Instead of an apology, narcissists often use the strategy of silence.
A narcissist's strategy for minimizing the wrongdoing they've done can be anything from a non-response (you are not sorry or sorry that it happened) to falsification (you did not actually make me do anything wrong).
If a narcissist fails to adequately take responsibility for their behavior and actions, this may come across as disingenuous or a smokescreen.
The narcissist wants to be perceived as "above" forgiveness, however, they have many struggles forgiving their (and others') transgressions.
To understand the reasons why narcissists refuse to apologize, it's important to realize how they view remorse. An apology is generally viewed by narcissists as a vulnerability in a relationship.
"Apologies hurt, even if it is just a few words."
The inability to apologize may not be an actual cognitive distortion (many mental illnesses may produce this, such as NPD), but it is a defense mechanism.
Narcissists often believe they are always right. As such, they see themself as being a victim of others and believe that any action they take is justified by their suffering.
They do not need forgiveness because they are justified in their actions.
A victim may say something hurtful, and the narcissist will recognize the error of their ways and apologize.
"I shouldn't have done that" will usually be the extent of the apology, and the narcissist will then refocus their energy on feeling justified in their actions.
A narcissistic partner who believes their actions are excusable (because of trauma, nurture, or physical illness) may not consider an apology necessary.
In some extreme cases, a narcissist may simply refuse to acknowledge that the transgression happened at all, which can be confusing and frustrating to a loved one.
The unwillingness to apologize may seem counter-intuitive. If a narcissist is unwilling to apologize, how can a relationship be salvaged?
How could they ever gain empathy or affection from someone they perceive to be broken? How can they ever gain closure?
Unfortunately, narcissists do have a way to regain emotional intimacy, although it can be difficult to get there.
Psychologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz explains the difference between remorse and forgiveness:
"We regret a mistake or behavior; we forgive a person for something that has hurt us."
Forgiveness takes place within the mind and occurs long after the actual act.
A narcissist may truly apologize and take responsibility for their actions, but unless they have truly changed and purged their depression and mental illness, they will struggle to forgive themselves.
"Apologies make a big difference for narcissists," says clinical psychologist and author Dr. Karen Nielson. "If you're going to try to get them to apologize, don't just simply say "please" or "sorry".
Instead, allow them to own what they did wrong."
Avoid anything that you would not be comfortable saying to someone else. Instead of saying "I'm sorry you were hurt" try something like:
"I'm sorry that I've hurt you in the past."
However, you want to avoid this common narcissistic tactic:
"I am sorry you got hurt."
This is a red flag because it avoids the subject at hand. Instead of saying you're sorry that you did something, you've clarified that you don't take responsibility for it.
If the narcissist continues to refuse to apologize, you may need to establish a new rule in your relationship: no apology is required.
If they feel they have done something wrong, or apologize for something they have done, it's only fair that you hold up your end of the deal and let them know you accept them, whatever they are going through at the moment.
Dr. Nielson suggests this common scenario for how to approach the situation:
A partner may say something hurtful, and the narcissist may recognize the error of their ways and apologize. "I shouldn't have done that" will usually be the extent of the apology, and the narcissist will then refocus their energy on feeling justified in their actions.
The key is establishing a new expectation. The narcissist may have been hurt, but if they choose to be selfish and cling to their perceived victimhood, you'll need to show them that it's OK to take responsibility for their actions.
If a narcissist is incapable of admitting to their hurtful actions or expressions, it can often be hard to move past the issue. It is much more effective to find another way to deal with the situation.
Several lifestyle changes can help a person with narcissistic tendencies heal from their emotional wounds and better relate to others:
Stop insulting their intelligence. No matter how empathic or intelligent a narcissist is, they will likely be defensive and attempt to insult your intelligence.
Consider this tactic to be gaslighting, as it will effectively drive the victim crazy and make them doubt their own perceptions.
If this happens, find a way to redirect their energies and let them know that what they are saying is insulting and hurtful.
Stay away from tasks that may remind a narcissist of being under his or her thumb. Avoid any task that can potentially upset them or remind them of their old "power position" over you.
If this means focusing on your career and putting your career first, that's what you should do.
Find a healthy way to express anger. In healthy relationships, it's normal to get angry and upset, but it is extremely unhealthy to harbor these feelings and tell a person they are inadequate and wrong for being upset.
Find ways to let your partner know that you are upset, but that you do not feel they are inherently flawed and this is their problem, not yours.
It can take time to develop a deep level of intimacy with a narcissist, but it's important to consider the danger of maintaining a relationship with a person who has toxic feelings towards you.
You'll probably end up choosing a healthy lifestyle that is easier on your body, especially if you want a healthy future relationship with a narcissist.