Have you ever received an apology, only for the apologizer to repeat their behavior? If so, you know just how frustrating that experience can be.
An apology is meant to be more than just words. Ideally, it’s an admission of wrongdoing followed by an intention to make up for it or at least an attempt to avoid that behavior in the future.
If one does not intend to change their behavior or feels guilty for what they did, they shouldn’t apologize.
The problem is that some people apologize only to alleviate immediate guilt, with no intention to make a change. This is known as a manipulative apology and is incredibly common.
Freedom from guilt is just one reason why some people fake apologize. This article will explore why people apologize when they don’t mean it.
When someone apologizes but keeps doing it, why?
We all want to hear an apology when we’ve been hurt. An apology rarely fixes a problem, but at least it shows that the offender feels sorry for what they did and is willing to make a change.
This willingness to make a change tends to soothe our wound, whatever that wound may be, but the change must happen.
An apology made without change is meaningless and only serves to help the offender feel less guilty. An apology without change may be manipulative because it gives the offended party a false sense of security.
The offended may accept the apology and then continue life as usual, hanging out and spending time with the offender because they believe that change has occurred.
However, when the offender re-offends, that old wound is re-opened and tends to feel more painful. The apologizer understands that an apology serves as a plaster on a wound, so they apply that plaster, but this usually happens in an attempt to avoid guilt.
Why would someone apologize but then repeat that same behavior?
Doesn’t an apology mean that a person feels genuine remorse and won’t repeat that behavior? Not necessarily.
Sometimes people apologize because they’ve hurt someone, and the apology does not come from remorse about one’s actions but discomfort that the other person is upset with them.
They feel guilty, and instead of committing to making the change or attempting to avoid a re-offense, they rely on words alone to make things better.
They say, ‘I’m sorry,’ the other person believes them, and they no longer have to feel guilty. Doing so helps them feel like a good person.
This type of apology is often seen in family members, where a given family member wants to stay on another member’s ‘good’ side or doesn’t want to lose the support of the family in general.
To keep getting what they want
A boyfriend may apologize to his girlfriend not because he feels terrible for what he did but because her being upset means she holds back on affection.
The boyfriend wants affection, so he decides to apologize. This is not a genuine apology. This is a manipulative apology.
It changes the girlfriend’s behavior, so the boyfriend can continue getting what he wants.
Let’s look at fake apologies in terms of romantic relationships. We all know about the honeymoon phase – the early stage of a relationship when arguments are non-existent, and the couple feels like they’re in a romantic paradise together.
Once that couple begins to enter a conflict, each partner’s level of emotional maturity is revealed, and they come to know each other on a more realistic level. It’s here that couples begin to see each other for who they truly are.
How someone behaves and treats their partner in an argument says a lot about their level of emotional maturity. One clear sign that someone lacks emotional maturity is that they’re incredibly quick to apologize but slow to turn those words into action.
Types of manipulative apology
1. Guilty conscience
As mentioned, some people apologize only because they feel guilty and struggle with that feeling, so they manipulate the offended party into forgiving them.
The problem with this type of apology is that it is made of words alone and typically lacks the change in behavior that constitutes a genuine apology.
2. The self-deprecative apology
This type of apology is widespread and a hallmark sign of emotional immaturity. It is manipulative but may not be so intentional. Instead, it typically stems from a childhood-learned behavior to secure love and affection from a caregiver.
In this type, the apologizer says they’re sorry and blames their behavior on personal flaws or shortcomings they can’t help. The intention is to make the offended party feel sorry for them and focus more on reassuring the offender instead of holding them accountable.
I’m sorry, I’m so stupid.
I’m sorry, I guess I’m just a [self-deprecating insult]
Be incredibly mindful of this type of apology. Sometimes this self-deprecation is a learned behavior and does not come with bad intentions.
Still, emotional immaturity should be considered a red flag in friendships and relationships. The reason to be aware is that this is not always unintentional manipulation.
Sometimes this type of apology is highly manipulative, whereby the apologizer knows precisely how much guilt their self-deprecative comments will evoke in you.
This is a dangerous type of person, so be aware.
Ok, fine, I’m sorry!
