Narcissists almost never apologize since their fragile self-esteem can’t allow them to admit they’ve done something wrong. The trauma that causes narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) causes the narcissist to bury what they believe to be a flawed true self and construct a false self-image in its place. They infuse that false self with grandiose ideas of superiority and perfection. Apologizing would bring that house of cards tumbling down. That’s why you’ll be confronting a refusal to apologize from your narcissistic mother often.
To get a narcissistic mother to apologize, you’ll need to be straight with them in a non-judgmental way. Being humble yourself and giving them a way to save face can help as well. You’ll also want to avoid putting what they did in terms of right and wrong. These tactics can help but not every time.
My narcissistic mother almost never apologized unless she needed something from me. If she felt like she could get what she wanted if she just admitted her responsibility, she would do it to manipulate me. I tried everything to get her to admit when she had made a mistake. I confronted her with irrefutable evidence on several occasions, but somehow she would twist that around, so it was all somehow my fault. It took me a long time, but I finally found some tactics to get her to be more willing to admit her role in creating problems. Let me show you some of the techniques that have worked for me.
What to Do When You Just Can’t Break Through
Narcissists are masters of manipulation, and part of how they do that is they dodge the truth at every turn. They have no problem lying, and they are unwilling to admit to any flaws. You can watch this video for a more in-depth explanation of why they avoid apologies.
To do so would undermine their fragile sense of self. They fear the world will see them as a fraud and a terrible person. That’s why they will seldom apologize, even if they are someone as close to you as a narcissistic mother.
There are some tactics you can use that can help, however. Here are some of the techniques I found that have worked well on my narcissistic mother.
1. Try Collaboration to Get an Apology
It’s incredibly difficult to get a narcissist, particularly it’s your mother, to admit any wrongdoing. Even if you have incontrovertible proof they have done something wrong, admitting that is just too damaging to their fragile false self-image.
In fact, when confronted with evidence of their wrongdoing, narcissists suffer something called a narcissistic injury, which is explained in more detail in this article by psychologists at the University of Maryland.
One thing that can help you get your narcissistic mother to accept her role is to try collaboration instead of blame. You might say something like, “We sometimes have difficulty communicating. I know we can do better, and together, we can work to solve this problem.”
If you just come at her with blame, she’ll never apologize. In fact, she’ll find a way to blame you for the problem. By collaborating, you give her a way to address the problem without bearing the full weight of the blame.
This is a good communication tip in general since it can be difficult for many people to accept full responsibility for a problem. By vowing to work on it together, it’s possible for even a narcissistic mother to improve her communication ability.
I frequently use this tactic on my mother, and it helps to lower her defenses so she can talk more reasonably about how to move forward after we’ve encountered a problem.
2. Don’t Be Judgmental
When you approach a narcissist with judgment, they will become immediately defensive. It’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere with them.
Of course, narcissists have no problem passing judgment on you. My mother was always judging me and my friends. But that’s part of their projection.
Narcissists project their own flaws onto other people. If they are accusing you of lying, it’s likely they’ve been lying to you. Likewise, if a narcissistic romantic partner is accusing you of cheating, they are probably the one who is being unfaithful.
This is part of their manipulation. They accuse you of exactly what they’re doing to distract you from the issue at hand. This is another problem in approaching them with a judgmental attitude.
If you give them something they can accuse you of doing, they will try to divert the conversation onto what they see as your problem. You might approach them with something you feel they’ve done wrong, and before you know it, you’re arguing about your judgmental nature rather than the original problem you brought up.
If you can approach them with a non-judgmental attitude, you won’t give them anything to use against you. You might use statements like, “I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding, but can you explain it to me?” or “What motivated you to do that?”
These kinds of statements don’t assume they’ve done something wrong. They give them a chance to explain their thought process or why they took the actions they did. You’re showing them that you aren’t going to automatically assume they did something inappropriate.
With this kind of approach, you’re more likely to at least get an explanation of their behavior. It might not be an apology, but you’ll have some insight into their motivation.
3. Demonstrate Empathy
Narcissists lack empathy. They don’t have the ability to put themselves in your shoes and understand how their actions affect you. This is part of why they can say and do such hurtful things.
If you demonstrate empathy toward them and other people, you’re giving them a model of how they can improve their interactions. You also show them that you’re genuinely willing to understand their side of things.
