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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15 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.

  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…!

      • 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.”

  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.

  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 ….

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