Last Updated on February 8, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester
Would a narcissist ever apologize? Yes. Would they ever be truly sorry? No.
People often assume that narcissists never apologize for their wrongdoings. However, this myth isn’t true. In fact, some narcissists are more than happy to tell you they’re sorry.
The difference, however, is that their apologies lack sincerity and merit. That’s because their intentions aren’t rooted in expressing empathy or repairing a relationship issue. Instead, they are focused on coping with their own emotions and satisfying their intrinsic needs. The apology is about their self-preservation, and it has nothing to do with supporting you or honoring your needs.
So, how should you respond to the Narcissist’s fake apology?? Should you ignore them altogether? Demand that they give you an authentic apology instead? Let’s get into it.
Do Narcissists Apologize?
If you listen closely, many narcissists apologize all the time. Narcissists aren’t oblivious to social cues. They recognize the need for interpersonal relationships, and they understand that people apologize when they make mistakes.
But can a narcissist admit fault for their mistakes? To answer this question, you must understand the anatomy of an authentic apology. Authentic apologies include:
- Identifying that you made a mistake.
- Experiencing feelings of guilt or shame over the mistake.
- Empathizing with the other person’s feelings of sadness, anger, or betrayal.
- Acknowledging your wrongdoing.
- Making a conscious effort to avoid repeating the mistake.
As you can see, most narcissists fail to meet these criteria when they apologize. In fact, they may not actually do any of those things. As the recipient, this dynamic can feel frustrating and upsetting. Their words often seem hollow or scripted.
Instead of trusting that the narcissist wants to remedy the situation, you may feel like they don’t care about your feelings at all.
Why Would A Narcissist Apologize If They Can’t Accept Fault?
Narcissists cognitively understand how relationships work. They recognize that people have boundaries and feelings. Unfortunately, they cannot prioritize other people’s needs before their own. Therefore, their apologies are self-serving, and they may occur when they are:
- Caught in the act directly
- Needing to restore their sense of power and control.
- Fearing abandonment.
- Wanting to move on from the conflict or tension.
These apologies mimic the cliche of sorry, not sorry. They might be saying the right words to you, but their desire lies in helping themselves.
A narcissist apologies because they want relief. They want to move on from the challenging situation. It’s not about accepting fault- it’s about returning to a comfortable status quo within the relationship.
Understanding The Narcissist’s Fake Apologies
Narcissists often use apologies to move you along from your emotions. They don’t want you upset or angry at them. They want to maintain their usual homeostasis where they feel ogled and appreciated.
The Over-The-Top Apology
The over-the-top apology sounds something like this:
I’m so sorry! This will never happen again. I promise! I love you more than anything. Please forgive me. I feel so bad. I need you to know how sorry I am.
At first, this apology may sound heartfelt. Sometimes, these apologies are accompanied with tangible gifts, like flowers or thoughtful cards. These tricks can be convincing. You might believe the narcissist has taken accountability and truly acknowledged their issues.
However, this kind of apology isn’t about personal responsibility. It’s about them attempting to win you over with their excessive emotion.
This apology is more about the narcissist and their needs and feelings- rather than yours. They can’t tolerate the discomfort of you feeling upset with them, so they seemingly beg for your forgiveness.
The Overly Detailed Apology
I know I shouldn’t have done that. I got so busy with work! My boss added all these extra assignments today- can you believe that? After I just finished that massive project? It’s not even fair. And then, there was an accident on the way home, so that was distracting, and then my mom called, and I had to deal with her issues. And then…
Have you heard those lengthy explanations? Where these apologies contain excessive content, they lack emotion.
We all know that narcissists can be incredibly charming. Detailed apologies emphasize their charm. The narcissist inundated you with various details and reasoning for why they did what they did. Because they can be talented and convincing with their story, you may find yourself swept into this excuse.
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Overly detailed apologies represent a form of emotional manipulation. Rather than acknowledge the mistake, the narcissist continues to defend their stance. They distract you with inconsequential details to distract you from the truth.
The Blaming Apology
I am sorry that you feel like I”m not a good partner.
I am sorry that you can’t compromise with me.
I’m sorry that you’re being immature.
These statements are condescending attacks disguised as apologies. They shift the blame onto how you made them act that way. They become the victim in the dynamic, as if you now have to rescue them from their mistakes. This, of course, is a form of deflection, but you might not realize that if you struggle with low self-esteem.
Blaming apologies focus on what you need to do differently. The narcissist aims to convince you that your flaws provoked them into making that choice.
The “I’m Sorry, But” Apology
I am sorry, but I did what I had to do.
I am sorry, but I’m not perfect.
I am sorry, but you’re being dramatic.
I am sorry, but it was for the best!
These apologies are also excuses, as the narcissist attempts to absolve themselves from personal accountability. These efforts are a matter of self-preservation. The narcissist wants to maintain their sense of self-approval, and this desire supersedes the desire to have a respectful relationship.
The Hollow Apology
Some fake apologies eerily mimic authentic apologies. Many narcissists have charming personalities that they cultivate through years of observing social cues. They learn how to fake empathy. They also learn how to “speak the script” without the words having genuine meaning.
