The narcissist’s apology: Sorry, not sorry

6 minute read

Ever been hoovered back into the cycle of abuse because of a narcissist’s apology? You are not alone. Most of us tend to think that they couldn’t be pathologically narcissistic if they’re apologising, right? It’s just not something that narcissists do. Surely this time, things will change…

Think again gorgeous one.

It isn’t entirely accurate that a narc will never utter those words. Sure, it is a rare thing, and for many this simple phrase of contrition is completely absent from their vocabulary.

BUT, there are also a whole bunch who do apologise…in the sense that these words will, on occasion, fall from their lips. The issue is though, that the intent differs in every possible way from one delivered with sincerity.

Whilst you would prefer to a) receive an apology that is genuine, and b) ultimately be in a relationship with an emotionally healthy person, there is a silver lining to the fauxpology…

Learning to recognise the narcissist’s sorry, not sorry for what it is, means you are also confronting the reality that they are narcissistic.

Hold fast to this truth. Refuse to be hoovered back in with yet another fauxpology. Break the cycle of abuse and set yourself free instead.

An apology from the heart

Let’s start by defining the anatomy of an apology from those who have a heart.

As humans, we falter, we err, we make mistakes.

In any relationship, there will be times when these blunders impact on those we care for.

Inevitably, we hurt others.

Because we care for those we choose to share our lives with, hurting others, in a sense hurts ourselves.

We feel saddened, disappointed in ourselves, perhaps even angry that we have let ourselves and others down.

fauxpologies don't compare to heartfelt apologies

Guilt and remorse, as well as wanting to rectify how we have wronged our loved one, drives us to fix the hurt.

Mending this hurt is all about expressing this remorse.

A genuine apology includes acknowledgement of what you did to hurt another, ownership of the responsibility, and a commitment to change the behaviour in the future.

Examples of authentic heartfelt sorrow might sound like:

  • ‘I’m sorry I hurt you’.
  • ‘I was wrong, I shouldn’t have done that’.
  • ‘What can I do to make things right?’

Apologies from the heart are full of integrity, accountability, humility and compassion.

An apology devoid of heart

The narcissist’s mindset

The abusive narcissist does not have the necessary elements within them for a genuine heartfelt apology.

In the first instance, this requires recognition of wrong-doing.

The narcissist spends a lifetime preoccupied with defending their belief in their own superiority and perfection.

Obviously, this precludes the capacity to reflect with critical honesty on behaviours. Openness to being flawed, conflicts in every way with the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

Hence taking responsibility for being in the wrong, for the narc, is an impossibility. It simply does not happen.

Furthermore, central to seeking and granting forgiveness is empathy and the capacity to see beyond one’s own needs and interests. Extreme self-involvement, another hallmark of NPD, prevents experiencing these qualities.

Finally, the pathological sense of entitlement of the true narcissist, cements the deal. They are possessed with a certainty that they have a right to all they desire.

The cost to others of the narcissist getting their needs met, is irrelevant.

So why apologise?

Anatomy of the fauxpology

1.      When they use it

So how does the narcissist’s mindset play out with the fauxpology?

Well, just as you suspected, primarily through the absence of apologies since to their self-righteous stance they’re always right and beyond reproach.

There are however circumstances where narcissists will choke out an apology. Specifically, when they are seeking to manipulate and control you.

What they are angling to achieve is to have you continue believing in their mask. It is about managing your perception of who they want you to believe they are, i.e.: a being of “perfection”.

the narcissist's apology: sorry, not sorry

Key phases when you are more likely to receive the fauxpology, are during love bombing and when you are being hoovered.

It is rolled out if they suspect that they may be in danger of losing you as a source of supply (…and you are still valuable to them in that regard).

Understanding this highlights that the narcissist’s version of being sorry is entirely about them and has very little to do with you at all.

2.      How they use it

Spotting a narcissist through the fauxpology is surprisingly straightforward.

It is utterly transparent once you know what to look for due to its stark contrast with a heartfelt apology.

You gorgeous one, do however need to detach sufficiently from their attempts to trigger you during the fauxpology, in order to deconstruct it successfully (for more on this read Emotionally unhook yourself & starve the narcissist of supply: Here’s how).

But you CAN do it.

And remember that detaching becomes easier each time you see past the mask. Seeing through the fauxpology is just one more step in setting yourself free.

Now to the hallmarks of the unapology…

a)      The ‘I’ statements

Keep in mind where the narcissist is coming from. To them an apology is a handy device to get their needs met.

Your needs are extraneous and therefore will be a big, fat void in the ‘sorry, not sorry’.

The non-existence of reference to your needs is an indication you are being served a fauxpology. The language reflects this.

