Why are narcissists so reluctant to admit their wrongdoing? First and foremost, it is in the narcissist’s nature to believe that they are always right and that they always do right. When you understand what a narcissist hates and fears the most, you can see why.
Still, there are more complex reasons for the lack of contrition from narcissists, and it’s not all related to whether or not they feel love for you. In fact, the simple act of apologizing is, for a narcissist, a stripping away of everything they’ve so carefully constructed for their image. An apology is a sign of weakness, an admission that the narcissist isn’t as magnificent as they would have you believe.
Continue reading for an exploration of the contradictory impulses that compel a narcissist never to apologize.
Apology Equals Conflict of Interest
Basically, if a narcissist is asked to apologize, then it’s akin to asking them to take responsibility for their words or their actions. This they cannot do, because that would be to confess that their carefully curated self-image is actually invented, inflated, or flat-out untrue. To apologize is to admit that their persona is, indeed, a fiction.
Because the narcissist lacks a sense of self-worth and must cover up a host of deep-seated insecurities, they are always hiding their true self. Their entire purpose in life is to build a façade made up of grandiose delusions and egotistical boasting.
To proffer an apology is to essentially tear down that façade, which flies in the face of their self-interest—which, to a narcissist, is truly their only interest. If they cannot project perfection, or at least an idealized image, then there is no point to the relationship. Often, they’d rather move on than admit guilt.
Apology Equals Contradiction
Narcissists are also very uncomfortable with confrontation and disagreement. They want everyone in their lives to reflect their greatness—they need that narcissistic supply of attention and adoration—so that they can shore up their empty inner self. Thus, an apology exposes the fact that not everyone agrees with the narcissist, that not everyone sees greatness all the time.
Narcissists are invested in relationships that confirm their view of themselves, rather than contradicts. They want others to mirror the admiration that they appear to have for themselves. This masks the truth, which is that they don’t have much confidence at all. Apologies threaten this delicate balance.
In addition, because narcissists view relationships within the narrow purview of their own personal agenda, they really don’t mind simply passing the blame onto others. That is, they can avoid apologizing, and conflict, by simply suggesting that you just don’t see the situation correctly. They will manipulate and gaslight you in order to escape responsibility.
Apology Equals Loss of Control
Another significant reason why a narcissist has trouble with apologies is that it represents a loss of control over the person to whom they should apologize. Narcissists must feel like they are in charge of the relationship, that they have the upper hand. If they must apologize to you, it is as if they were admitting weakness.
Because they are always trying to combat their own insecurities, narcissists see everything, relationships included, as a battleground. They must amass the biggest weapons and the most sophisticated arsenal in order to defeat all opponents—that is to say, everyone else. It leads to loneliness and isolation, but the narcissist must win at all costs.
In fact, the narcissist will often turn the tables back on you in a feigned attempt at an apology. Because they are very good at manipulation, they can often convince you that it was actually your fault. This reaffirms that they are in control over the relationship.
Narcissists will, on occasion, offer backhanded apologies, the kind of apology that begins with “I’m sorry” and ends with “but you should be sorry because it’s all your fault.” This is an excellent strategy wherein the narcissist can claim that they apologized—after all, the words “I’m sorry” did escape their lips—but never actually admit wrongdoing. Usually, they are able to make the other party feel guilty or responsible for the incident.
The other tactic the narcissist might use here is to say “I’m sorry,” essentially backtrack the apology, then play the victim. They will say things like, “I don’t know why you’re still angry, I did say I was sorry.”
They will use this strategy across time, apologizing with false intentions, so that they can then again blame you for not forgiving them. They can claim that everyone makes mistakes, but you are just being petty for not letting them off the hook.
Narcissists are also masters of manipulation when it comes to apologies. They might claim responsibility for one part of a disagreement or conflict, but it will usually be a minor or tangential point.
However, it means that they can again claim to have made an apology, however irrelevant that apology might actually be. This allows them to maintain a sense of superiority over the relationship dynamic, as they are still in charge.
This partial apology is often used in tandem with their desire to get their point of view seen and heard. This is the “I’m sorry, but . . .” strategy. They aren’t really apologizing. Instead, they are using the apology as a way in which they can outline their grievances and even directly attack you.
This method also adds fuel to the fire of an argument, which is fine with the narcissist. They thrive on the emotional chaos that throws others off balance. This confirms their superior position in the relationship, putting them back in control.
An apology, to a narcissist, is a dangerous and threatening action. It reveals their weaknesses and imperfections, damaging their inflated persona. They cannot take responsibility for their actions, because it goes against every false image they have taken such pains to create.
They might attempt an apology, but it is mostly as a dodge. The fake apology is the way in which a narcissist can claim credit for apologizing, but ultimately, turn responsibility back on you. A skilled narcissist can even turn an apology into a condemnation of your character.
Sometimes, detaching yourself emotionally from such toxic people can help, and this post gives you some insight into how to proceed with that.
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