How can you distinguish an authentic apology from a hollow one. Consider the following warning signs:
- It seems generic and even forced, as if they just want to get it over with quickly.
- It comes too late. Authentic apologies tend to be spontaneous because the person experiences an immediate sense of guilt or shame.
- You have a strong belief that they are just talking the talk without walking the walk.
- You keep feeling frustrated by their apologies, but you can’t pinpoint why.
- The same arguments reemerge, despite the apologies or promises to change.
- The narcissist apologies without engaging in appropriate nonverbal body language. For example, they might be smiling when they tell you how sad they feel. Or, they might avoid making eye contact altogether.
The Denied Apology
“I don’t know why you’re so upset. I didn’t do anything wrong. If you hadn’t done that, this never would have happened in the first place.”
Narcissists often make numerous excuses to justify their behavior. Because they have an inflated ego, they will defend their choices mercilessly.
Often, their denial isn’t meant to be malicious. Narcissists simply struggle with compromised emotional empathy. This means that they do not have the same ability to care about the feelings of other people.
How To Respond To The Narcissist Fake Apology?
It’s no secret that these fake apologies feel insensitive and disrespectful. You may want to lash out or respond with the silent treatment approach.
However, those reactions only tend to provoke more conflict and tension. Instead, it’s better to reflect on how you want to handle these situations ahead of time.
Understand The Narcissist
Narcissism is a mental illness, and it’s not a matter of willpower of choice. This personality disorder corresponds with having an inflated ego, an excessive need for attention, and difficult relationships. Subsequently, many narcissists struggle with emotional regulation, excess rage, and intense impatience for other people.
Many people think narcissists are oblivious to their behavior. Interestingly, research shows they often have insight into their personality or reputation. They often know others don’t perceive them as positively as they do. However, they attribute this discrepancy to others being too jealous of them or too unsophisticated to recognize their brilliance.
In other words, narcissists tend to know they are narcissistic. However, they don’t perceive this to be a bad thing. Often, they would rather be admired than liked, and they live to seek the recognition they believe they inherently deserve.
Accept Your Relationship Limitations
If you intend to stay involved with the narcissist, you need to have realistic expectations about your relationship. The narcissist may never be able to give you a sincere apology. They may not want to hear about your opinion or understand your feelings. They may not be able to accept blame or own personal accountability.
That doesn’t mean your relationship is inherently doomed. Ultimately, it is your decision who you want in your life. You may just need to adjust your expectations.
Set and Maintain Clear Boundaries
In any relationship, it’s crucial to have limits as to what you will or will not tolerate. Your boundaries help preserve your integrity. They tell other people what you expect from them.
When dealing with fake apologies, you can implement boundaries by:
- Telling them you won’t accept the apology at the moment.
- Expressing your needs and requiring that they don’t interrupt you.
- Taking a few moments to walk away and cool down.
- Leaving the house if they start becoming hostile or threatening.
- Telling them you will revisit the conversation at a later time.
When stating boundaries, it’s important to be assertive. Maintain a calm demeanor. Remember that your boundaries are only as strong as your ability to implement them. If you keep wavering back-and-forth, you may send a strong message that you can be manipulated.
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When you try to set a boundary, narcissists may steamroll you with flattery or begging. They will tell you they’ll never make that mistake again. They will ask you to reconsider and suggest you’re being too harsh or unfair.
Remember that this is a reaction to their discomfort. They don’t want to feel vulnerable or out-of-control. They don’t want you to reflect on how their behavior hurts you.
Try your best not to back down. Consistency is the recipe for making boundaries work. By being consistent every single time, you demonstrate that you are serious about your intentions. This consistency may incentivize change.
Keep Yourself Safe
Your safety needs to be a top priority in your relationship. Narcissists can be prone to rageful and irrational behavior, and it’s critical that you recognize red flags before they emerge.
Some signs to look out for include:
- Screaming at you.
- Belittling or criticizing you.
- Becoming physically aggressive towards you or towards inanimate objects.
- Drinking excess alcohol or using drugs.
- Making threats to harm themselves.
- Making threats to harm you or your loved ones.
It’s important to have a support system if the conflict escalates. Even if you love the narcissist, you need to understand your relationship deal-breakers.
Your safety must come first. If you have children, you also need to consider their well-being. Abuse is never okay, and if you’ve been abused, you are not obligated to make this relationship work.
It’s frustrating to receive fake apologies from narcissists. At times, they will hurt more than receiving no apology at all.
Understanding narcissism is the first step to recognizing the backstory behind these fake apologies. In increasing your own insight, you can choose the next step as to how you want to approach your relationship.
- Brown, J. (2020). Study shows Narcissistic Personality Disorder may have a biological component. UChicago Medicine.
- Carlson, E., Vazire, S., & Oltmanns, T. (2011). You probably think this paper’s about you: Narcissists’ Perception of their Personality and Reputation. U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
- Ronningstam, E. (2016). New Insights Into Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Psychiatric Times.
- Picnus, A & Lukowitsy, M. (2009). Pathological Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology- PubMed. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.121208.131215