Apologies can go a long way towards repairing hurt feelings and mending betrayed trust.
An apology implies that the person who has caused offense or emotional damage understands that what they’ve said or done has been hurtful, and they want to make amends.
Of course, these apologies only mend damage if they’re sincere.
Many people instead offer what’s known as “non-apologies” instead of actually telling the other person that they’re sorry.
Sometimes they do so to avoid taking responsibility for the harm they’ve done. On other occasions, they’re just trying to say or do the bare minimum to shut the other person up so they can move on from a situation that’s making them uncomfortable.
Whatever reason they have for offering these unapologetic apologies, they’re really quite awful.
Why is “I’m sorry you feel that way” a non-apology?
If you know that you’ve hurt someone, you generally feel bad for doing so, right? After all, this is a person you care about, and if you’ve caused them harm, that’s a horrible feeling.
As a result, you want to let them know that you’re aware you did something hurtful, and you sincerely feel bad about it and want to make it up to them.
In contrast, “I’m sorry you feel that way” isn’t a real apology at all. It consists of the other person saying that you’re wrong for feeling the way you do.
Why are “non-apologies” so awful?
Ultimately, non-apologies hurt because you know they’re insincere. The people saying them don’t actually feel sorry for their awful behavior. Instead, they’re just saying words to placate you.
They’re simply making the right sounds they think are necessary to make you shut up and move on. They don’t care that they hurt you, and they don’t feel that they’ve done anything wrong.
Furthermore, they likely feel that you’re ridiculous for getting your knickers in a knot about whatever happened. As such, they’re not about to offer a real apology for saying or doing something that hurt you. In their minds, they’d be lying.
In essence, their behavior tells you that your feelings don’t matter to them, and the relationship you have – whether that’s a friendship, a romantic connection, or a familial bond – isn’t important enough for them to put sincere effort into. If you’re hurt by something they’ve said or done, well then that’s on you: not them.
That’s a horrible thing to realize and come to terms with. In fact, that realization generally hurts far more than whatever it was they did in the first place.
12 Other Examples Of Non-Apologies
As mentioned earlier, apologies can go a long way towards mending hurt feelings if they’re sincere. When they’re not, they simply add insult to injury, and invalidate the emotions of the person who’s been hurt.
Below are some of the most common non-apologies that get slung around at people.
1. “I’m sorry IF…”
Has anyone ever said this to you? If they have, they’ve implied that they’ve seen absolutely nothing wrong with what they’ve said or done, and that you’re the problem in this situation.
The word “if” tucked in there tells us that the wrongdoer doesn’t actually believe that they’ve done something wrong. Saying they’re sorry “IF” means that there might have been an issue, rather than acknowledging that yes, there actually was.
Examples of this can include, “I’m sorry if you were offended” (in situations where offense was given), or “I’m sorry if I hurt you” (when someone was in fact quite hurt by their words or actions).
It’s a classic technique used by narcissists and other manipulative people who like to gaslight others into disbelieving their own emotions. The implication is that something here *might* have been hurtful, but only in the mind of the person who has chosen to be hurt.
2. “I’m sorry, BUT…”
This is an attempt by the wrongdoer to justify their crap behavior. For example, they might try blaming cruel actions or words on the fact that they’ve had a bad day.
Alternatively, they may turn things around and blame the one who got hurt for “making them” behave the way they did.
A perfect example of this is “I’m sorry I said something hurtful, but you have to admit that you were being dramatic and I needed to snap you out of it.”
This implies that their hurtful words were warranted because you did something to deserve them.
Another one in this vein is “I’m sorry, but there were two players here and you aren’t innocent either.” Again, they’re trying to excuse the hurt they caused by implying that you were in the wrong as well. As though whatever you did cancels out how they hurt or offended you.
3. “You know I didn’t actually mean what I said/did.”
Once again, this puts the onus on the person who’s hurting to stop feeling bad about The Thing, rather than the wrongdoer apologizing for causing harm.