Look for the ‘I’ statements that hit immediately following the ‘sorry’ announcement. These are the ‘buts’ that defend their needs (not yours, theirs) thereby nullifying the apology. Examples are:

  • Self-justification – ‘I did it because I’m having such a hard time at the moment, you really should be taking this into consideration’
  • Blame shifting – ‘I’m sorry I did that, but I did it because you did xyz/you made me do it’

These slips convey their complete lack of ownership or responsibility resulting from entitlement.

b)      The ‘you’ statements

The second ginormous sign is what ensues with respect to the ‘you’ statements. These are equally revealing of the narcissist’s true intent.

On top of underscoring why they are a victim in the situation with their ‘I’ statements, excusing petulantly why they shouldn’t have to apologise, the grand flip has taken place, as you can see in the examples above.

Embedded in every fauxpology is the manipulation that YOU own the issue, YOU have erred, and the responsibility sits now and forever for every wrong-doing, with YOU. The crafting of the fauxpology is designed to make you feel guilty so that the likelihood of any accountability lying with the narc is reduced in future.

Further examples of what these sound like are:

  • ‘I’m sorry you took it that way’
  • ‘I’m sorry you got angry with me’
  • ‘You shouldn’t be so sensitive I didn’t mean it that way’
  • ‘You should get over it/let it go’
  • ‘I said I’m sorry what more do you want from me’

You’ll also detect the ‘sorry/no sorry’ never contains evidence of deeper reflection of what has caused you pain, nor appreciation for how you might be feeling.

Because, as stated, this is frankly of no consequence to the pathological narcissist.

How you take it

The most reliable indicator in your arsenal, is to connect with how you are feeling as a result of the fauxpology.

Any better? Do you feel that your trust and confidence in the relationship and them, is being rebuilt, repaired? Do you feel their respect, care, and compassion? Do you feel valued?

heartfelt apologies lead to increased intimacy

Or do you feel kinda awful? Like you’ve done something wrong? Guilty perhaps? Maybe that you’ve overreacted and that the poor narcissist was forced to apologise when they really had no need to?

Uh-huh. Not good right?

A genuine heartfelt apology builds greater intimacy and understanding with another. It is an exchange of vulnerability that leads to growth. A true demonstration of love.

A fauxpology…not so much.

The sorry, not sorry, only leaves you questioning yourself. It is isolating, highlighting that you may be on the narcissist’s team, but they are not on yours.

The fauxpology shows you what’s behind the mask, and that change is not an option (for more read Proof the narcissist abuses you intentionally and will never change).

Gorgeous ones, don’t be fooled!

Grab the fauxpology as an opportunity to break free now!

With gratitude,

Maggie x



Exline, J.J., Baumeister, R.F., Bushman, B.J., Campbell, W.K., & Finkel, E.J. (2004). Too proud to let go: Narcissistic entitlement as a barrier to forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(6), 894-912.

Howell, A.J., Dopko, R.L., Turowski, J.B., & Buro, K. (2011). The disposition to apologize. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(4), 509-514.

Leunissen, J.M., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2017). Why narcissist are unwilling to apologize: The role of empathy and guilt. European Journal of Personality, 31(4), 385-403.

Sandage, S.J., Worthingon, E.L., Hright, T.L., & Berry, J.W. (2000). Seeking forgiveness: Theoretical context and an initial empirical study. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 28(1), 21-35.

13 thoughts

  1. My ex used to say sorry quite a lot and he did sound absolutely remorseful. “I’m sorry I did this. I know I messed up. I won’t do it again I promise. ” Well, you can guess what happened next… Yes he did the same thing again that he had apologized for. Then he apologized again, only to do the same thing again and again and again. I believed him every time until I realised that I had to break the cycle. Their apologies are never meant.

    1. Dear Pascale, I hear you. At the time, it can sound so full of sincerity. This is one of their ‘gifts’ – the ability to mimic genuine emotion. How good are you to recognise this was the game being played and setting yourself free. It has taken me decades to figure this out. You are inspiring on many levels! Maggie x
      Dear Narc Wise community, check out Pascale’s site for more on her story of survival here:

      1. I had to read a lot of books and blogs as well as watch hours of YouTube videos before I was able to understand that he didn’t mean a thing he said. The realisation was devastating. Thank you for recommending my site. 😊

  2. I lived that life for a very long time! He was always sorry and when I confronted him with his bullshit he would say I was bitter!! Damn right I was bitter I just got tired of his apologies that meant absolutely nothing! We haven’t been living together for 5 years and I want a divorce but I don’t have a clue where he is. I can’t move on with my life in the true sense because I can’t get divorced!! Talk about a narcissist keeping a hold on your life!!

