When dealing with someone with narcissistic personality disorder, you want to be mindful of their actions over their words.
Don’t be easily fooled by apologies. It’s easy for them to make bold promises, especially when they feel threatened in a relationship.
Sometimes you want to believe that they’re actually remorseful. But other times, you’re well aware that the apology is scripted or fake.
You don’t want to accept their apology because it feels like acceptance is synonymous with condoning their problematic behavior.
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, learning how to interpret and respond to apologies is essential for protecting your well-being.
In this article, we’ll cover typical narcissistic apologies and how you can react to them.
How Does a Narcissist Apologize?
Would a narcissist ever apologize? Yes. Would they ever be truly sorry? No.
Do narcissists apologize? Yes! Some people think narcissists never apologize when making mistakes, but it’s a misconception.
Many narcissists will say they’re sorry from time to time, and knowing how a narcissist apologizes is one of the first steps to understanding their behavior.
Every narcissist is different in how they apologize, but most apologies have the following traits in common:
- it’s always (or usually) someone else’s fault
- you’re being overly dramatic or unfair to them
- they’re willing to apologize, but they want complete forgiveness instantly
- they don’t consider how they play any part in creating toxic relationships
- they expect full and complete apologies from you on-demand
What Does It Mean When a Narcissist Says Sorry?
When most people apologize, they do so because they feel guilty, and they want to make genuine amends to another person.
But when a narcissistic person apologizes, their motives are much different.
They apologize because they want to move on from the situation quickly, and they want your forgiveness (even if they’ve done something horrible).
Most narcissists will use a fake apology to try to reconcile their relationships. These apologies are manipulative and intended to make you feel sorry (even if you’ve done nothing wrong).
A narcissist saying sorry doesn’t mean they’re actually sorry. And if they are sorry, it’s usually because they’re sorry they got caught or they’re feeling afraid of losing something.
12 Examples of Fake Apologies and How to Respond to Them
A narcissist apology is different from other apologies. Instead of asking yourself, Will a narcissist apologize? it’s better to consider, How will the narcissist try to manipulate me with their apology?
In most cases, narcissists will attempt to.
Below are some of the most common toxic apology examples:
The Dramatic Apology
I am so sorry! Can’t you see how much I love you? I would never want to hurt you. I promise that this will never happen again.
The dramatic apology is authentic, especially when the relationship is new. It’s common for narcissists also to bring gifts like flowers or thoughtful cards with these kinds of apologies.
But this type of apology avoids any real accountability and speaks more to the narcissist’s needs and feelings than yours.
The best way to respond is by focusing on the impact over the intention. Even if their intentions were “good,” that doesn’t mean their behavior didn’t hurt you.
The Long-Winded Apology
You don’t understand. This morning, I woke up with such a headache, and I had three missed calls from my mom. You know she’s been so stressed dealing with my brother lately. I always have to ensure I’m there for her, too. And then there was so much traffic on the way to my office. And then...
If you listen closely, overly-detailed apologies aim to distract people from the real issue. This isn’t a sincere apology- it’s a way for the narcissist to blame external factors for their behavior.
The best response is to focus on the facts and how you felt. You can empathize with what happened, but you’re still entitled to your feelings and boundaries.
This might sound like, I hear that you’re stressed, and I’m sorry you’re going through so much, but I won’t tolerate you yelling at me.
The Sobbing Apology
When a narcissist cries and apologizes, it’s tempting to believe they feel genuinely remorseful.
But this is another fake apology intended to garner your sympathy. They want to be the victim in the situation, and they want you to feel remorse for how you hurt them.
You can respond to this type of apology by staying firm in your truth.
This may sound like, I am still upset. We can talk about your feelings, but you must understand mine right now, too.
The Already-Apologized Apology
I already told you that I was sorry for that!
I’m not going to keep apologizing every time you get upset.
Narcissists tend to rely on this kind of apology as a way to avoid confrontation or avoid examining problematic patterns within the relationship. To them, it seems matter-of-fact. The case is closed.
If you receive this apology, remaining firm with your boundaries is important.
Don’t ignore the situation just because the narcissist wants to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
The Blaming Apology
I’m sorry you can’t take a joke.
I’m sorry that you find me so difficult.
I’m sorry you feel angry.
If you ever hear a narcissist apologize with the phrase, ‘I’m sorry you,’ it’s a clear sign that they can’t accept responsibility for their actions. Instead, you’re the one with the problem and the one who’s in the wrong.
When dealing with these kinds of apologies, remember that narcissists use gaslighting to protect their fragile egos.
You need to be as direct as possible, which sounds like, I am angry, and you don’t have to be sorry about that, but we need to talk about what’s going on.
The Tit-for-Tat Apology
I’ll apologize right now if you agree to let this go.
I want to hear you tell me that you’re sorry first.
Sometimes known as a pay-to-play apology, this apology is also fake and caters to the narcissist’s ego more than the integrity of your relationship.
