling were real to me, so it is a stuggle. yet, I feel so much less tired and stressed out than I ever did, howeve,r I guess there is that gap, hwoever I am slowly getting there. it is tough.

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