Statements like “I am sure you are very frustrated when something doesn’t go your way” or “I can understand why you would be angry about that” show the narcissist how a person can put themselves in someone else’s place to understand them better.
Empathy can be learned, but it’s very difficult for the narcissist because the nature of their personality disorder demands that they be focused on constantly protecting that false image they’ve constructed. This is also part of why they’re always so defensive.
If you can demonstrate empathy, however, they can learn a better communication style. If they are at all interested in reducing their narcissistic tendencies, this can help.
I remember I had to do this with one of my early boyfriends. I dated more than one narcissist before I realized why I was doing that. With one of them, I would literally tell him what he should be saying to me.
It was comical, but it actually helped. If your narcissistic mother is having trouble apologizing, say something like, “I know it’s difficult to admit when you’ve made a mistake, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
That shows her that you understand the difficulty she’s having, and it also helps her understand that you don’t think in binary terms. You understand a person can make mistakes and still be a good person.
4. Don’t Make it Black and White
Narcissists think in binary terms, and they lack object constancy. Their binary thinking means everything is either black or white to them. You’re either with them or against them.
Lacking object constancy means that they are unable to hold to seemingly opposing ideas about a person at once. Healthy people can be mad at you but still love you and see you as generally a good person.
A narcissist can’t do that. If you’ve done something wrong, they see you as completely bad. They can’t be angry with you and still realize that they love you. This is why a narcissist will seek to completely crush someone they see as an enemy, even if that person is a close family member.
If you approach a narcissistic mother with statements that label a situation in black and white, they immediately become defensive. They also immediately see you as being against them. You’re now an enemy, and it’s almost certain they will never apologize.
To avoid making it a case of black and white, let your narcissistic mother know that you understand why she might have felt the need to say or do what she did. Use that empathy to show her that you can imagine what she must have felt like.
This shows her you understand there are grey areas in every situation, and it also models empathy for her. If you can do this successfully, you might get her to at least acknowledge some level of culpability.
5. Stay Grounded in Your Reality
When a narcissistic mother feels her back is up against the wall, she will often use gaslighting to try and reframe the narrative. She will try to make it seem like she didn’t do or say what you claim or that if she did, it was a joke or you misunderstood it.
She’s trying to confuse you and make you question your interpretation of reality. If you fall for it, she will use this tactic again and again. And she will almost never apologize for anything.
That’s why it’s vital for you to stay grounded in your own reality. If she tries to tell you something you think happened didn’t, simply respond with, “I trust my own interpretation of what happened.”
If she says it was a joke, simply respond with something like, “I didn’t find it funny, and I would appreciate it if you would respect me by not using that kind of humor again.” By responding firmly in this way, you’re setting a strong boundary about how much you trust your own intuition.
When you’re interacting with a narcissist, you have to set boundaries about your own interpretations. My mother had me feeling so confused, I thought I might need to have myself committed for psychological evaluation at one point in my life.
Gaslighting is one of the most insidious of the narcissist’s tactics. Stay grounded in your own reality, because when you’re dealing with a narcissist, your gut is probably right on the money.
6. Always Stay Calm
When you have to confront a narcissist about something you think they should apologize for, it’s likely they will respond with their characteristic narcissistic rage. This is an explosive eruption of anger designed to distract and intimidate you.
Responding in kind will only escalate the argument, and it won’t get you anywhere if you’re looking for an apology. This is another opportunity to set a boundary about the kind of treatment you will and will not accept.
Stay calm, no matter what your narcissistic mother says, and simply walk away. You can also say something like, “This is a serious topic that we need to discuss and resolve, but I won’t talk to you until you can speak to me in a calm, respectful manner.” This video explains some other techniques you can use to stay calm when dealing with a narcissist.
That sets a boundary for her rageful response. It also helps defuse the situation. When you can stay calm, it will be more difficult for the narcissist to distract you, too. It also serves to let the narcissist know that they won’t be successful in creating a diversion.
They are going to have to deal with the situation, and they are going to have to do it in a respectful manner. When a narcissist knows you will not accept certain behaviors, they will stop doing them eventually.
They might move on to other, equally abusive tactics, but once they understand something they’re trying to do simply won’t work with you, they will stop trying that particular tactic.
7. Insist on an Immediate Resolution
One of the things my mother would always do when I complained about something she had done or said was to say, “We’ll talk about that later.” It’s a stall tactic, because later never comes.
