Understand how narcissists apologize. And learn how to respond to their apologies to protect your emotional well-being from further harm.
Narcissists are known for their lack of empathy and tendency to prioritize their own needs and desires over those of others.
They hardly ever feel regret, guilt, or remorse. Actually, they don’t believe they did anything wrong (to defend their fragile egos).
If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you’ve probably noticed that they practically never say “Sorry.”
So, how do they tender their apologies, when they do? And how should you respond when you see that rare event?
How Do Narcissists Apologize?
Narcissists are known for their self-centeredness, lack of empathy, and refusal to take responsibility for their actions. When they do apologize, it is often insincere and manipulative.
Here are some common ways that narcissists apologize:
1. The Non-Apology Apology: Superficial & Lacking Genuine Remorse
A narcissist’s apology often lacks genuine remorse. Instead, they may offer a superficial apology that does not acknowledge the harm they caused.
For example, they may say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I’m sorry if I offended you,” which shifts the blame onto the other person and does not take responsibility for their actions.
2. Manipulating Relationships: Apologizing for Selfish Reasons
Narcissists may apologize for selfish reasons, such as to maintain control over the relationship or to avoid consequences.
They may apologize to get something they want or to manipulate the other person’s emotions into overlooking their wrongdoings.
By apologizing, they intend to gain forgiveness without having to make any real changes to their behavior. They think a “Sorry” would push the present issues under the carpet.
By apologizing, they may also avoid other consequences, like being punished physically, mentally, or financially.
3. The Conditional Apology: Lashing Out When Not Immediately Forgiven
Narcissists may offer a conditional apology, where they apologize only if the other person forgives them immediately.
It’s like putting a gun to the victim’s head while offering an apology.
If the other person does not forgive them right away, they may lash out or become defensive.
4. Apologies As Lies: The Illusion of Compassion and Empathy
Narcissists may use apologies as a way to create the illusion of compassion and empathy.
They may apologize to make themselves look good, to avoid criticism, and to maintain their image as a good and moral person.
Even if they don’t truly feel sorry for their actions, they may feel pressured to comply with societal norms of politeness and remorse.
5. Blame-Shifting Narcissistic Apology: Deploying The Defense Mechanism
Narcissists may use a blame-shifting apology, where they apologize but then shift the blame onto the other person.
For example, they may say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you made me so angry.” This type of apology does not take responsibility for their actions and places the blame on the other person.
|Genuine Apology||Narcissist Apology|
|Recognition||Sincerely and genuinely appears to recognize the harm||Disregards their own actions, focuses on fixing your feelings|
|May admit harm partially, but shifts all focus to your actions|
|Tries to make you feel they are doing you a favor by apologizing|
|Responsibility||Assumes accountability for actions||Evades responsibility, and blames you for your feelings|
|Does not admit harm, shifts blame on you or others, or situations|
|Refuses to takes any responsibility|
|Remorse||Genuinely expresses regret||Apologizes without real remorse or guilt|
|Feigns remorse to deceive with flat-faced lies|
|Refuses to feel regret for having done wrong|
|Repair||Makes amends, tries to rectify issues||Makes no effort to repair or change|
|Uses excuses, doesn’t change behavior|
|Continues harmful behavior despite apology|
How To Respond To A Narcissist’s Apology
Dealing with a narcissist’s justifications and conditions as they deliver their apology can be distressing and triggering.
Here are some tips to help you respond sanely to a narcissist’s apology:
1. Recognizing The Narcissist’s Apology: Expecting Insincerity
When a narcissist apologizes, they may be trying to manipulate you to forgive them, so they may avoid the consequences.
Keep in mind that parts of their apology may be inauthentic and fabricated.
Process their words with caution, staying mindful of the many small and large lies they may be bringing into it.
2. Limitations of Narcissistic Relationships: Realistic Expectations
Have realistic expectations when dealing with a narcissist, at all times.
You cannot change their behavior, and they may not be capable of true empathy or remorse.
Instead of accepting “their versions of the truth” and “I’m sorry but it wasn’t my fault,” limit your interactions with them to transactional, stop expecting them to change, and guard your sanity.
3. Setting & Maintaining Strong Boundaries: Protecting Yourself
When responding to a narcissist’s apology, whether you accept it or not, set and maintain strong boundaries.
Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate, and stick to your boundaries.
Always get them to repeat in their own words what you want them not to do. This will help protect you from further manipulation or abuse.
4. Dealing with Narcissists’ Apologies: Communicating Your Needs
When responding to a narcissist’s apology, communicate your needs clearly and assertively.
Let them know how their behavior has impacted you, and what you need from them moving forward.
Be firm, but avoid becoming emotional or engaging in arguments. They are known to use the “word salad” a lot when confronted.
5, Observing Changes in Behavior: Evaluating Their Actions
After a narcissist apologizes, observe their behavior.
Keep track of whether they stick to the words they promised you during the apology. Notice to see whether they are genuinely trying to change.
If they continue to be manipulative or abusive, it might be time to reassess the relationship.
6. Encouraging Positive Behavior: Reinforcing the Good
If a narcissist makes an effort to change for the better, it’s a good idea to recognize it and praise them to reinforce positive behavior.
Let them know when they are being respectful and considerate, and encourage them to keep up the good work.
7. Staying Safe: Identifying & Escaping Dangerous Situations
If you feel at risk or under threat from a narcissist, consider it an emergency and secure your safety without telling them.
Telling them you’re feeling unsafe may make them fly into a rage or become inhumanely cruel.
Take steps to protect yourself. This may include seeking support from friends and family, ending the relationship, or even getting a restraining order.
