The Narcissist and Apology – Can A Narcissist Truly Apologize?

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.

Why Can’t The Narcissist Truly Apologize?

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.

7 Substitutes When The Narcissist Can’t Apologize

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.


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