Narcissists will put off a confrontation when they know they’ve done something wrong. They will tell you they don’t have time or aren’t in the mood to discuss that, but what they’re counting on is that you will eventually forget about it.
Many times, my mother would start being really nice to me after putting me off. She was turning on the charm so that it would be harder for me to confront her. My friend’s narcissistic husband also uses this technique all the time.
He will tell her he’s too tired to talk about some problem she has right now. He promises they’ll talk ‘tomorrow,’ but then he’s too busy to discuss it. He just keeps trying to put it off until she forgets about it.
With the passage of time, your anger diminishes, but it does something more than that. If more time has passed, it’s easier for the narcissist to try to gaslight you on the facts of the situation. It makes it easier for them to claim that they never said that or that they didn’t mean it the way you took it.
This is why you should insist on an immediate resolution. If there is a legitimate reason to delay, write down a complete account of what happened. That will give you something to reference when you do eventually talk.
It’s also a good idea to set a time and day for talking. That locks the narcissist into a specific time for having the discussion, and it lets them know you’re not going to forget about it.
8. Don’t Back Down
Narcissists will use their manipulation techniques to get you to back down from insisting they apologize. They will gaslight you, delay the discussion, and rage at you to get you to back down. Don’t do it.
If you let those techniques work, they will use them every time. When you confront a narcissist with something they’ve done wrong, stay calm, insist you talk now or set a specific time to do so, and trust your interpretation of what happened.
Let them know you won’t doubt yourself on their word alone, and let them know that while you’re willing to be empathetic to their side of things, you need a resolution. By holding them accountable, you can make the narcissist face up to some of their misdeeds.
It takes giving them no way out to get them to see when they need to change their behaviors. While they might not admit they’re wrong, they may make changes to avoid this type of confrontation again.
Standing your ground also sets a strong boundary about what you expect from them. This can be particularly difficult to do with your narcissistic mother.
I know from personal experience that there are complex emotions involved when dealing with a toxic mother. It can be hard to set these kinds of boundaries, but it’s important to remember that a narcissistic mother is not the stereotypical nurturing mother.
She’s willing to manipulate and emotionally abuse you to get her needs met. That’s not acceptable, and sometimes you have to tell her that. It might mean going no contact to stop her abuse.
I can tell from experience, however, that going no contact can motivate a narcissistic mother to change her behavior. I didn’t get an apology from my narcissistic mother, but she did stop her abusive tactics.
9. Enforce Your Boundaries
The most important thing you can do when dealing with an unapologetic narcissistic mother is to enforce your boundaries every time there’s a violation. Even if you don’t get an apology, your mother might change her behavior as mine did.
However, if you don’t constantly maintain your boundaries, she will start violating them again, and it’s likely to be worse than ever before. If you say you will walk away when she rages at you, do it even if you feel you would like to stay and argue.
If you tell her you’ll go no contact if she lies to you, do it no matter how difficult it is. The most important thing you must do when dealing with a narcissist is to do what you say you will do when it comes to your boundaries.
Remember, boundaries are about respecting yourself. You’re not really changing the narcissist’s underlying problem or abusive nature, but you’re moderating it when it comes to how they treat you. That’s a big step in the right direction, and it might save your relationship with her.
It was difficult to cut off contact with my mother for a while, but it was amazing how different she was when we reconnected. Since that time, she has been much more careful about how she treats me.
She’s not cured, but our relationship is much improved. I’ll take the win. By strictly enforcing your boundaries, you can get the win too. Consistency is the key to getting that win.
A narcissist will exploit every weakness anytime they see one. Your narcissistic mother is no exception to this rule. It’s not exactly that she doesn’t love you; it’s that she doesn’t know how to express that emotion in a healthy way.
Narcissistic mothers are one of the most insidious, abusive parents out there. They act in opposition to the stereotypical nurturing mother. They will lie, gaslight, triangulate, project, and otherwise manipulate their own children without any thought of how it affects them. Worse yet, they will almost never apologize unless they are trying to get something from you. They will create deep emotional wounds, and then they will use those wounds to trigger emotional responses so they can more easily manipulate you. It’s a vicious parenting style.
To help prevent this from happening to you, I’ve created my 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers. This handy, free guide will help you to recognize, defuse, and heal your emotional wounds, many if not most of which were created by your narcissistic mother. When you are in control of your emotional triggers, it’s much harder for her to manipulate you. Just click here, and I’ll send this roadmap directly to your inbox.
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