8. Documenting Your Experience: Keeping A Personal Journal
Keeping a personal journal can help you document your experience with a narcissist.
First, it allows you to record and check what you did or did not do or say when the narcissist is trying to gaslight you.
Second, it can help you identify their patterns and habits, and track their behavior around your boundaries and personal space.
9. Seeking Fulfillment In Other Relationships: Managing Your Emotional Needs
Dealing with a narcissist can be emotionally draining. Narcissists are known to isolate you from your social circle.
Unless you build or keep relationships with others, you cannot hope to get an observer’s perspective of your situation.
Seek fulfillment in other relationships and activities to balance your emotional needs.
Spend time with friends and family, pursue hobbies or interests, or reach out to other narcissistic survivors.
Why Do Narcissists Struggle to Apologize?
Narcissists often struggle to apologize for their mistakes.
Here are the reasons why they can’t seem to do it:
1. Narcissist Mindset: Unwillingness to Apologize
Narcissists view themselves as superior to others and believe they are always right (almost like God, perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent).
Apologizing would mean admitting they were wrong, which goes against their self-image.
They also fear that apologizing will make them appear weak or vulnerable, which they cannot tolerate.
So they take to blaming others for their mistakes, which allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their deeds.
2. Apologies As Surrender: Manipulating Relationships
Narcissists manipulate others to maintain control over their relationships. So they see their apology as an admission of guilt and as surrender.
Also, they feel that you may use their apology and admission to ridicule or manipulate them in the future.
They believe that apologizing would take away their authority and literally imagine themselves being placed on a lower pedestal.
So, they stall. Instead of apologizing quickly and directly, they keep evading confrontation until you have forgotten the issue or they have gained your sympathy and automatic pardon.
3. Absence of Genuine Remorse: Lack of Self-Reflection and Empathy
Narcissists lack the ability to feel genuine remorse for their actions.
They do not have the capacity for self-reflection and are unable to understand how their behavior affects others.
Narcissists also lack empathy, which makes it difficult for them to understand or care about the feelings of others.
Only when they are under too much pressure (to protect their reputation or to maintain their facade of perfection), they do apologize, but much of it is insincere and does not address the underlying issues.
Without genuine remorse, their apologies are empty and meaningless.
4. Narcissistic Trauma Bonds: The Toxic Cycle of Abuse
Narcissistic apologies can be part of a toxic cycle of narcissistic abuse.
Narcissists may apologize after they have hurt someone, and show a few gestures of kindness and love, only to repeat the same behavior later on.
This often creates a trauma bond, where the victim becomes emotionally attached to the abuser and believes that the apologies are genuine.
Unfortunately, this trauma bonding is the reason many narcissistic abuse victims keep going back to their offenders after breaking up with them. It can also make them gravitate toward someone else who is also a narcissist.
The cycle of abuse often continues for years, making the victim feel trapped in the relationship and acquire learned helplessness.
Why Do Narcissists Apologize (Sometimes)?
So, why then narcissists apologize on a few occasions?
The main motive for a narcissist to apologize is to keep you in the relationship, to fulfill their selfish needs of narcissistic supply. They fear that if they don’t apologize, you may leave and take away their supply.
Their narcissistic supply is your constant attention and praise, your patiently listening to how horrible others are, and your presence being someone they can humiliate to feel better about themselves.
They need their supply to survive. It sustains their grandiose fantasies of superiority and infallibility. It keeps their low self-esteem from shattering away.
“Finally, the DSM V accepted what I have been saying for decades: that narcissists can have an “inferiority complex” and feel worthless and bad; that they go through cycles of ups and downs in their self-evaluation; and that this cycling influences their mood and affect.”– Sam Vaknin, the world’s foremost authority on Narcissistic Personality Disorder
How to respond to a fake apology from a narcissist?
1. Stay calm: Avoid getting emotional or defensive.
2. Focus on actions: Observe behavior, not just words.
3. Set boundaries: Clarify expectations and consequences.
4. Seek external support: Rely on friends, family, or therapists.
5. Maintain perspective: Remember their manipulation tactics.
What happens that makes a narcissist apologize?
1. Rare remorse: Occasionally, genuine regret for their actions.
2. Testing boundaries: Gauging how much they can get away with.
3. Manipulation: Using insincere apologies to deceive and exploit others.
4. Reestablishing power: Attempting to regain control in the relationship.
5. Self-preservation: Apologizing to maintain control and avoid losing narcissistic supply.
What happens when you ignore a narcissist’s apology?
1. Frustration: Narcissists may feel irritated by the lack of attention.
2. Escalation: They might intensify their attempts to regain control.
3. Smear campaign: Spreading rumors or lies to tarnish your image.
4. Discard: Potentially ending the relationship if they feel threatened.
5. Self-reflection: In rare cases, your ignoring may lead them to introspect.
Final Words: Take-Home Tips
Handling a narcissist can be exhausting. Prioritize your physical and mental well-being; lean on a therapist, friend, or family member to stay grounded and maintain perspective.
Here are 3 take-home tips to help you handle their apologies:
- Narcissists are good at saying what others want to hear, and freely use apologies to manipulate; so watch if their behavior matches their words and keep a check for genuine remorse.
- Narcissists thrive on drama, so keep your calm and avoid getting defensive or emotional when they apologize, as this prevents them from gaining an edge.
- If you accept a narcissist’s apology, set clear boundaries, outlining your expectations and spelling out the consequences for their future misconduct.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy, an experienced medical doctor and psychology writer focusing on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy. His expertise and empathetic approach have helped many mental abuse survivors find happiness and well-being in their lives.
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