Narcissists Never Say Sorry

Alhough they can seem charming, narcissists never say sorry, never try to repair the damage they've done, and they never admit to their mistakes.
Narcissists Never Say Sorry
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

From a distance, a narcissist with a plan can seem charming, self-confident, and even considerate. Nevertheless, there are a few things that narcissists never do, especially when it comes to relationships. They never say sorry, never try to repair the damage they’ve done, and they never admit to their mistakes. Experts on the matter say that this is due to their egocentric and dominant attitude, which often lacks even a glimmer of basic empathy.

In any relationship, whether it be romantic, platonic, or familial, disagreements and friction are common. Not only are they common, but sometimes you offend or harm someone without even realizing it. When that happens, the best thing to do is to offer a sincere apology in order to rebuild trust and learn from what happened. The goal is to try to prevent it from happening again.

The more socially and emotionally intelligent you are, the more likely you are to not only apologize but to do it as effectively as possible. Someone who is emotionally competent and mature approaches situations with sincerity, openness, and a desire to make amends.

That being said, what happens in the case of narcissists? Studies like this one from Joost M. Leunissen and Constantine Sedikides from the University of Southampton make it perfectly clear. Narcissists don’t always feel guilty for the bad things they do.

That means that although they feel social pressure to make amends, when they do they feel internal conflict and even suffering. This is because they’re struggling with their own desires.

Narcissists don't say sorry.

Narcissists don’t say sorry

Masterson (1981) reminds us that narcissism is located on a continuum. On the lower end is what is considered “normal”. People at this end of the continuum have their self-esteem more or less under control. On the other end, we can find the pathology that defines narcissistic personality disorder.

People with narcissistic personality disorder need to build and protect an inflated self-image. That’s how they manage to protect their weak and fractured inner selves. More than anything, they want to project perfection and haughtiness.

What happens when a narcissist commits a crime? What happens, for example, when their partner calls out their lack of respect or selfishness? The truth is simple: the narcissist can’t take responsibility for anything. If they did, they’d be in conflict with the image of perfection that they’re trying so hard to uphold. 

A narcissistic woman looking at herself in a mirror.

Narcissists want everyone to agree with them. They don’t want any contradictions.

Andrew P. Morrison is an expert in narcissistic personalities. In his introduction to Essential Papers on Narcissism, he argues that the main goal of narcissists is to find a “mirror” person. They want someone to agree with them all the time.

  • Narcissists prefer to relate with people who constantly remind them of their virtues. They want everyone to be Snow White’s evil stepmother’s mirror. Every day, that mirror told the queen that she was the fairest of them all.
  • If you tell narcissists about mistakes they’ve made or feelings they’ve hurt, it’s almost impossible to get them to say sorry.
  • They won’t do it because they don’t feel any sense of guilt. Narcissists lack empathy. As such, they simply can’t understand why the other person is hurting or why they’re worried.
  • What’s more, considering that narcissists see relationships as means to an end, they have no problem telling the other person that it’s their problem.

As you can imagine, this kind of dynamic can easily damage a romantic relationship.

Narcissists make you believe it’s your fault

We know that narcissists don’t apologize. This can lead to something even more complex and contradictory.

  • It might not seem like it, but narcissists struggle as well. They suffer a lot because they always feel frustrated and bitter. Low self-esteem puts them on a constant battlefield where they’re trying to get the biggest gun and the most impressive trophy.
  • Their need to feign perfection, efficiency, and vanity often runs them straight into the wall of a reality that doesn’t tolerate that type of attitude.
  • When one person asks for an apology for a concrete situation, a narcissist will make them feel like it was their fault. Why? Because they don’t understand it, because they aren’t seeing things in the same way, or because people will think they’re weak or ignorant if they apologize.

Without even realizing it, a narcissist can turn the tables as quickly as you can blink. Don’t forget that narcissists are skilled manipulators. As such, you might end up asking them for an apology.

What can you do about narcissists who won’t say sorry?

We should mention what we talked about at the beginning. There are many types of narcissists. On the higher end of the spectrum, we find narcissist psychopaths. These are people who seem to be perfectly functional and normal. However, they’re also really good at emotionally damaging others.

  • Narcissists need specialized help. They need therapeutic intervention that helps them with things like antisocial reasoning, self-esteem, the illusion of superiority, accepting their own imperfections, and empathy, among other things. They have to be fully aware of how they hurt others with their behavior and attitude.
  • If you have to deal with a narcissist on a daily basis, then there are only two options. You can either act respectfully or not. In addition, you can help them change and get professional counseling or consider the possibility of distancing yourself from them.

Many cases depend on the type of narcissism. Huge variations exist all along the spectrum. So don’t lose hope, there are many options out there. If you have a family member, partner, or friend with this trait, help them understand the impact of their actions and urge them to get help.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.