Many who use this one don’t want to appear “weak” by offering a sincere apology to the hurt party. As a result, they think they’re treading the middle ground by giving what they feel is a peace offering, but without supplicating.
It implies that everything will only get better when the hurt party will “get over” whatever it is that’s upsetting them. After all, if they stop making a big deal out of it, then they’ll stop hurting, right?
It’s another form of victim blaming, and allows the perpetrator to avoid losing any kind of status by admitting their wrongdoing.
4. “I’m SORRY, OKAY?”
Much like the phrase listed above, a statement like this is a perfect example of someone offering an insincere apology just to shut the other person up.
They don’t actually feel bad about anything. In fact, they likely feel irritated by your “unreasonable” behavior and simply want to say whatever’s going to allow them to tie up the situation’s loose ends and move on.
This phrase is also occasionally used by people who feel shame for what they’ve done and resent you for making them feel bad. So they offer an apology that still makes them feel like they have the upper hand, or are saving face.
It’s common among children, teenagers, and adults who still behave very childishly. They’re putting their own hurt feelings ahead of yours, and only offering the bare minimum required to smooth things over.
Of course, it has the opposite effect and tends to inspire resentment in the long run.
5. “Mea Culpa.”
One of the worst non-apologies out there is doing so in another language that isn’t their own so they can avoid actually saying the words “I’m sorry.”
In essence, it’s paying lip service and offering a glib phrase that should mollify the miffed party, but without losing face and owning up to them being a jerk.
It’s often used by people who are in a perpetual state of competition and one-upmanship with others. There are always excuses for their behaviors, and they’ll try to weasel their way out of any type of real responsibility. Then, if and when they do something so heinous that those whom they actually respect try to hold them accountable, they’ll squeak out a “mea culpa” and be done with it.
In their minds, saying something in that other language doesn’t count. Not to them, at least. But you should be content with it, of course.
6. “I’m just trying to help.”
How often have you come across this phrase, especially from someone who’s insulted you, cut you down, or tried to control some aspect of your life?
If you have the audacity to speak up and let them know that they’ve either hurt you or overstepped a boundary, then they act like the offended party. After all, they can’t understand why you’re upset: they’re JUST trying to HELP YOU.
Help you in what regard, though? Help you look or behave the way they want you to? Help you become the version of yourself that they would prefer?
It’s an infantile response to being told that their behavior is unacceptable, and once again tries to put the onus on you to make things right again.
In their minds, they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. They’re in the right, and they’re the ones who’ve been hurt or offended because you’re mean and ungrateful regarding their efforts to make you better in their own eyes.
Even though you never asked for their “help” in the first place.
7. “I regret that you felt hurt.”
This phrase doesn’t acknowledge wrongdoing on the part of the person who said or did something hurtful. This non-apology also turns the focus back on them and their feelings, rather than how you felt about the situation.
Again, they’re not taking responsibility for the fact that what they said was hurtful or offensive. There’s no ownership here, but rather saying that they feel bad that you took things the wrong way. You’re simply misinterpreting what they were trying to convey, and chose to be hurt or offended. No wrongdoing on their part whatsoever, of course.
Then they usually expect you to apologize in turn for making them feel bad.
8. “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive – I was just joking.”
Hello gaslighting. This is one of the most insidious non-apologies out there, as it completely invalidates the recipient’s feelings.
A lot of abusive people use this technique to avoid taking any responsibility for being a**holes. They’ll say all kinds of awful things, then when the person they’ve hurt or insulted expresses upset, they’ll turn things around and say that they’re being oversensitive or melodramatic. That they can’t take a joke and to “lighten up.”
If you find yourself on the receiving end of this kind of behavior on a regular basis, you may want to consider getting some therapy. It’s a serious form of emotional abuse that needs to be addressed or you may end up with quite a bit of damage in the long run.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to determine whether you want to keep this type of person in your life, or if you should go low-contact, or entirely no-contact.
