When apologies are not really apologies

October 14, 2016

Santa Fe, NM/photo by Carol Cassara

Have you ever heard one of those apologies that are really not an apology at all? Like this one:

I’m sorry you feel that way.

I’m all for sincere apologies. But when I hear that one? Well, it’s not a true apology.

What it’s really saying is that what I said or did is ok, but your reaction is the problem. That kind of fake apology allows the other person to avoid really taking in how the other person feels. And they can avoid taking any responsibility for those feelings. After all, they apologized, right?

Well, not right. There are a zillion kinds of apologies that are real apologies. But this is not one of them. It’s an insult, really, when someone says that to me. An insult to my intelligence. I mean, am I supposed to believe they’re sorry? No.

Here are a few other fake apologies:

I’m sorry, but you provoked me. The BUT is a big clue, because whatever comes after BUT normally invalidates the first clause.

I’m sorry we don’t agree.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll say I’m sorry.

Faux apologies, all.  But there ARE ways to apologize that communicate sincerity.

Here are a few of the good ones:

“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry I hurt your feelings.”

Or “That didn’t come out right, I’m sorry.”

Or “I wouldn’t embarrass you for the world, I’m so sorry.”

Put the onus on the person who created the issue, not on the recipient.

So when you’re in disagreement with someone and apologies are called for, remember this:

There’s no quicker way to invalidate another person’s feelings than to give a fake apology.

Ever received one of those fake apologies? How did you feel?


31 comments on “When apologies are not really apologies
  1. Elena Peters says:

    Fake apologies usually happen within fake friendships. If you are the giver or receiver, some examination is in order. My experience anyway.

  2. AJ Sefton says:

    SO agree with you. They are so condescending and slap-face-worthy. Better they didn’t ‘apologise’ at all than with one of those phony ones.

  3. Leanne says:

    I think men in particular have problems with saying sorry (women over-do it!) and their apologies often come out as “sorry you feel…..” I call people on it now days because they need to step up and own the hurt they caused.

  4. Elena is right fake apologies and fake friendships. I admit until I knew better I was guilty of this. I had every selfish attribute there is, I still do, but I am aware now of my responsibility. My responsibility is to be aware of what I am saying. To be sorry is to take responsibility. I have learned to say ….I am sorry, no excuses, I messed up, I am sorry. The best part is knowing everyone messes up and my forgiveness will be needed for them some time. xxoo

  5. WENDY says:

    The heart of a real apology is taking responsibility for how you made the other person feel, regardless of all other circumstances. It doesn’t matter who was right or wrong, or if the other person misinterpreted what you said. Those details can be worked out as needed later, AFTER we acknowledge our own role in how we made another feel. It’s really a fine line that so many people unintentionally miss, but once you are aware of the difference, it really is so obvious.

  6. Lee gaitan says:

    One of the “best” fake apologies I ever got was this: “I hurt your feelings? I’m insensitive, and you should know that,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. I shrugged her out of my life!

  7. Oooh my goodness – I »» LOATHE«« the “I’m sorry you feel that way…” Ugh. Fake apologies will almost certainly make me angrier than the original argument; they’re just so disrespectful!

  8. I think most people have a hard time apologizing. I feel terrible when I hurt someone and I tend to overdo apologies.
    If someone is apologizing to me, I usually stop them and say it’s okay. What really speaks loud and clear is what happens after the apology. Is the air clear or is it tense? If its still tense that tells me a lot. I definitely react more to actions than words.

  9. For me, fake apologies show a lack of self-esteem. Transferring the blame elsewhere is a cop out.

  10. Ugh! My rule is that any apology that has a BUT or YOU FEEL in it is no apology at all. Glad to see I’m not alone. Honestly, a simple I’M SORRY then silence is sufficient most of the time.

