Dishonest Remorse: 5 Crafty Ways that Narcissists Try to Make You Think They're Sorry

covert narcissism has the narcissist changed? i'm in the relationship narcissistic abuse narcissistic relationships understanding narcissism Jan 30, 2024

A narcissist can masterfully craft a confession that looks and sounds like an apology, but when you listen and observe more closely, there is no apology.  It has the trappings of an apology but no substance of one.  In this blog, I'm going to discuss the dynamics of what goes on in a narcissist's mind and five crafty ways in which they will try to make you think they are sorry when they aren't. I will also share tips on what you can say in response when you encounter a crafty apology.  And I will end by sharing the elements that must be present in an apology for it to be genuine.

I'll start by sharing about the narcissist's dilemma. When you leave a narcissist or end a relationship with one because you've had enough of their abuse, their disrespect and devaluing, and all the drama they bring into a relationship - it can turn their world upside down.

Instead of the narcissist holding the reigns of control, now it is you.  Narcissists cannot stand not being the one in control.  So when you decide to leave them, and they are no longer in control of the relationship, and they no longer have all the benefits you brought to the table, it can really cause them a lot of distress.

A narcissist may be in a lot of pain because you ended a relationship with them, but it is not for the reasons you think.  They may be in pain because they feel like a failure because their world got disrupted or because they no longer have access to certain comforts or benefits.  It doesn't have anything to do with the pain they caused you.  And that pain that a narcissist is going through could be enough of a motivation for them to humble themselves and apologize to you for the wrongs they have committed.  So when a narcissist apologizes to you, does that mean they have taken a turn for the better?  Well, even though miracles do and can happen with God, the likelihood of a narcissist changing their stripes is low. 

So, how can you tell if an apology is real or fake?  I'm going to share five crafty ways in which a narcissist may apologize to make you think their apology is genuine when it isn't.  I will not be sharing an exhaustive list, but here are some common ways an apology is faked. So, let's get right into it:

1. "I'm sorry you felt that way when I did XYZ."

They might say, "I'm sorry you felt that way when I did XYZ."  In this example, you can hear an apology, but when you listen closely, the narcissist is not apologizing for their wrongful behavior or taking ownership.  The narcissists are sorry you felt bad about what they did, but they don't feel bad about what they did wrong.  

If someone apologizes that way to you, I recommend you say something like, "I appreciate your acknowledgment of how I felt, but I need to hear an apology where you take responsibility for the actions themselves. I believe it's crucial to address the specific behavior that caused the issue rather than focusing solely on my reaction. Can we discuss that specific behavior and its impact on our relationship?"

When you confront the situation this way, it brings the narcissist back to the main issue because what the narcissist did in that apology was to subtly gaslight you by framing the situation in a way where the problem is about your hurt reaction rather than their wrongful behavior.

2. The Exasperated Apology

The second type of apology is when they say "I'm sorry" in an exasperated or irritated way after you have called them out on their behavior and want to process the hurtful impact it had on you or the betrayal you felt.  When a person apologizes this way, it is evident that their apology is not a sincere, heartfelt one, but rather a catchphrase they can use to shut down the conversation when you are expressing your anger or hurt and want to process or you are struggling with the depth of the betrayal.

Why do narcissists apologize in this dismissive and insincere manner?  For one, narcissists struggle with empathy, which makes it difficult for them to genuinely understand or care about the emotions and experiences of others. Their apology might be more about managing the situation than genuinely understanding your feelings. Narcissists also thrive on maintaining control and avoiding vulnerability. Offering a quick and dismissive apology can be a tactic to deflect from looking inward at more profound issues, shutting down the conversations, and maintaining a sense of dominance.
Also, genuine apologies involve taking responsibility for one's actions. Narcissists may resist acknowledging their mistakes or wrongdoings and instead provide a superficial apology to move on from the subject without addressing the underlying problems.

If you find yourself hearing this kind of apology, one thing you could say is, "I hear your apology, but it seems like there's more to discuss regarding the impact of the situation on me. I'm looking for a deeper understanding and resolution rather than a quick apology. It's important to me that we can have an open and honest conversation about what happened and how we can move forward. Can we take some time to talk about this more thoroughly?"

3. "I'm sorry I did ABC, but you did XYZ."

The third type of apology is when the narcissist says, "I'm sorry I did ABC, but you did XYZ." This apology is a classic maneuver where the narcissist uses the apology as a segue to air out their grievances and engage in blame-shifting. Instead of genuinely apologizing, they use this tactic to manipulate the narrative. It allows them to divert attention from their own wrongdoing and shift the focus onto all the perceived wrongs they believe they've endured.

Why do narcissists use this tactic? Narcissists are looking for a means to maintain control and assert dominance. By turning the apology into an opportunity to express their perceived victimhood, they avoid taking full responsibility for their actions. This tactic also confuses and disorients the other person, making it harder for them to address the initial issue. Also, it reinforces the narcissist's need to be seen as the victim, to protect their fragile self-image and deflect any potential criticism.

