What’s a non-apology apology?

At best, a non-apology apology includes acknowledgement that you were harmed. It may also include a promise to do better. But it fails to admit wrongdoing.

Everyone wants to think that they are in the right. Many people find it hard to admit they are wrong. If the best they can do is admit that you were harmed, and say that they won’t do that again, it can be enough. 

At worst, a non-apology apology can pass blame, shame, or can gaslight about the situation where the apology was owed.

Types of non-apology

Non-apology apologies can be well-intentioned, but they frequently are not. Dan Neuharth, PhD, MFT at Psychcentral.com created a list with some examples. Below is my discussion of his list:

A blame-shifting apology is not an apology. It blames you for saying that you were harmed. It has no promise to do better next time. It takes no responsibility for causing harm.

I am sorry you are hurt. I am sorry you think what I did was wrong. 

The excuse-making apology justifies the actions of the person apologizing. I see this as the same as the blame-shifting non-apology, but with more detail said in defense of the person who is non-apologizing.

I am sorry, but most people would think what I said was funny. I am sorry, I was just playing Devil’s Advocate.

The deja-vu apology is worse, in my opinion, than an excuse-making apology. In this, the non-apologizer is reserving the right to continue the harm.

Between people: I apologized for this a million times. It is just who I am. 

Between governments and institutions and among groups of people: This is just the way things are. I am sorry it affects you.

The sidestepping apology replaces the word “apology” with “regret.”

I regret that you were hurt by what I said. 

The passive voice apology uses “Mistakes were made” instead of “I made a mistake.” This includes acknowledgment that you were harmed. It fails to admit wrongdoing by any individual; sometimes it can feel like gaslighting, since no one did any harm. It does not promise that the behavior will stop.

I regret you felt upset. I regret that mistakes were made

The whitewashing apology is another attempt by the non-apologizer to avoid admitting that they were wrong. It is an effort to minimize what happened without owning any hurtful effects on you or others. It rarely includes a promise to do better.

I know I shouldn’t have done that. I know I probably should have asked you first. I know I can sometimes be a bull in a china shop.

The nothing-to-apologize-for apology tries to talk you out of your feelings or imply that you shouldn’t be upset. This is gaslighting. This non-apologizer is causing harm, but saying that the harmed party “knows” that there was no harm intended. It blames the harmed party for expecting an apology. It claims a false fact; the non-apologizer just hurt this person, then says they would not hurt that person.

You know I am sorry. You know I didn’t mean that. You know I would never hurt you.

The pay-to-play apology is not a clean, freely offered apology. Rather, you have to pay to get it. It may acknowledge harm. The apology is withheld on terms that require the harmed party to admit wrong and/or to be silent about the conflict.

I will only apologize if you apologize. I will apologize, if you agree never to bring it up again. I will say I am sorry, if you will just stop talking about it.

Then there is a phantom apology. This is like saying “I will think about whether I owe you an apology.” There is no apology given.

I guess I owe you an apology. I guess I should say I am sorry.

This is a not-my-apology apology. The person is saying he or she is apologizing only because someone else suggested it. The implication is that it would have never happened otherwise. Adults who avoid giving apologies develop better tactics than this. It seems unfulfilling to the person who is owed an apology; it would rarely end a conversation where an apology was requested.

My friend said I should tell you I was sorry.

This is a bullying apology. Either in words or tone, there is a grudge. It doesn’t feel like an apology because it isn’t. It may even feel like a threat.

Okay, enough already! I am sorry! Give me a break, I am sorry, all right?

Faux vs. true apologies

Faux apologies such as these 12 seek to avoid responsibility, make excuses, shift blame, downplay what was done, invalidate or confuse the hurt or offended person, or move on prematurely.

A true apology, by contrast, has most or all of the following characteristics:

  • Is freely offered without requiring conditions or minimizing what was done
  • Conveys that the person apologizing understands and cares about the hurt person’s experience and feelings
  • Conveys remorse
  • Offers a commitment to avoid repeating the hurtful behavior
  • Offers to make amends or provide restitution if appropriate

Source: Dan Neuharth, PhD, MFT at  Psychcentral.com

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