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Can a Narcissist (or Abuser) Ever Keep a Promise?

The short answer is no. If they have all of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is highly unlikely, especially in areas where they are known to be dysfunctional.

For instance, there is a high rate of cheating among narcissists. So when a narcissist has been caught at cheating and he promises never to cheat on you again, even if he is crying and acting "very sorry", is it likely? No.

Let's face it: most narcissists are not sorry. In fact, they will not be sorry unless they are desperate (losing something of higher value in you than they are gaining in terms of the person they are having an affair with ... they tend to look at people in terms of who gives them the most power, control, narcissistic supply, attention, and money).

Usually the way most narcissists deal with the subject of cheating is to make excuses and blame you. Some instances:
"If you weren't so ---, I never would have cheated."
"If you had done ---, I never would have cheated."
"You aren't that attractive, and I was much more attracted to ---, so I cheated. Big deal. Everyone cheats."
"You are so attractive, and I never knew what you saw in me, so I cheated."
"You are too sensitive. I was drunk and I didn't know what I was doing. Get over it!"
"Cheating happens every day. What's the big deal? You're making a mountain out of a molehill. What's the matter with you?"
"You never see things right, poor thing. I wasn't really cheating. I was just comforting her. I just kissed her like that to make her feel better, not to break up our relationship." (called gaslighting).

Other areas where they are very unlikely to keep promises (in traits and tactics that are particular to narcissists):

* saying they will never use the the silent treatment on you again
* promising never to discard you or ghost you again
* promising never to hit you or beat you up again
* promising never to lie to you again
* promising never to make up stories about you
* promising never to bend the truth
* promising never to scapegoat you again
* promising never to be disloyal to you again
* promising you that you are all that she'll ever want in a man (or a woman)
* promising never to triangulate again (to play divide and conquer games)
* promising to hear you out and treat you like an equal
* promising not to be condescending
* promising to be respectful and give you equal consideration to their own wants and needs
* promising to give you dignity and a voice in situations which effect you
* promising to not insult you or call you crazy
* promising never to treat you like you don't have value to them again
* promising you that from now on, you can count on them to keep their word and to act trustworthy
* promising not to use the "drama phrase" when you and they are trying to work things out together
* promising to treat you like a team member instead of dictating to you
* promising never to punish you over unfounded reasons or jealousies
* promising never to be jealous and trash the kitchen just because you were talking to a man that happened to be your sister's husband, and not a rival
* promising not to turn other people against you again
* promising not to run smear campaigns on you to get other people to think less of you
* promising to feel more secure in your love so that they don't "do stupid things again" like have an affair
* promising you that their love is real
* promising to take your thoughts, feelings and perspectives into consideration
* promising he will never steal from you again (or sell your stuff, or give it away, or borrow it indefinitely, or hide it)
* promising he will never choke you again (please be aware that choking is a definite sign that your life is in danger. Anyone who chokes you has the capacity to murder you - get out immediately and call your local domestic violence center)

When they break these promises, which they usually do, they tend to make remarks like "Well I meant it at the time I said it."

Most of us react with "Well, that doesn't work for me."

The reason why they can't keep these promises is because the urge in them to always be in the dominant position (i.e. in the up superior position and you in the down inferior position) is stronger than any promises they make.

They won't keep any promises where there isn't an increasing amount of power and control and domination for them.

A note on the silent treatment and ghosting: While most silent treatments are used to shame you into compliance (i.e. "You are so shameful and inferior for someone so high in stature as myself that I can't even talk to you"), they are also used when the narcissist feels ashamed and threatened. Like: when they realize you are on to them (i.e. when you know they are a narcissist and you aren't falling for the power games and arguments they want to have with you ... or it can be that being around you feels "dangerous" for them in that you will never look at them in that high and mighty position ... in both cases, they disappear, usually).

