In a normal relationship, if one has made a mistake, they feel remorse and typically follow up with an apology. This usually leads to the other party forgiving the offender or at least acknowledging their heart-felt attempt to make amends.
Not so with a Narcissist.
When you apologize to a Narcissist, they feel like they’ve won the lottery. You are always wrong, anyway, so for you to admit a mistake is akin to boarding a train for a one-way guilt trip. Instead of the situation being dealt with in a mature way, there are a few possible scenarios that will ensue following an apology to a Narcissist:
1. Self-Righteousness: This is the equivalent of being pointed at and ridiculed on the playground with the goal being to make you feel like the biggest idiot in town.
See how wrong you were? Isn’t it just a load off now that you can see how right they were? Thank goodness you’ve finally admitted to your senselessness. Now that you know your place, the both of you can get on with life as usual. What took you so long, anyway? Hey, now that you’ve finally admitted to being a moron, how about celebrating…by taking them out to lunch on your dime. After all, you’re lucky that they’ve decided to throw you a crumb of mercy and acknowledgement.
Eat out on that for a while.
Narc Check: This contemptuous ridiculing plays on any feelings of shame you may possess deep down. Not the “good” kind of shame that helps us strengthen our empathy and compassion, but destructive, toxic shame. Narcissists use this second type of shaming against their victims as a means to condition them into hopeless compliance.
2. Complete Rebuff: You’ve been carrying around a bit of guilt about something you said or did during one of your low points (which was brought on by the Narcissist). You relapse into thinking they have at least a fraction of human emotion and will welcome your apology. You decide to say you’re sorry…perhaps with a cutesy text or a heartfelt email to convey your regret to them.
Their response is that your actions were the worst they’ve ever endured. They wondered when you would finally confess to this unforgivable sin. The devastation was so awful, they just didn’t have the power to bring it up. They’ve tried to block it from their consciousness and now know why you’ve never had a successful relationship in your life. Forgiveness will be difficult but, by the grace of God, they are trying.
Narc Check: While this is one of the standard responses you can expect after apologizing to a Narcissist, it’s quite possible that whatever you’re apologizing for never even registered with them. However, now that you’ve highlighted a perceived injury, they will use it as a way to make you feel like the worst person they’ve ever met. Furthermore, it will become artillery for psychological torture and justification for a future injury they will inflict upon you.
3. The Rap Sheet: You say you’re sorry about something and they not only chastise you for it, but tack on several other alleged “crimes” you’ve committed. At the end of the conversation, you will wonder how you ever had any friends or partners in your life at all. See how flexible they are…how they’ve overlooked your faults because they care about you? In fact, you may as well forget about ever having another relationship because there’s no way anyone else will ever tolerate your criminal behaviors like they do.
Remember how you bought your grandmother a gift, knowing that he needed that money? What about when you took the day off because your child was sick…didn’t you know he was waiting for your paycheck to pay his personal taxes? How dare you even think of giving two dollars to the Salvation Army bell-ringer? When are you ever going to get with the program and stop being so selfish? How do you live with yourself? (Read more about Narcissists and money here).
Narc Check: This is when the Narcissist will peel a piece of truth from something innocent that you did, and season it with twisted, far-fetched accusations. These allegations wouldn’t make sense to the average outsider, but you’ve gotten so used to these tirades that you actually start to doubt yourself for throwing that birthday party for your niece. Maybe you should just deposit your check directly into his bank account next time. Never mind that you will hate yourself for it. At least there’s the chance the Narcissist might throw you another crumb.
If you still feel the need to apologize, don’t leave anything to chance. Try to do it in front of someone and move on, showing no emotion. However, be prepared for the above scenarios. It may even behoove you to not apologize at all because apologizing to a Narcissist never resolves anything except making them feel they have the upper hand. Although it may appear successful at first, there will be certain fallout when you least expect it. Journal about it, pray about it, but don’t give them the satisfaction.
**Narcissism knows no gender bias. I use the term “he” for the sake of brevity.