Fake apologies invalidate your feelings, make excuses, or imply that the problem is actually your fault.
They go by many names — fake apologies, non-apologies, insincere apologies, false apologies, and even “fauxpologies”, but phony apologies are nothing new…
Ideally, an apology comes from honest regret – the apologizer has empathy for what you felt when they did something that bothered you. They have put themselves in your shoes, imagined how hurtful what they did must have been for you, and they truly and honestly wish they’d never, ever done it – not just because of the trouble it caused, but because the apologizer has sensed your pain or inconvenience.
The fake apology, however, is different. The typical fake apologizer hasn’t really sensed what they put you through and/or does not want to take full responsibility for their actions. Though they may not like what’s happened and do want the whole affair to come to an end, they’re taking a shortcut down a back street to avoid Empathy Lane and Responsibility Road.
There are a few reasons why this could be. The person’s ability to feel empathy may literally be impaired, and/or they may be someone who has no interest in accepting responsibility for their actions. Quite a few mental disorders involve the inability to properly empathize with others and regulate emotions effectively. Narcissists (NPD) and sociopaths (AsPD) do this most often. (See links at right for more). Lastly, the false apologizer may simply be someone who was raised in an environment where such people were present, and he or she has not yet learned healthier ways of relating.
But what do the most popular fake apologies really mean? Let’s have a look…
“I’m sorry, but…”
This false apology saves face and defends the person’s ego. Most people have delivered a false apology like this one at least once in their lives when they haven’t been able to accept the fact that they just plain messed up and let a situation get the better of them. What it’s really saying is, “Don’t think less of me for doing that, and don’t hold me responsible. It was beyond my control.”
“I’m sorry BUT” should be restated as, “I’m sorry THAT...” and followed with something that doesn’t in any way put the blame on the listener or dodge responsibility.
“I’m sorry you feel that way/feel upset/feel hurt…”
This fake apology really shows a big lack of empathy. The person stating it is actually apologizing to themselves for the fact that you bothered them with your feelings. What it’s really saying is, “Too bad, but it’s your fault if you think there’s anything at all wrong, and in fact, YOU’RE the one bothering ME.” It’s focusing on the wrong person’s behavior and implying that the upset person’s response is inappropriate or abnormal. It also suggests that the speaker intends to do nothing about the matter.
The healthy alternatives to “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “I’m sorry you got upset” are, “I’m sorry I made you feel that way” and “I’m sorry I upset you“.
“I’m sorry you don’t like it…”
This person isn’t sorry in the least. They’re letting the listener know that they intend to do exactly as they please, usually because they perceive the listener as having no choice whatsoever in the matter.
“I’m sorry you don’t like it” is just a flat-out lie, and is best replaced with a mean but honest, “I’m going to do what I want, and you can’t stop me”. At least that way, people will know sooner what they’re really up against and can fight back or get away more quickly.
“I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t…”
This is just a blame-shift to make the listener feel completely responsible for what the apologizer did. While it’s often true that both parties may have something to work on, that’s different from saying, “I did what I did wrong because you made me do it.”
A more functional alternative to “I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t…” is simply “I’m sorry.” If the listener has done something that needs addressing, that can be done without implying that the mistreated person is responsible for the apologizer’s choices.
Know the differences –
- invalidate the listener’s experience or feelings
- make excuses for the apologizer
- shift the focus and responsibility off the apologizer and place them onto the listener
- imply that the listener is being unreasonable or oversensitive
- blame the listener for the matter
- often include the word “but”
- send the message that the apologizer isn’t really willing to consider the way their actions made the listener feel
- acknowledge the listener’s experience and feelings
- take responsibility without excuses
- allow both parties the opportunity to focus on the apologizer’s actions without shifting blame
- validate the experience of the listener without diminishing its importance
- do not include the word “but”
- let the listener know they have been heard and considered, and that the apologizer will try not to repeat the mistake
Join us next time. We’re discussing triangulation!