How to Respond to an Insincere Apology

A genuine apology goes beyond the words ‘I’m sorry’. It expresses remorse and a sense of sadness in recognizing how hurtful your actions or words were to the other person. The tone in your voice and body language should communicate the realization of the damage caused. You might say, “I’m so sorry” or I regret acting that way”, “I hate being the cause of your pain, I’m really sorry”. If these words are accompanied by a remorseful tone, they can trigger true forgiveness.

When such an insincere apology is offered to you, you shouldn’t hold the person at ransom. Instead, let them know how you feel. Say “I can tell you don’t know to what extent you hurt me”, or “I’m still not content with your apology, I’m not convinced you understand what you did” or simply say, “you really broke my heart, that apology is not enough.

We know in an instance when an apology is not from the heart and it’s extremely irritating. The words are accompanied by a harsh tone and conditional words such as ‘if’ or ‘but’. This kind of apology is demeaning to the person being apologized to. It almost feels like you are begging for it.

A good example of an insincere apology is “I’m sorry if you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I offended you” or “I’m sorry if it meant anything to you”. It gets worse if it’s followed by a question, for instance, “I’m sorry, but aren’t you being too sensitive?”

An insincere apology is damaging and how you respond to it can cause further hatred and worsen the relationship. Here are several effective ways of responding to an insincere apology.

1.    Accept the Apology

Accepting an insincere apology may seem wrong and impossible but it may clear the way for communication to continue. You are simply giving that person another chance. Bearing in mind that you are still holding pent up emotions, this requires a lot of self-control. You may need to give conditions for accepting that apology. You can say “apology accepted but there can’t be a next time”, or “I’ll accept your apology but you have to sort the mess”.

There are two things you need to consider when accepting an insincere apology, one, is the relationship long term? Consider for instance a marriage, you can’t hold on to a grudge till death. There must be a compromise, not once, not twice, several times. Secondly, even if the relationship is not long term, how severe is the damage? Sometimes you are too hurt to be mild. Accepting such an apology may cause further damage, if this is the case, it’s better to walk away in silence and fight for your sobriety. Sometimes you are just not ready to accept that apology.

2.    Request for A Further Apology

Psychologists say ‘do not demand an apology’, I say, what the heck? Do it, you deserve it! Not in a harsh manner though, do it respectfully. You are a valuable person and you should be treated well. However, some people are not accustomed to apologizing. They either feel ashamed or overly accused. One might even think they will appear as the weaker party when they apologize.

At the heat of the moment, requesting a more sincere apology can be a huge mistake. It is better to wait for things to cool off. Often, the one who hurt you may not have the will to apologize or shoulder the responsibility that comes with that apology. This requires you to make calculated moves so you don’t make things worse.

Help the other party to understand how important a sincere apology is to you. Just like we do with kids sometimes, you can give them the words to use.

For instance, “I need you to say I’m sorry I hurt you”, or “tell me I never meant to hurt you”. As much as this seems awkward, it is an effective method of getting a sincere apology.

3.    Reject the ‘Damn’ Apology

It’s maddening to deal with a person with a ‘don’t care’ attitude. In most circumstances they are so hardened and rigid they don’t seem to register your pain. It could be that the person is a sociopath and won’t recognize the impact of hurting you.

It doesn’t serve when someone casually says sorry especially if it’s not the first time. It’s double the heartbreak if they say it in passing and dive right into other businesses. You immediately recognize you are fighting a losing battle. Once you realize your conversation cannot continue, you have two options, one, to keep quiet and walk away.

Two, you can say it, firmly but calm. Simply say “I don’t believe you” or “this is not the first time and I can tell you are not sincerely sorry”. If their tone is not aligning with their words (which is often the case), point it. You can say “your tone betrays you”, or “if you were truly sorry, your tone would be different.”

Another way of rejecting an apology is by focusing the attention on you. Point out why you cannot accept the apology. Say “I know I deserve better than a half-hearted apology” or “I am in a really good place right now, I can’t allow your insincere apology to spoil my moods.”

Let it sink that you don’t accept the apology; let them know it’s because you know it’s not genuine and leave it at that.

In Conclusion

An insincere apology may have nothing to do with how the other person views you. It could be that they were brought up in a way that made them detest it. Maybe they were not taught to bear the shame of saying sorry to another person. In most cases, the person may have been coerced to apologize all the time thus it makes them sick to be in the same position. They may feel intimidated or like they are being ‘less of adults’. Take it easy and deal with the situation appropriately.

Check out more on What To Say and do When Someone Is Being Rude


Am a graduate sociologist and a regular contributor to national publications such as the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Journal of Applied Social Science and the Annual Review of Sociology.

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