Clinical psychologist and therapist Dr. Ramani Durvasula makes videos educating people about how to best spot harmful toxic behavior in others, and what to do to protect yourself and limit the damage that can be wrought when you have a narcissist in your life. Having previously explained why it’s not wise to call out a narcissist, Durvasula’s most recent post explores how to respond if a narcissist actually apologizes for the way they have acted.

“The idea that their apology means they understand what they did, and they’re going to change their behavior, it isn’t true,” she says, “and if you hold that belief, it’s likely that you’re going to be very disappointed.”

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“An apology, done correctly, is taking responsibility; addressing the other person’s feelings, striving for reconciliation, and committing to learning from it,” she continues. “Unfortunately, that’s not what a narcissistic apology is. A narcissistic apology is sort of a way of keeping the trains running on time, of getting off the hook for something, of getting back to the way they want things to be.”

A narcissist doesn’t actually care that they hurt somebody else, and often, Durvasula points out, an apology only comes after a lengthy argument where they believe the person they hurt may take away their “supply.” And in each instance, the narcissist does not learn from the experience or adapt their behavior, and the cycle continues.

It’s pretty easy to identify a narcissist’s apology, simply because they won’t take responsibility for what they did. We’ve all heard that particular kind of non-apology, when somebody sounds like they’re apologizing but really they’re talking around their own accountability by saying things like “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“In all of these apologies, what you see is that they are not apologizing for something they did or said,” says Durvasula. “They are in essence, though, using the apology as a way of gaslighting you and invalidating your experience: ‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ meaning ‘you probably shouldn’t.'”

A healthy apology, Durvasula explains, involves acknowledging and owning the original action, not just the reaction. There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m sorry you’re hurt” and “I’m sorry I hurt you, I’ll try to do better.” Durvasula’s three hallmarks of a healthy apology are responsibility, acknowledgment, and commitment.

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