  11. Ruth says:

    Ooooo… I am a bit conflicted on this one. I agree, anything with a “but” in the middle is an excuse, not an appology. I think there is a very fine line between taking responsibility for someone else’s actions and reactions and owning up to your part in them…if that makes sense. When I have said “I’m sorry you feel that way” it is never meant as an appology for something I did or said. It was most likely intended to express my sincere sorrow at someone else’s disstress or anger or fear.I am sorry for them — not sorry for me or my actions…. That sounds and feels very cold when I re-read and it might be. I guess my point is this:I agree that being sorry someone feels a certain way is NOT an appology — not fake nor real. The word sorry is tricky….

  12. Mary Burris says:

    ‘I’m sorry you feel this way’ is the equivalent of ‘We’ll have to agree to disagree, but deep down you know I’m right’. Sorry, not sorry is probably more accurate.

    I’m sorry you feel your presidential candidate is a better choice than mine…. nope, I couldnt even type that with a straight face!

    You may be on to something with the non-apologetic apology…

  13. Amber Myers says:

    I agree, I always try to apologize properly. But I have said “We’ll have to agree to disagree” before.

  14. Nellwyn says:

    Those fake apologies are the worst! They always make me feel like the other person is incredibly dismissive of my experience.

  15. Someone has said before, “I am sorry that happened to you”–right after giving a testimony of the great things I learned by going through the bad thing. I was puzzled because I did not feel sorry for myself. I’m sure I have done this to others as well one way or another so I try not to take it to heart when said to me. Sometimes, people just aren’t completely aware of what they are saying. Sad but true.

  16. Just reading this post pushed my fake apology buttons, Carol. I HATE fake apologies and you’ve done a great job exposing them for what they are. How about responding to one of them with, “I don’t want an apology. I want you to change your behavior!” I feel better now. Great post.

  17. Elizabeth O. says:

    Fake apologies are like saying that they’re accepting the fact that you don’t agree with them and the sorry part is just to stop the conversation. At least for me that’s it. It’s been a long time since I’ve said any of those lines, it’s not something that I like saying and it’s really not nice.

  18. Erlene says:

    Yes, I’ve heard fake apologies and I’ve probably give some in my younger days too. I think sometimes people just can’t agree and a fake apology is a way to push the disagreement under the rug.

  19. Vyjay says:

    I agree, an apology just for the sake of it and with really no “heart’, in it is worse than there being no apology. In fact, some of these apologies tend to again put the onus onto you rather than being a sincere and heartfelt apology.

  20. Fatima says:

    Fake apologies can be very frustrating, and some people aren’t sincere about what they’re saying. A lot of times it’s not what they say, but how they say it that impacts the person who hears these words.

  21. Crystal Gard says:

    Fake apologies are the worst and so easy to distinguish. I just hate them, why bother if you aren’t going to be sincere about it

  22. Carolann says:

    You nailed it! I get so pissed when I hear those fake apologies! You can tell they are fake the minute you hear them!

  23. Shiri says:

    Completely agree! I hate when someone fake apologizes to me. I would very much rather not get an apology then get one that just makes me feel worse about the situation. If it’s not sincere it’s not worth it.

  24. Rosey says:

    A fake apology is sometimes worse than the offense. I don’t understand how anyone thinks they are okay.

  25. I think we all at some time or another have heard those “fake” appologizes. It is those that make you never forget.

  26. I have gotten quite a few of these. I am always left feeling so empty and hurt.

  27. candy says:

    I actually had a person walk up to me and say. I was told I needed to apologize so I’m sorry but I really don’t know what I did. She turned and walked away.

  28. Lisa Rios says:

    I think most of the apology note we hear these days are just in words and they don’t come out of the heart at all. I am sure I have received a lot and though I feel let down or being insulted, I just move on with life!

  29. Janice Wald says:

    Hi Carol,
    Your post reminded me of what my husband says, “You can’t unring the bell.”
    Great to see you! Thanks for coming to the Blogger’s Pit Stop Linky Party last week.
    Janice, Pit Stop Crew.

  30. Cori says:

    For some, they may truly not understand how what they said/did hurt you. If you’ve explained it to them and they don’t get it, you’ll never get an apology. My brother is Asperger’s and he doesn’t get it.But there’s nothing I can do about it.

  31. I really enjoyed reading your post. I thought your post was beautifully written. Thank you very much.

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