If you find yourself faced with this type of apology, remember that the narcissist is using it as a diversion tactic.  So, you can bring the focus back to the specific behavior that led to the problem. You could say, "I hear your concerns, but let's focus on resolving the issue. I appreciate your perspective, but we must first address the specific behavior that led to the problem. Can we discuss that before delving into other issues?" Doing this redirects the conversation back to the initial wrongdoing and prevents the narcissist from using the apology to shift blame and avoid accountability.

4. The Unspecific Apology

The fourth type of apology is when the narcissist says, "I'm sorry, I messed up, or I blew it..." (But not being specific). This apology is a tactic where the narcissist offers a general apology without specifying the actions for which they are apologizing. They might vaguely admit fault, acknowledging that they messed up, but without delving into the specific details of their wrongdoing. Narcissists often struggle to remember or recognize the specifics of their actions, as their memory tends to be highly selective. While they can recall any perceived offenses against them in detail, remembering and owning up to their own mistakes becomes a challenge.

Why do narcissists use this catch-all apology tactic? They use it to navigate their selective memory and avoid acknowledging the specific instances of their wrongdoing. Using vague language like "I messed up" without offering details creates ambiguity around the apology. This ambiguity allows the narcissist to maintain a sense of control and prevents them from being held accountable for individual actions. It also serves to downplay the severity of their behavior, making it challenging for the other person to address and resolve the issues.

If faced with this type of apology, it's important to seek clarification. You could respond by saying, "I appreciate your acknowledgment, but can you help me understand specifically what you believe you messed up or blew it on? Let's discuss the details so we can work towards a clearer resolution." This approach encourages the narcissist to be specific about their actions, preventing them from using a generic apology as a means to gloss over the real issues.

5. Love-Bombing

The fifth type of apology is not an actual apology but love-bombing. In this tactic, the narcissist avoids a direct apology but attempts to win you back through excessive displays of kindness, generosity, or love-bombing. They might shower you with gifts, favors, or acts of apparent goodwill. While it may seem like the narcissist feels remorseful, these actions serve as a way to deflect from the need to apologize genuinely. It operates like a form of bribery, where the narcissist hopes that your acceptance of their gifts or gestures will serve as a substitute for a sincere apology or a commitment to change.  The love-bombing also serves as a distraction to get your emotions focused on the kind gestures or gifts and away from the complex emotions of feeling hurt or betrayed by the narcissist's wrongful reactions.

Why do narcissists use this tactic? Love-bombing allows the narcissist to avoid taking direct responsibility for their actions. Instead of addressing the specific issues at hand, they attempt to appease you with positive gestures. Accepting these gifts without holding them accountable can inadvertently make you complicit in their behavior.

Narcissists also care deeply about their self-image, and facing the repercussions of their wrongful actions is a significant threat to their image, so love-bombing becomes a means for them to restore and reinforce their perception of themselves that they are caring and loving individuals.

When a narcissist is confronted with a severe wrongdoing, the confrontation can trigger their deep-seated fear of abandonment. So, a narcissist will use love-bombing to create emotional ties and dependency with the person calling them out, making it challenging for that person to distance themselves.

So, how can you respond to love-bombing? You may say, "Thank you for the gestures and affection. I appreciate it, but it's still important for me that we address the real issues in our relationship. While I appreciate your generosity, these acts alone don't resolve the problems, which is important to me. I need a sincere apology from you that recognizes the specific things you did wrong. I expect honesty, open communication, and genuine efforts for positive change, not just gifts or (fill in the blank). Can we honestly discuss our issues and work together on lasting solutions?"

A Genuine Apology

Now, I just shared five deceptive apologies with you.  Let me contrast all that with what a genuine apology looks like.

A genuine apology involves several key elements that set it apart from the deceptive apologies employed by narcissists. Here are the essential components of a sincere apology:

1. The person acknowledges their wrongdoing: It starts with clearly acknowledging the specific behavior that caused harm. There is no deflecting or blaming others; the focus is on the individual's actions.

2. There is empathy and understanding: A sincere apology includes a genuine understanding of the impact of the actions on the other person. It reflects an empathetic response to the emotions and feelings of the hurt person.

3. The person apologizing accepts responsibility for their actions: There is no blame-shifting or deflecting. The person offers a sincere and unambiguous admission of fault.

4. There is specificity and clarity in the apology: A genuine apology is specific, detailing the actions for which the person is sorry. There is clarity about what went wrong, demonstrating a deeper understanding of the situation.

5. The person apologizing is committed to change: There is also a demonstration of efforts toward positive behavioral shifts. It goes beyond words, showing a genuine desire for personal growth and improvement.

Understanding these distinctions helps individuals discern between deceptive apologies and authentic remorse. In healthy relationships, genuine apologies build trust and foster growth, deepening relationships.

Related Resources

Watch the video version of this blog here.

  • Fake Apologies and How to Spot Them [Watch]
  • Can a Narcissist Change? 10 Ways to Tell if Their Repentance Is Real. [Watch]
  • Forgiving or Enabling a Narcissist? What Would Jesus Do? [Watch]
  • Can You Reconcile with a Narcissist? What Does the Bible Say About It? [Watch]
  • Seven Ways To Test It Out After Leaving an Abusive Relationship with a Narcissist. [Watch]
  • Can a Narcissist Genuinely Repent? What Does That Look Like? [Watch] [Read]

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