It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What if she said she was sorry?

It is probably our favourite fantasy: something happens that awakens our narcissistic parents to the reality of their treatment of us, they realize how much they have hurt us, and they feel remorse…and then they apologise.

What if that really happened?

We are all at different stages of recovery from growing up with a narcissistic parent. Some of us are just realizing that our peculiar parent is a narcissist, some of us are well beyond that gut-wrenching discovery and are busy learning how to perceive and react to the world from a place other than that of victim. But some of us get stuck in a particular place, a place borne of denial and futile hope: we somehow believe that if our narcissistic parent would just “wake up” and see how they hurt us and then make amends, all would be right with our worlds.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if that is where you are, it is time to pull up those stakes and get unstuck because it ain’t gonna happen. Ever. No matter how long you wait, no matter how paralyzed you are, no matter what you say or do, your narcissistic parent/spouse/sibling/boss…whoever the chief narcissist in your life is…will never, ever accept responsibility, never, ever, feel bad for hurting you, and never, ever, give you a sincere, heartfelt apology. It just ain’t gonna happen.

How can I be so sure? Because if that person does accept responsibility, if s/he feels remorse and then is motivated to issue a true apology and undertake sincere efforts to make amends, that person is not—cannot be—a narcissist. Narcissists have no empathy, no capacity for remorse, and no motivation to humble themselves for the benefit of anyone save themselves. If the person is capable of compassion and empathy for the pain s/he inflicted on you, then that person simply is not a narcissist.

Assuming the narcissist in your life truly is a narcissist, then, you have to start examining your own expectations and why you have become stuck in this fantasy that “If she would just say she was sorry, things would be OK.”

Would they? Maybe in the beginning, while the euphoria lasted but eventually, you’re going to come back to earth and the resentment and questions will begin. “What took you so long?” “If you acknowledge now what you did was wrong, why did you do it in the first place?” “How is it even possible to make amends for decades of emotional abuse?” “What is in this for you?”

Do you expect that apology to be a magic balm that will cure all of your pain, your anxieties, insecurities and maladaptive behaviours and beliefs? What are you going to do when your narcissist apologizes…really, sincerely, apologizes…and after the initial elation wears off, you still feel suspicious, wary, guarded, and hurt by all of the past transgressions? What if your phobias and anxieties don’t melt away, what if your fears and pain stay right where they are? Then what?

Hopefully, enlightenment—and ultimately the realization that you just can’t sit by passively and wait for someone else to make it better because, no matter what your narcissist does or doesn’t do, nobody can make it better but you.

I know this isn’t the message most of us want to hear. We know we have been victimized and we look to the perpetrator to make it right. But can it ever be made right? There are no “do-overs” in real life and neither you nor your narcissist can turn back the clock and do it again. The point you are at today, the dysfunction, the pain, the anxiety—all are a product of what has gone before today. It has shaped you and conditioned you, given you your values and beliefs. No amount of apologies or “doing better” from your abuser can take that back or change what is inside you today. Just as you cannot change another person, nobody else can change you…only you can do that.

Some of us embrace the idea that we have control over our recovery, but I think most of us go through a period of believing that if our abuser(s) would just step up to the plate and acknowledge wrong doing and say they are sorry, everything would magically be all right. And some of us get stuck there, believing that they can go no further until that acknowledgement and apology are forthcoming. But we control what we believe and believing that it is someone else’s job to fix our hurts is not only untrue, it is self-defeating. The longer we cling to the belief that an apology will magically fix us, the longer we insist that it is the therapist’s job to make things better, the longer we will be stuck and miserable in the legacy of the narcissistic parent.

We have to take responsibility. Not for the acts that hurt us, of course, but for our recovery. It may feel wrong…after all, you didn’t create the situation so why should you have to fix it?...but in real life (not our perfect fantasies), we often get stuck cleaning up other people’s messes. To refuse to do it is to accept the mess as part of your life…and if you are choosing to accept it, then you really don’t have any business complaining and feeling ill-used about it. You have made the choice to tolerate the situation and do nothing to change it, and the consequence is that at some point, people you know will start rolling their eyes when you start to talk about it. If you don’t like something in your life, it is your life and therefore your responsibility to change it.

Narcissists abuse and they don’t take responsibility for the hurts they inflict. It is what they do and, just as you must accept that dogs bark and cats meow, you must accept that narcissists hurt people with no sense of guilt, remorse, or responsibility. Even if your narcissist did have a sudden flash of insight and conscience, what can s/he do? Drop a plate on the floor and break it…now say “Oh, I am so sorry!” to the plate. Is it fixed? Of course not…and getting an apology—even a sincere one—from your narcissist won’t fix what is wrong with you, won’t assuage your pain or feeling of emptiness, anymore than your apology to that plate made it whole again.