Remember that you’re never obligated to keep anyone in your life, whether you share DNA with them or not. Furthermore, sometimes cutting an abuser – especially a narcissistic one – out of your life permanently is the best course of action available.
9. “I’ve already made it clear that I’m sorry.”
They might have made you a cup of tea or bought you something as a peace offering so they could avoid actually saying the words “I’m sorry.” They then get affronted if you bring up the fact that they haven’t apologized yet.
In their minds, their conciliatory gesture should have been enough to un-ruffle your feathers. They know they did something bad, they don’t want to own up to it, but figure that doing something to counteract their blatant misstep is enough of an apology in and of itself.
To them, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is either difficult, off-putting, or would make them feel weakened. As such, they try to circumvent doing so via an action, which they then bring attention to when they’re reminded of what they did wrong.
If someone in your life is displaying this kind of behavior, it’s a huge red flag that shouldn’t be ignored.
10. “I’ll say I’m sorry if you _____.”
Oh, the conditional apology.
In this wretched example, we have a person who’s trying to insist that blame for this uncomfortable situation lay with both parties. As a result, they’re also claiming to be injured in some way, and will only offer an apology if you give them something they want in return.
They’ll often believe that their words and/or actions are completely justified, but if you were hurt in the exchange, then they’ll bloody well find a way to be hurt or offended as well.
As a result, you’ll only get YOUR apology if they get what THEY desire too. They’ll say sorry if you apologize for misconstruing their words. Or they’ll apologize if you agree to do some extra housework, or cook them their special meal in order to make up for hurting them.
Alternatively, in a classic abusive strategy, they’ll only apologize if you admit that it was your fault that they got mad to begin with. After all, if you hadn’t done That Thing, then they wouldn’t have had to say those awful words or break something that was important to you. Or hit you.
Nothing is ever their fault, and they’ll only be so gracious as to say they’re sorry if you do an even more grandiose (or demeaning) gesture to earn that apology from them. Grovel for it, if you will.
11. “I guess I should say I’m sorry.”
A phrase like this shows that they don’t actually think they did anything wrong, but figure they should say A Something that’ll make you get over being upset with them.
It’s offering to toss you a scrap that you’ll be content with since you’re so keenly dead-set on being upset or offended.
It’s all on you, of course. You’re being irrational, over-dramatic, hypersensitive, overemotional. Whatever gaslighting phrase they’re keen on using to invalidate your feelings, that’s definitely what you’re doing.
And if you’re daring to stand up for yourself or trying to maintain healthy boundaries, then they might as well acquiesce and say the little words you want to hear so you’ll get over it. If you’re lucky, they’ll pat you on the head as well.
This one’s often used by parents and partners who like to patronize or belittle other people. They rarely admit to doing anything wrong, but will turn things around so you’re the one making a big deal. As such, they’ll give in and “be the bigger person” by saying the words that your silly little self apparently needs.
12. “X told me I should apologize to you.”
Once again, this is an example where the person who should be apologizing refuses to accept that they behaved badly. Furthermore, they’ve likely been sulking or giving you the silent treatment until you approach them, but they’ve been pushed into apologizing to you by someone else.
Maybe their parent, partner, or friend made it abundantly clear to them that they needed to apologize for their bad behavior. They still don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, but are placating everyone by burbling a phrase that has to be said to keep the peace.
Quite often, these non-apologies can even cause more harm than the original upset. This is because the person who’s caused the hurt has been made aware of the fact that they’ve caused another person grief or pain, and they don’t care enough to make amends.
In fact, they’re putting their own comfort and wants ahead of the emotional well-being of the one they claim to care about.
And that sucks.
You may also like:
- How To Apologize Sincerely And Properly: 3 Steps You MUST Take
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry
- 8 Reasons Why Some People Never Apologize Or Admit They Are Wrong
- Don’t Apologize! Stop Saying Sorry So Much + What To Say Instead