We are certain that you, like ourselves, have been left feeling a little chilled at some point after receiving a long-awaited apology. Instead of feeling relief, you’re left with a churning stomach, your heart is thumping, you’re feeling de-centred, uncertain, maybe even irritated. Your gut telling you that this relationship is still not right even though you got the “sorry”.
These negative emotions and physical feelings are a sure sign that you’ve been “fake-apologied”.
(We know that isn’t a word but we can make words up right??! ;))
The six most common fake apologies and how to recognize them
1: The “sorry but” apology
This isn’t for real. This person is saying “I’m sorry that you found out I am the cause of whatever went wrong. However, I am not willing to take responsibility for my actions. In fact, I want you to feel bad for me, because I see myself as more important than you in this story and I want to you to think that I am not at fault and in fact, I am the true victim here”.
Example: I’m sorry I didn’t show up when you asked me for help, but I needed to finish something I’ve been reeeeeally stressed about’.
Or the more blame-y:
I’m sorry I didn’t show up, but you didn’t give me enough notice really. You know how busy I am right?
Insight: The word “but” effectively deletes the section of the sentence that precedes it.
2: “I’m sorry that you felt so” apology
Another classic fake. This is again removing the responsibility of the wrongdoer onto you and your ‘weird’ reaction to what they did.
Example: Wow.. I’m sorry you felt like that…. I think most people wouldn’t be upset by that though so I figured you’d be cool….”. Usually accompanied by a raised eyebrow and barely perceptible shake of the head to indicate you’re a little bit cray-cray.
Actually, this one is often used in “official” letters of apology. You may receive one of these if you lodge an official complaint for example. Here’s a real one we got earlier (seriously):
“We are sorry that you feel that X has behaved unprofessionally. Happily yours is the only such complaint ever received and we assure you that this will be investigated”.
(Brackets: you’re so crazy and weird and no one thinks the way you do ya weirdo.)
This is not a real sorry, this is a law suit dodge. Not only are they not acknowledging the complaint but they are hinting that your situation is unique, and therefore odd or ‘weird’, in their opinion. Grrrrr..
3: The “I didn’t mean to” apology
Well, this is a more obvious responsibility dodge. The result of the action may have been unintended. But the action still occurred because the person did it, and chose to do so.
A true apology is for doing something regardless of intention, even if it was a mistake. And we all make mistakes. Saying ‘I didn’t mean it’ weakens the intent of the apology. One may as well say nothing.
4: The “I’m sorry for the upset I caused” apology
This is a ‘wishy washy’ apology. It looks like and sounds like a proper apology at first glance. Because it includes the words “I caused”. But this is a subtle non-committer as well. What exactly is the person saying sorry for here?
An apology means more if the actor and the action is named:
“I’m sorry for the upset I caused by lying to you.”
Now there y’go! Cool. Real apology. Thank you.
5: The OMG!!! apology:
This one is super annoying because it’s a deflector and leaves you feeling curiously, definitely, but-hard-to-pin-down-why dismissed.
Example: “OMG I’m so sorry! I can’t believe I did that? I feel AWFUL! You must HATE me! I’d HATE that, I’d be so upset if you were upset! OMG!!!”
#Sigh.. so the hidden message here is “please ignore what I did and continue to like me because I want that and an easy life more than I want to take responsibility for my actions and I definitely don’t want to deal with your feelings. And by the way? Me. Me. Me. And me. And eh.. Did I mention me?”
6: The ‘I can’t help it’ apology
This one is tricky. It’s like a ‘but’, where the but is unsaid. Here the perpetrator is taking the role of victim. This person is offering an explanation for their poor behavior rather than an actual apology. This needs to be followed up quick smart with their plan for what they’re willing to do about it in the present and very near future.
Insight: In the absence of a plan to change their behavior (which is a display of awareness of responsibility), the explanation apology is merely an excuse.
This one is a particularly common feature of abusive or toxic relationships.
Example: “I’m sorry I lied to you, my mother used do it all the time, I guess I learned it from her. It’s like I can’t help it. I tried to stop. Hopefully it won’t happen again”.
(Note the use of the word “it”. Abuse doesn’t ‘happen’, it’s a behaviour, not a random causeless event).
Or: “My parents were violent to me, I guess it’s in the blood..Sorry…”
No-one ever looked at a blood sample under a microscope and found a fist.
How to respond to a fake apology
There are two bottom line options here, even if time has passed before you realise you were duped:
- You can choose to reject the apology and say so, with or without an explanation.
Example: “I’m having trouble accepting your apology because it just doesn’t feel true. You said “sorry but”, and followed it by making it my fault. So I’m confused: are you sorry or not?”.
- You can appear to accept the apology while making a mental note not to engage with that person in the future and put it down to experience and lesson learned.
Important final note!!
The person with whom you are dealing will either be faking the apology on purpose or may genuinely have no awareness of how manipulative they are. In this case, pointing out to them why you don’t accept the fake apology will be helpful to both of you.
In our next post we’ll look at how to apologise effectively and how to respond to real apologies.
As always – feel free to comment and thanks for reading!