Most narcissists want forgiveness for their irrational behavior or verbal abuse, but they still want you to say sorry first!
Remember that you don’t owe anyone an apology, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong.
The best response is to avoid playing this game. Don’t apologize just for the sake of getting them to apologize- you two aren’t children fighting over a toy!
The Phantom Apology
The phantom apology can feel somewhat more ambiguous than the other types of apologies, but empty apologies share certain features in common, including:
They feel scripted or forced: It can feel as if the narcissist wants to get the task over quickly. Even if they’re expressing empathy, it almost sounds like they’re rehearsing lines in a play.
The timing seems wrong: A narcissistic apology often comes way too late. Healthy people apologize quickly- they feel that immediate sense of guilt or shame after hurting someone they care about.
Narcissists apologize because they feel cornered and don’t want to sit with that uncomfortable feeling.
Their body language is insincere or conflicting: A narcissist might say all the right words, but their nonverbal communication is often incongruent.
For example, they might smile as they tell you how upset they feel. Or, they might make too much (or not enough) eye contact.
They feel hollow: Most people will say that an apology from a narcissist just feels inauthentic or fake, even if they can’t exactly pinpoint why.
Of all the apologies to deal with, phantom ones are the most difficult. They’re the easiest to deny, but they essentially make up the anatomy of a narcissistic relationship.
If you keep receiving these apologies, it’s important to reevaluate your motives. What are you getting from this dynamic? What are you seeking to change?
Most people find that they need to take a step back altogether. This may mean limiting contact, but it may also entail restricting which types of topics you discuss with the narcissist.
The Blanket Statement Apology
I’m sorry I’m such a bad boyfriend and never make you happy.
I’m sorry for every single time I’ve hurt you.
Narcissists tend to make these generic apologies as a way to “batch” all their mistakes into one apology.
But it’s not real- a narcissist makes a blanket statement apology to avoid actually addressing the situation.
You can respond to this by focusing on the issue at hand. This sounds like, “I want to talk specifically about the time that I’m hurt right now.”
The Martyr Apology
I’m just trying to make you happy!
I’m sorry- I’ve just been so overwhelmed and trying to do everything right here.
Narcissists often act like martyrs to get attention and sympathy. Instead of owning responsibility, they focus on what they’re doing right.
They want you to feel guilty for having a negative reaction.
You should respond to them acting like a martyr by focusing on your feelings. Don’t give into their martyr complex or even validate what they’re doing right. Simply say, “I felt upset because you did ___.
The Conditional Apology
I’m sorry if I did something wrong.
I’m sorry if you thought I’d do it the other way.
A conditional apology can be confusing because it’s like an invisible apology coupled with no apology at all. The narcissist is basically only saying they’re sorry if you feel or react a certain way.
You should respond by avoiding the ‘if’ part altogether. Keep things objective and state exactly what happened and how you felt about it.
Don’t feel guilty for having your feelings- you’re entitled to feel how you feel.
The Silent Treatment Apology
This apology follows a particular pattern: the narcissist will apologize, and things seem fine for a few moments or even hours.
But then, their personality shifts. Suddenly, they’re stonewalling you or giving you the full silent treatment. They seem more upset than ever.
This is part of the push-pull dynamic that sometimes comes with narcissism. They want your empathy, but they’re devaluing you simultaneously.
The best reaction is no reaction. The narcissist wants you to ask them what’s wrong and give them attention.
Instead of giving in to that desire, stay calm and disconnect yourself.
The Apology Refusal
Some narcissists will refuse to apologize altogether. They might laugh at you for even asking for an apology.
This is common when dealing with more malignant narcissists, but it can also be seen in covert narcissists as well. The apology essentially feels beneath them.
It’s important to focus on what you can control. You can’t make someone apologize, and even if you could, do you really want someone to only apologize for the sake of apologizing?
Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and considering if there are other ways you can validate your hurt feelings.
What Happens When You Ignore a Narcissist’s Apology?
Narcissists rely on ongoing validation and attention to secure their own egos. They want to protect their narcissistic supply, and an apology is one way they aim to stay stable in their relationships.
Ignoring a narcissist can be incredibly disarming. They’d rather have negative feedback than nothing at all. Some narcissists will react with intense anger when you ignore them.
How Do You Positively Respond to a Narcissist?
Narcissistic abuse can feel extremely frustrating and difficult. There’s no “easy” way to cope with abuse, and you can do everything right, but still feel hurt.
The most important thing is to consider your own boundaries. What are your limits in this relationship? What are you absolutely not willing to condone?
Once you identify those limits, it’s important to protect yourself. Remember your truth, build your own support system, and implement healthy coping skills that cultivate your self-esteem.
Try to avoid getting caught up in the narcissist’s ego as much as you can.
If you’re dealing with a complete narcissist, remember that they will likely try to disrespect your limits- time and time again.
At some point, you may need to redefine the relationship or cut them out altogether.