December 15, 2021

“Sorry, I’m not sorry”: The Fake Apology Translator.


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We’ve all received an apology that left us with a bitter taste in our mouths.

Maybe something just felt off about the apology…and the issue didn’t really feel resolved. Maybe it was an apology that left us wondering if that person was really sorry. Or was it a non-apology?

Whatever you prefer to call them—faux-pologies, backhanded apologies, non-apologies, or unapologies—just what is it with people who can’t admit they are wrong and can’t apologise for their words or actions? Pride? Ego?

All the ifs, the buts, the defensiveness, the deflections—all these are signs of an apology that is not truthful and not meant from the heart. Personally, I would prefer no apology at all over a fake apology. Fake apologies can leave us feeling worse, frustrated, and even disgusted.

Of course, being sorry is about more than just words, but certain phrases used can really show if a person is genuinely apologising or just trying to get away with no blame for their actions.

So how can we recognise when an apology is not really a truthful one?

Here is a list of all the faux-pologies I’ve heard in my life and what these apologies actually mean (apart from, I’m not sorry!):

1. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Or “I’m sorry you took it that way.”

Meaning: This is gaslighting. This one really pisses me off. This apology is straight-up putting the blame back on you. The culprit is not taking responsibility for their actions or words and is shifting the blame back to your side.

They might add in a little “you’re too sensitive” for emphasis. This person is apologising for your feelings, rather than what they have done—what the hell, right? This is a narcissist’s favourite phrase.

2. The Déjà-Vu apology: “I already said I’m sorry! Why can’t you just accept it?”

Meaning: “I expect you to accept my apology and I want you to accept it now.” Forgiveness can take time, and it sounds like this person doesn’t respect your space. You can’t force someone to forgive you. And getting angry at them for not doing so isn’t helping the situation.

3. “I did this because you did that.”

Meaning: The classic defensive comeback. As well as coming across as childish, this non-apology is again shifting the blame back onto the other person. “If you hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have done that.” Bringing up all the times when the other person was in the wrong does not make an honest apology. The culprit is trying to justify their actions by saying that you also did wrong.

 4. “You know I’m sorry.”

Meaning: Basically, you shouldn’t be upset.” This person is probably trying to talk you out of the way you’re feeling. An alternative is, “You know I didn’t mean it.”

PS: this apology doesn’t leave you feeling any better. Don’t let them play you for a fool.

5. “I was just kidding.”

Meaning: “I wasn’t kidding at all.” This person has probably just done or said something really hurtful, but they are trying to justify it by insinuating it was harmless. It comes across the same as, “Can’t you just take a joke?” They might add in a little cheeky smile to “soften” the “apology.”

Sorry, no thanks.

6. “Okay, I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

Meaning: Probably? Really? Hmm, doesn’t sound like a real apology to me. The deliverer is minimising the harm in their actions (or words) with this apology. They are not owning up to the consequences. To be honest, it sounds like they just don’t care!

An apology is meant to rebuild trust, to make our feelings better, and to heal broken relationships. But if we receive any apology like the ones above, I would ask myself: is this person really sorry for their actions? Or are they just trying to preserve their image? Or get away without any blame?

We can then ask ourselves if it’s worth keeping a person like this in our lives.

Here is what a real apology does look like:

1. Validating the other person’s feelings.

2. Expressing remorse.

3. Asking what can be done to make things better in the future.

4. Taking full responsibility for the mistake made.

5. No “ifs,” no “buts.”


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