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Sorry, Not Sorry: How to Handle Inauthentic Apologies

Have you ever received an apology that made you more upset than the action itself? Maybe the apology was accompanied by sarcasm, laughter, or dismissiveness, which felt like a double slap to the face. Perhaps you have received apologies from friends, supervisors, family, or romantic partners like:

I am sorry you feel… 
I am sorry but…
I was just… 
You know I…

 If so, you are not alone. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where effective apologies are often not taught or demonstrated. It is challenging for most individuals to take accountability when they have wronged another person because of guilt or shame. Often, we do not want to admit our mistakes and shortcomings because it forces us to confront our flaws. However, there are moments when people are genuinely oblivious to their wrongdoings and do not see the purpose of apologizing. Therefore, they view their apology as doing you a favor, which can come off as distasteful. 

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What’s the difference between an inauthentic and authentic apology? 

Whenever an individual says, “I am sorry that you” or any of the examples listed above, it takes away the accountability of owning their mistakes and shifts the blame onto you (no wonder you are left feeling angry!).  It invalidates our experiences and exacerbates feelings of confusion and frustration. In other words, the person is basically “gaslighting” you. The apology does nothing to heal the emotional wound caused; if anything, it only makes matters worse. 

 In order to have a healthy and authentic relationship, it is essential for our experiences to be acknowledged and for the individual to take ownership of their behavior. When a person can genuinely admit their mistake and how it negatively impacted you, you are left feeling validated, understood, and relieved.  An authentic apology may include the following:

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  1. A simple “I am sorry” statement 
  2. Recognition of their mistakes 
  3. A convey of empathy 
  4. Expression of remorse and regret 

So, how do I respond to an insincere apology?  3 Helpful Tips 

When encountering an insincere apology, I practice the Triple-A response, which is a method I developed after my fair share of fake apologies: 

  1. Address the error in their apology – As mentioned earlier, some people honestly are unaware when they caused harm. We are humans, and as humans, in relationships, we are bound to make unintended mistakes. Keep in mind, most people are not used to delivering effective apologies and may have never been taught the appropriate way. This can be a learning experience for both and an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. 
  2. Acknowledge our feelings and experience – It is always important to acknowledge our experiences versus suppressing our feelings. We often will dismiss or minimize our feelings to avoid conflict; however, this approach is unhealthy, literally. Research shows that it can lead to adverse health outcomes, both physically and mentally, when denying our feelings.
  3. Accept them for where they are – Sometimes, when we confront individuals about ingenuine apologies, we may receive pushback, which is absolutely fine. In those moments, we have to accept that some people lack either insight or maturity. However, do not be discouraged. Applaud yourself for having the courage to speak your truth and honor your voice.