The ‘Ok, fine, I’m sorry!’ apology is also the last resort. As the name suggests, the apologizer only offers this apology because it is the last resort against some undesired consequence.
This person probably doesn’t feel bad for what they did but knows that apologizing will maintain the status quo to which they have become accustomed. Often, this type of apology stems from fear of abandonment.
The offended party may attempt to follow through on a boundary by cutting contact with the offender, and the offender is afraid of being abandoned. Hence, they resort to an apology that they don’t mean to keep the person around.
How to respond to a fake apology
People who offer fake, manipulative apologies are bad for your mental health.
There are two types of these people – those who do so unintentionally and those who do so intentionally. You may be more inclined to forgive those who don’t intend to manipulate you but be mindful of enabling their behavior.
Sometimes it takes losing a friendship or relationship for people to learn about the consequences of their actions. If you believe someone is intentionally manipulating you with an apology, it’s time to reassess the relationship.
Love yourself enough only to allow people who respect you and treat you right into your personal space, and be brave enough to set firm boundaries around those who don’t.
1. Give people the benefit of the doubt
When someone makes a genuine apology, they need time to prove it. One may tell you that they will change their behavior, but you don’t know if that’s true until that same situation or similar arises again.
Give people the benefit of the doubt before looking for proof that their apology is real.
2. Watch their behavior
Once you’ve given the benefit of the doubt, it’s time to watch. By paying attention to how this person acts in the future when circumstances are similar, you’ll see their true intentions. If the person commits the same act for which they apologized, then that first apology wasn’t genuine, and you should keep that in mind moving forward.
Of course, people make mistakes, and sometimes an upsetting situation or behavior has layers. It’s up to you to determine if their behavior was a genuine mistake or if they don’t care about hurting you.
3. Set a boundary
If someone apologizes and then acts the same way again, and you don’t believe that the second offense was a genuine mistake, it’s essential to set boundaries with that person.
Some people will continue to repeat their upsetting behaviors until they learn that there are consequences.
It can be hard to set boundaries with people to whom you’re close, especially romantic partners, but it’s essential to have some self-respect.
If you discover that someone has made a fake apology, tell them there will be consequences for that behavior. Don’t just let them know; follow through if it happens.
Again, boundaries can be challenging, especially for those struggling with low self-esteem. Still, the very act of putting them instills confidence and greater self-esteem moving forward.
What is over-apologizing?
Some fake apologies happen because people tend to over-apologize. This is not as manipulative as other fake apologies. It typically stems from a need to people-please or a low sense of self-esteem.
The problem with over-apologizing is that it’s still insincere. It seems polite and appropriate to the over-apologizer, but this is not a genuine apology.
It comes from a habit and tends to dilute the quality of one’s apologies. Genuine apologies are not those that stem from people pleasing or low self-esteem but from genuine remorse for one’s actions and a confident intention to alter that behavior moving forward.
If you notice people-pleasing tendencies in your own life, try to stop over-apologizing. It will make your genuine apologies all the more believable.
What constitutes a genuine apology?
How can you tell a genuine apology apart from a fake one? It’s not always to know at the moment if an apology is genuine – it usually takes witnessing that person’s follow-up behavior to determine their authenticity. However, a sincere apology is made up of the following core elements. Pay attention to the subsequent apology you receive and see if it includes the following:
- Expression of regret
- Acceptance of responsibility/personal accountability
- Acknowledgment of pain/hurt caused
- Request for forgiveness
- Commitment to making amends
‘I’m sorry for […]. I admit that it was my fault. I understand that I hurt you, and I hope you can forgive me for my hurtful behavior. Moving forward, I will..’
Everybody wants an apology when they’ve been hurt, but sometimes it’s better to receive no apology than a fake one.
When you don’t get an apology, you may feel more upset, but at least you know that the person is being genuine. You may even want to stop talking to them, but at least you both know where you stand.
Receiving a fake apology may soothe your wound in the short term, but when the truth is revealed that the apology was fake, that wound tends to re-open and hurt more than before.
Be mindful of people who offer fake apologies; they usually only provide them to alleviate their guilt and won’t make the changes they promise.
Set boundaries and offer chances as you wish, but know the line.
Someone who continues to disrespect you with a fake apology is not someone who serves your highest growth, and the relationship should be called into question.