It’s Narcissist Friday!
I’m sorry you were hurt.
I’m sorry you thought you heard that.
I’m sorry you misunderstood.
I’m sorry ___ made me fail.
I’m sorry you feel that way.
I’m sorry that happened.
I didn’t do that. I’m sorry you think I did.
I apologize for trying.
I apologize for caring.
I apologize for being human.
I apologize for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Recognize these? They’re apologies. What? You don’t think they’re apologies? What’s wrong with them? These are typical narcissistic apologies. Some people have heard this kind of apology all their lives. Others have heard these apologies almost their whole marriages.
And then you hear, “Well, I apologized, didn’t I?” Uh, actually, no.
There are two meanings to the word “apology” in English. The most common is a confession of guilt and an expression of regret. That’s the one we look for. The other meaning is older and less helpful. It is used for a formal explanation of position, a justification of an idea. Socrates presented a defense of his teachings, an apology for his position. That’s not what we want.
The narcissist uses the second when he/she should be using the first, right? When someone hurts you, you hope for a statement of regret. You don’t want an explanation of the philosophy that led to the offense. You don’t want justification for the action or words. You want the person to be sorry.
So think about that. What you want is for the person to understand how the action hurt you and to feel some of your pain. What you want is for the person to regret his/her actions and contribute to your healing. What you want is empathy.
But that’s exactly what the narcissist cannot give.
The inability to apologize is a defining characteristic of the narcissist. I realize that many people learned narcissistic ways to apologize. Children are taught how to get out of trouble, not how to apologize with sincerity. Many, if not most, adults present poor apologies when they want to express their regret and many try to pass the blame on the victim. But most can be taught how to apologize in a way that does promote healing and peace.
Not the narcissist. Think about it. If you were to teach someone how to apologize, what would you say? You would probably say something like this: “How would you feel if someone had done that to you?” The narcissist would know how he might feel, but he would have no ability to believe that you could feel the same thing. Because everyone is depersonalized, not real, to the narcissist, he/she cannot accept the reality of the feelings of others.
Let me say that a different way. Just because the narcissist would feel angry or hurt or afraid, does not mean he would believe or understand that someone else would feel those things. Most of those who have lived in relationship with narcissists understand this. They would be very upset if someone did to them what they did to you. Yet, they cannot believe that you could feel the same way—or—they simply don’t care that you feel the same way.
Why not? Because to acknowledge your feelings is to acknowledge you as a person. He/she can’t see you as a real person because then you would be competition. All attention must be given to the image.
So the best you get is an explanation of why it was entirely reasonable for him to do what he did or for her to say what she said. You get a defense.
Here’s an idea that came out of a recent conversation with a friend: ask your narcissist to explain what he thinks you felt when he did what he did. Ask him how a person who claims to love someone could do something like that to the one he loves. Don’t ask what he thinks you should feel. Don’t ask him what he thinks you should do now. He will tell you to forgive and forget, of course. Instead, press for the understanding.
If you are wondering whether your painful person is a narcissist, this might be a helpful test.
Maybe you have never heard a real apology. Maybe you grew up in a home where people never apologized or did very poorly. Here’s what an apology should sound like:
“I am sorry that I hurt you. My words were cruel and I have no intention of defending them. They were wrong. I was wrong. I apologize.”
Notice a couple of things. There is no request for forgiveness. Requesting forgiveness puts a burden on the victim, the one who was hurt. If an offender is truly sorry, he/she does not want to put any further burden on the one who was hurt. I understand that this sounds like a very Christian thing to do, but it is neither necessary nor kind. If the one who was hurt wants to forgive, that’s fine. But no push.
Also, notice that there is no blame on anyone or anything else. There is no claim that the words were accidental or misunderstood. None of these things would mitigate the pain that was felt. Nor is it simply an apology for hurting. It is an apology for being unkind and causing pain.
If the relationship calls for it, an expression of love is appropriate—especially if that expression speaks to the value of the one who was hurt.
“You are my friend and you are important to me. It grieves me that I hurt you.”
“I love you and it hurts me that I hurt you.”
Don’t make the offender promise never to do it again. That sounds good, but no one can promise that and be sure it won’t happen. The narcissist might be very willing to make the statement, but it won’t be true. Instead, watch to see if the offender understands how the action or words caused pain and if the offender empathizes with your pain.
Now, this is a two-minute overview of apologies and you might have a lot to add. That’s why we have a comment section! :) The point here is that the narcissist cannot say these things from the heart because he/she has no empathy, no way to understand or value your feelings. There is no fix in this post, just an explanation. I pray with you for the day when narcissists can finally see and grasp the truth.