What I am saying here is that you don’t really need an apology or even an acknowledgement of wrongdoing from your narcissist because receiving one improves nothing. What you really need is to get up and take action: look at your beliefs, challenge and change the ones that are holding you back; change a pattern of behaviour that victimizes you, like calling your mother every day and letting her rant at you; stop thinking you are helpless or that someone else is going to rescue you from your unhappiness—only you can do that, and you can only do that when you take action.

Don’t worry about doing it wrong: as long as you are not hurting yourself or anyone else, you aren’t doing it wrong. The exception to that, of course, is the narcissist and her flying monkeys and other minions. Some narcissists will feel hurt (or enraged) that you are changing the balance of the relationship, that you are no longer playing the role of doormat, whipping post, scapegoat that was assigned to you. They will use anything to push you back into your role and restore the balance of their lives, regardless of the cost to you. Their feelings, their comfort zone is paramount. But the truth is, your feelings are no less important and deserve no less respect than theirs. And if they won’t take care not to hurt you, if they disrespect you as if it is their right, then you are absolved of the admonition to not hurt them. Oh, don’t go to an extreme and bully or physically assault them—of course that is out of bounds. But what is not out of bounds is for you to refuse to allow yourself to be manipulated by their rage or cries of distress. You are under no obligation to subordinate your feelings and well-being to theirs, especially when they have been sacrificing your feelings and well-being in order to make themselves feel good.

Would you feel remorse for smacking a blood sucking insect as it feasted on your flesh? Then don’t feel bad about disengaging from the soul-sucking leech that is your narcissist and put your respect and concern where it belongs: on you. Only by focussing on your own well-being can you escape, and they know this: if they can keep you focussed on them, their feelings and how you are hurting them, you’ll never be able to focus on yourself long enough to escape them. And that is just how they like it.


  1. I got past that point when I realized I had never heard my narcissist speak a compliment through ungritted teeth. And never would, much less an apology.

    1. That is a difficult thing for many of us to do. Congratulations on moving past it!



  2. Thanks for this. I've let go of every other expectation I've had for NM except the hope that she'll acknowledge the pain she's inflicted on me. In my heart of hearts, I know it will never happen. Some small part of me still wishes for it, though, not because it would make everything okay but because maybe I could see some kernel of remorse. I've been NC with her for over a year and I don't want to go back to the way things were at all. I don't even want her in my life anymore, really. There's something about her acknowledging my pain that would make it easier for me to forgive her. That's the current work--forgiveness, not for her, but for my own peace of mind.

    Thanks for continuing to shine a light on the path.

    1. Some of us believe that we have to have an apology or acknowledgement from the narcissist before we can move on...others believe they have to forgive before they can move on. These are beliefs, and beliefs are not necessarily truths. The truth is, you don't need either because neither an apology nor forgiveness changes things.

      Dr. Susan Forward in her book "Toxic Parents," addresses this. Here are some excerpts:
      — “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this absolution [forgiveness] was really another form of denial: ‘If I forgive you, we can pretend that what happened wasn't so terrible.’ I came to realize that this aspect of forgiveness was actually preventing a lot of people from getting on with their lives.
      — “Responsibility can go only one of two places: outward, onto the people who have hurt you, or inward, into yourself. So you may forgive your parents but end up hating yourself all the more in exchange.
      — “Clients all too often discovered that the empty promise of forgiveness had merely set them up for bitter disappointment. Some of them experienced a rush of well-being, but it didn't last because nothing had really changed in the way they felt or in their family interactions.”

      You can read my take on forgiveness here:

      Keep this in mind: forgiveness, to be real, is for the other person's benefit, not yours. It is a selfless act, selflessly given. If you forgive someone expecting to benefit from it, then it really isn't forgiveness, it is a transaction. And it doesn't change a thing.

      I think we get stuck because of our beliefs: if you believe things will get better if she apologizes--or if you believe things will get better if you give her forgiveness--you are absolved of doing the hard work of healing. But it doesn't work that way, unfortunately. No matter what belief you have that holds you back, you are still stuck until you change that belief. And that is the hard truth.

      Hugs to you


  3. Excellent post! Getting stuck hoping that the narcissist will have a moment of self-reflection is really easy to do....But, totally, irrevocably, NEVER going to happen.

    My 84 year old mother just died this March and she was the same on the day of her death as she'd always been: No apologies. Never wrong.

