The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Many people believe narcissists don't apologize and that is technically true. An apology is, at the very least, an admission of wrongdoing, if not an expression of remorse, and this is not something you will hear from a narcissist except in times when it is absolutely unavoidable. However, it is not correct that narcissists never utter the words, "I'm sorry." Many do, and they may even believe they actually are apologizing, but because they lack remorse or empathy, their apology is often what we call a non-apology apology, or a "fauxpology."
A fauxpology it is a statement that sounds like an apology but does not actually express remorse or admit any wrongdoing. It's a way of trying to achieve forgiveness without admitting fault. It's the classic, "I'm sorry you got upset" manipulation. This is not an apology. Because narcissistic people don't actually understand or acknowledge the emotions of others, and because they believe they are the victim in any and all situations, they don't generally believe they've done anything wrong when it comes to other people. They are simply going through the motions of what think they are supposed to do. If someone says you wronged them and you want them to let you back into their good graces, you apologize. It is not an admission of guilt for the narcissist. It's a means to an end.
This is why they will often say things like, "I already apologized, what else do you want?" It's as if they believe the act of saying "I'm sorry" means everything is OK. This is not unlike the way a child thinks. "I did what you asked but it's still not OK. Why?" This is because the narcissist has no understanding of why they should apologize. Your idea of why they should apologize and their idea of why they should apologize are totally different. You believe an apology is needed because you were wronged. The reason the apology is needed is not because a wrong was committed, in the narcissist's mind. The apology is needed because there is no other way to get what they want. They don't really understand your reasons, nor do they care. They aren't doing it for you. If there is a way for them to get what they want without giving an apology, you won't get one.
The fauxpology usually accomplishes two things, besides simple manipulation. It asserts that the narcissist did nothing wrong, and it also often makes sure to state that you did do something wrong. "I'm sorry you got mad" is not only not an admission of wrongdoing, it implies that the person they are apologizing to did do something wrong. For example, let's say the narcissist has said something extremely rude or hurtful. You react by getting upset, as most people would. It turns into an argument, with the narcissist insisting you attacked them and all the standard denials, blameshifting and gaslighting that they are famous for.
But let's say this time you beat them into a corner somehow or threaten to abandon the relationship, and they apologize. This so-called apology may be something like, "I'm sorry I spoke out of turn" or "I'm sorry for talking back." Or the ever-popular, "I'm sorry for having feelings." This not only makes it clear that the narcissist did not do anything wrong, it states very bluntly that something is wrong with you, that you are treating the narcissist cruelly by forcing them to apologize for standing against your horrible abuse or just for being a person. Make no mistake about it, this is done completely on purpose. It's designed to make you feel bad, and look bad to anyone who might be listening. It's not an apology. It's just another attack. If you call them out on it, they will likely continue in the same vein, that you are so evil and sadistic that apologizing was not good enough for you. This is a never-ending battle that is totally pointless. You're never going to get what you want. What you want is a real and true admission of wrongdoing and a sincere apology. You're not going to get one. They will just keep twisting it and turning it, never admitting anything and never showing real remorse. It's a waste of time.
The narcissist's apology is like most other things about them: fake, hollow and insincere. It's simply a means to an end. You would be more likely to get blood from a stone before you will get remorse out of a pathologically narcissistic person. They just aren't capable of it. But by understanding this and adjusting your expectations to be more realistic, you can take their power to hurt you away. If you don't expect a sincere apology, it won't hurt you when you don't get one.
jim on January 16, 2020:
Thank you for this advice and education