    1. Dear Dawn, I wonder whether you were in fact bitter or perhaps just simply refused to accept anything disingenuous? There’s a big difference to my mind. The ‘you are bitter’ comment is a prime example of the flip. YOU have the problem because you didn’t pretend their flaws/mistakes were non-existent. Aaaaargh! How enraging! Dear Dawn, I hope you do find a way to let go and move forwards, whether you find this person or not. Your time is now! Sending you oodles of freedom & joy as you claim all that is waiting for you. Maggie x

  3. blinded for over 20+ years and just started to really wake up. my narc wife has ALWAYS had a hard time eking out those words i’m sorry and if in the rare event she does, that there ALWAYS is something added on. it was also so hard for her to say those 3 words because in truth, she never really loved me. So i confronted her and the usual reasons, about how she treated me better than my other girl-friends or we have kids, isn’t that LOVE? HELL NO! my needs mean absolutely nothing to her.

    all the abuse, the criticisms and slow chipping away of my self-confidence the instant anger the manipulation of our finances, the never-satisfied tasks and being always wrong and she being always right. i thought she was just being her but never realized how she was manipulating me and that there was a name given to this disease.

    god awful. . where was your blog 20 years ago?

    she recently flipped when i grey-rocked her for a few weeks but i took the bait and had a shouting match.
    i’m learning a lot about this NPD and thanks to many resources on the net and your blogs have been very helpful.

    being ‘good’ to myself i believe is working. she be dammed. it’s the kids i’m worried about. She can be sooooo kind to the kids but will turn on a dime. I hate to step in because i want have as little contact as possible and in the past she has always dismissed me as “hey you don’t know what the issue is here so step away”. i was very “REACTIVE”. maybe i will try to step in being RESPONSIVE and not REACTIVE.

    how do you handle a situation when there are kids involved? i can’t leave due to that.

    1. Dear Danny, being good to yourself is absolutely the cornerstone of getting through this. I’m sorry that you are in a position where you need to get through anything, and for all you have endured. Have you read the article on responding vs reacting? This may be of help: Reacting vs. responding: Overcoming legacy of abuse and narcissism; there’s another one that may be useful as well: Emotionally unhook yourself & starve the narcissist of supply: Here’s how. In terms of your question I’m not sure I’m across where things are at for you – are you saying you’re choosing to stay in a relationship with this person because you have children together? Or, are you separated and although want no more entanglements with this person, you need to find a way of interacting in a way that protects you and the children? Sending you much light & love Danny, Maggie x

      1. maggie,

        thanks for responding. i’m still at a crossroads. The past months has been a flurry of different emotions upon understanding NPD. Surprised that this kind of behavior actually has a name!, glad that i’m not the crazy one, angry on why someone i love did what she did, sad as the ‘lost’ 20+ years being almost a fake (yes, there were good times) and confused on exactly the best thing to do.

        i’m not going to rush to stepping out the door for the sake of the kids cause i know she will absolutely brainwash them. i feel with this new knowledge about NPD, i’m much better equipped to handling myself and enforcing my previously non-existent boundaries.

        if it’ll be a zombie like existence in the house, so be it. she knows i’m on to her so i’m not going to bite when she starts to bait. i guess for now, i’ll have to learn to ‘handle’ the situation differently when it arises.

        thanks for the new links and for your blog. they have all resonated so much with me.

      2. Dear Danny, It is such a roller coaster of emotion isn’t it! Life with them is, as is life when you are figuring it all out. Let me be clear, I’m definitely not advocating for walking away from your children. Not in any way. Kudos to you taking accountability for your children, and protecting them. They need that protection. You are their Father. It is your job. I wish you and your children all the very best in forging the right path that protects you all from harm. Light & love to you. Maggie x

  4. Wow the last 3 days I have been researching about Narcissism because I couldn’t wrap my brain around a person in such a way like this at All?? I couldn’t see it or believe that the man I have been with for awhile now was ONE too? I was pretty much just going through unfamiliar territory of being lied too and being betrayed? But I have heard the the word before a few times it just didn’t register at all until I have been researching pretty much everything I can about my narc because he had asked me to marry him and we were supposed to get married in 2020. But about two weeks ago I found messages and pictures from both parties and the last contact I did he he acted on his betraying me that now had me in a place I have never been before not even with my past relationships. About 4 months ago MY soon to be ex’s is currently in prison and has several more months to go and I haven’t from him about 2 weeks now?? Really haven’t cared to hear from either way. Thanks so much for information and the material shared. It has really caught my attention.. Gail…

    1. Dear Gail, it is indeed hard to wrap one’s mind around the possibility of people such as this being out there; and even more so when the realisation hits that the person we thought we knew, we in fact didn’t…and worse that they seem to fit the description of a narcissist. You just keep working on you. Heal the hurts & start moving forward. You take care of yourself gorgeous one. Light & love to you. Maggie x

  5. Most of this article is great, but I was completely thrown by the repetitive reference to the reader as “gorgeous one”. It’s just bizarre enough that after three times it wrecked credibility for me.

    1. Dear Laura Miller. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate that we are all different. Light & love to you. Maggie x

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