    Unfortunately, it appeared that she was arguing with someone as she died, with a frown on her face and a sense of fury coming from her eyes.

    I hope those who read your post will be helped in their journey toward healing and relief. I know it's comforting to read the truth from others who have had similar experiences.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think we all get stuck at one point or another...I didn't want to give up my anger. I felt entitled to be angry about what she did to me and the anger felt empowering. And I believed that if I stopped being angry with her, I would somehow become vulnerable to her again.

      It wasn't a truth, it was a belief. I stopped being angry decades ago when I realized that my anger had become a 24/7 kind of thing and we hadn't spoken or seen each other for was hurting me (not in the cliched way of "festering" but in the sense that it made me paranoid and on guard all of the time). It was also there as a very effective mask against feeling the deep hurts she inflicted on me--instead of feeling hurt, I learned to feel angry.

      I had to learn to feel and process those hurts...a monumental task, I must admit...and when I did it, my anger dissipated. THAT was the magic: allowing myself to feel and process the pain made it go away. But first I had to get unstuck, to change a belief (I believed my anger was justified and that it protected me). And that is the case for anyone who is stuck: to reexamine and change the belief that is blocking their forward progress, no matter what that belief is.

      Cheers and hugs,


  4. Violet - I hope that things are going better for you. I know that the last couple of months have been trying.

    Thank you for this post. It comes at an opportune time for me. I am in therapy and have been in the process of trying to understand what my responsibilities are. My narcissist is my husband's sister. She objected to our marriage for spurious/untrue reasons, treats me like crap and suddenly has started making friendly overtures. Luckily, I came into this as an adult and she showed her hand way too early, so I haven't given very much of myself. But to my husband it was earth shattering. He had always known that something made him uncomfortable, but had just let it roll off his back, as normal annoying sister stuff. Her treatment of me was not just annoying it was undeniably wrong, and he is still trying to make sense of it.

    Her latest stunt was her mother's day gift to her mom. SIL gave her mom specialized dietary food for my allergies and informed her hat she needed to work on her cooking skills for my needs, so she could be a better MIL. MIL is actually very good at handling my allergies. MIL told Hubby and I over the phone and sounded rather thrilled at this gift (my husband suspects that she was confused by it). All MIL wants is for us to be one big happy family and my only beef with her is that she doesn't understand that SIL and I will never be best friends. After the call, my husband informed me that his sister was creeping him out. He has never before spotted the creepiness in the moment, only after reflection, so that was BIG.

    I feel really bad for my MIL. In one fell swoop, her daughter told her she was a bad MIL, a bad cook, and hinted at the Big Happy Family, when she can't deliver on that. She can't even sustain treating me with any sort of respect for more than an hour or so. When she is treating me well, she is usually treating someone else badly. Even if she did change I wouldn't trust her.

    My husband and I won't buy into her overtures, and because they have been so public I will look like the bad guy. I know this will be coming, but somehow after worrying about this for years, suddenly, I can't bring myself to worry about it. I've been coming to notice how badly she treats everyone. I am starting to feel sorry for them that they don't see it and I am feeling less singled out. But I am feeling it is not my responsibility to get them to see it. If they don't do the work to see it, I can't help them. They may loose the relationship with me, and potentially my husband, but I literally can't stop that. I have been feeling responsible for potentially tearing a family apart. I have been allowing my perceived responsibility to them to usurp my responsibility to myself and then complaining about it.

    1. It is good to sometimes put ourselves under the magnifying glass and really, seriously scrutinize ourselves, our choices, and our behaviours. It appears you have done so and come away with some new awareness.

      That is the first step: becoming aware. The second step, however, requires some effort and dedication on your part: to stop doing those self-destructive things and start doing those things that care for and nurture yourself and your immediate family.

      I long ago came to the conclusion that it was just counter-productive to put love, time, effort, hope and caring into people who don't give a sh!t about me. It's harder to act on it when the perpetrator is a close relative and that is a double bind: the closer the person, the greater the damage done to you.

      We all move at our own pace, but once you have awareness, you do yourself a disservice by not taking action. That is your next step and I wish you every success in it.