I would say that in at least half of cases of the silent treatment, shame and knowing they can't have a high stature in terms of wisdom about your life or power over you is why they are using it. In other words, shame is the more dominant feeling in them than arm-twisting you to comply with them.

While the silent treatment is definitely defined as abuse in all inter-personal close relationships, the silent treatment can also be an expression of fear that you have found them out and they just don't want to be put into the position of copping to your insight about that. If they have a few antisocial personality disorder traits, they only feel good if they are duping you about who they really are in the integrity department (duper's delight). They will insist they are in the superior position, and not apologize or concede that they made a bad mistake in your mutual relationship, so they give up on you. Thus, continued silent treatment.

If you really want to see if they have changed, ask them for something reasonable or small like "I think I left the biology book I used in college at your house. Is there any way you could mail that book to me? I will pay for the postage."

Now, any reasonable person will mail you the book. Reasonable people will even do exactly what you have asked. They won't put it in a box with nails to send you a message, or put a Valentine in it to send you an opposite kind of message either ...  or send you anything that will upset you, or disrespect the fact that you have broken up. But that's in the realm of normal break-ups between two normal people. They will just send you the book put it in a box and respond about how much you owe them for the mailing.

If you know they have some or all of the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and they insist that you meet in person to give you that book, it probably isn't a good idea to meet them. A domestic violence counselor can help you determine what is safe and what is not safe.

If they refuse to respond to you at all (i.e. still give you the silent treatment), most likely they have not changed at all, which is the more likely outcome, and may still be punishing you or they are too embarrassed to respond.

Most narcissists can only handle people who they deem not smart enough to figure them out, or whose self esteem has already been so compromised that they feel they can easily act on their agenda to get the utmost power and control out of the relationship.

If they show no signs of shame for breaking promises over and over again, it is not something a person with a normal constitution should be around or will be able to tolerate.

"Our word" and our desire to be a team player where everyone's needs can be met through compromise and discussion, is what enables most of us to hold our head high and have healthy amounts of drive and self esteem. We like ethics and integrity, and we like ethics and integrity in the people around us. If we don't see that in the person we are having a close personal relationship with, our sympathetic nervous systems respond (and when the alarm bells of our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly ringing over more and more unethical treatments, broken promises and/or abuse), it can produce PTSD and all of the associated illnesses that arise from having PTSD.

PTSD is not something most perpetrators care about since they lack empathy, so it is up to us to care enough about ourselves. Self care also means not listening to the narcissist play head games with us and our self esteem, especially in light of the fact that they break promises.

It also means establishing enough distance so that their perspectives of us are not part of our head-space or present world.

Most psychologists and therapists will say that the only way to truly heal from a relationship riddled with broken promises, broken ethics, narcissistic agendas, playing one-ups for their grandiose fantasies, is to go "no contact". Most survivors who have tried the methods out there for "low contact" find that the methods don't work all that well in terms of being able to heal completely.

Promises they can sometimes keep are short term like:

* a promise to take you to the movies in the evening
* a promise to pick up the butter and bread crumbs you wanted for dinner
* a promise to sign the tax return in the afternoon
* a promise to take the mail in
* a promise to water the flowers tomorrow morning

For all of the big important promises: probably not. Beware.

The small promises should not make a difference if the big promises are being broken. Trust is built on the big promises, not on the small ones, and certainly not on the ones they "meant at the time."

"Narcissist's 'Morality' And The Rationalizations That Go Along With It"
by Dr. Les Carter for "Surviving Narcissism":

"Healthy vs Toxic Relationships: How to Spot the Differences" 
by clinical psychologist Dr. Taslim
for MedCircle:

"Narcissist and future faking" by Dr. Carmen Bryant:

further reading: 

How Narcissists Use Future Faking to Manipulate You - by Darius Cikanavicius for Psych Central

The biggest excuses narcissists spin to keep you hooked — and why this makes them dangerous - by Lindsay Dodgson for Business Insider