  5. My Nparents have never apologized and never will. The closest they've come to acknowledging that they may have hurt me is to say, on many occasions, "You're too bloody sensitive." So, in other words, it was my fault they hurt me.
    Over the years there have been many times when they would realize their hurtful behaviour had gone a bit too far and they were about to lose their favourite victim. When that happened, there would be no apology or acknowledgement that they were wrong, but they would suddenly treat with a measure of kindness and respect. Each time, I would allow myself to be hoovered back into the vortex of their madness even though I came to recognize the tactic as just that, a tactic. The "honeymoon" might last a month, several months, or even a year but a leopard doesn't change its spots and they would end up biting me in the *** every single time.
    A few years ago I was directed to an article on NPD and then found these blogs. Even then I continued to hope for exactly what you write about here, which would be a dream come true. If only I could do or say the right thing they would love and respect me.
    I finally "accepted" my parents exactly the way they are, knowing that acceptance does not imply approval. Then I took the next step. Realizing there was no hope of an apology or change on their part, I also accepted that I can't deal with their abuse and walked away. That was two years ago when I was 66 years old and THAT was when my life truly began.

    1. Mulderfan, you have hit on a very important point: acceptance of your parents and their behaviour does NOT imply approval. It means only an end to denial of the truth about them. We are SO susceptible to this denial: who wants to truly acknowledge that their parents aren't devoted, loving and kind? When we acknowledge this...when others acknowledge this, the first thing you get is "What is/was wrong with me to make them act that way?" We still try to buffer their inadequacy by taking the blame upon ourselves (and other people are only too happy to do the same).

      The step you took is a difficult one, but necessary if you are to have a life of your own to live. At some point, if we don't realize that we are trying to swim with millstone tied around our necks, we drown. We never get to have our own lives, they end up sacrificed to the dysfunction of other people who don't even care about us.

      Congratulations on getting free!


  6. Violet, I have come to understand that I am not unlovable. My Nparents are simply incapable of loving anyone, even each other, in a healthy way.
    The role that was assigned to me at birth, by virtue of my gender, and a lifetime of conditioning has taken time and work to overcome. Understanding this has allowed me to forgive MYSELF for all those wasted years, during which I resigned myself to playing the role of family doormat/scapegoat, basically enabling their behaviour.
    One thing I may never get past is watching my beloved "baby" brother morph into my Nfather's clone. But that's OK because I no longer have to be perfect!
    BTW Today is his 60th birthday and there will be no phone call or even a card.

  7. This blog is truly a gift to all of us out there suffering with narcissistic mothers, thank you! I can't stop reading and shaking my head in amazement with all of the "exactly" moments I've been having.

    I've been planning to write my mother a letter for over a year now, wanting to explain to her how things she has done have affected, and hurt me. But it wasn't until this weekend that I was finally forced with having to do so. I even decided that I would have no contact with her until she got better.
    My husband, finally tired of her antics text her that we would be stopping by her home at 530 to pick up items she took from my home when she moved (pictures of my life with my children, and two very large dog kennels). Sweet as can be, she replied to his text "Ok, is there anything else." At 530 exactly, we pulled up to her home with my photos and a dog kennel sitting on her porch with all of her curtains drawn. My husband and 21 year old son grabbed the items and placed them in my son's truck while I text my mother telling her that she forgot one of my kennels, and that I would wait while she got it. My mother replied, "You mean Buddy's kennel" (my dachshund that I allowed her to take last year when I finally got her to move out of my home). To which I replied, "No, I mean the kennel I paid for." Well her last attempt at manipulation with me was "Well then I guess you might as well take Buddy too." My reply...."OK." After collected my dog and the kennel, which she rushed to squeeze out her door so she wouldn't have to face me, I placed the 12 page letter on a chair on the porch, and we drove away. I text her that the letter was there, and that I hoped that she would read it. That I was sorry, and that I still loved her. I secretly hoped that she would call me up later tonight to apologize for everything she has done, but instead she responded by blocking my children and me on her FB account (apparently she forgot about my new husband lol). The best part of it all, the chest pain I had been suffering with for the past few days immediately disappeared. I'm a little hurt, but mostly knowing that I cut her off as if she was that gangrenous extremity that was slowly killing me, has left me feeling a complete sense of relief. The world didn't end!! And even if I would have gotten that apology, I know her, and I know it would never have been sincere. I'll probably get that apology some time down the road when she needs me to manipulate and torture some more, but the reality is, it won't mean a thing. And I am done accepting any form of manipulation from her, including a fake apology.

  8. Near the end of his life, my covert N father apologized in a way that sounded sincere at first. He seemed to believe that in acknowledging (a very small amount) of the wrongs he had done me, it would dispose me toward spending all of my free time with him. When that didn't happen and I didn't warm up much for subsequent visits, he began throwing himself pity parties about how he was a terrible parent and he never should have adopted me. When that elicited agreement on my part, the pettiness and spite came back out again, and he tried to play stupid little control games with me up to the day he lost consciousness for the last time. He was beyond any ability to hurt me by that point. I felt little more than pity and contempt for a pathetic end to a pathetic life.


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