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Genuine v Fake Apologies

Okay, so here it is, the blog I’ve been promising on apologies. It’s going to be long, so grab a drink, find a comfy spot and get ready!

Apologies are tricky. Have you ever had someone apologise, but it doesn’t really feel right? Like it’s left you feeling as though somehow they don’t really feel sorry, even though they’ve said they are?

It might be because it was a fake apology.

What makes a genuine apology?

Well, first it starts with ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘I apologise’. Then there should be some expression of remorse. ‘I feel really bad for hurting you’ or ‘I wish I could go back and do it differently’.

Then, there needs to be acceptance of responsibility ‘I shouldn’t have done that, it was unkind of me’ or ‘I should have done things differently, and that’s my fault’.

Then there should be some kind of amend making, ‘I will try and make it up to you to earn your trust and respect back’.

Finally (or so they say) a promise that the behaviour won’t happen again.

That sounds really simple doesn’t it? Except so often, that’s not how people apologise. When someone is offering a fake apology, none of those steps happen, although it seems like it does, but we are left feeling deflated and defeated, and sometimes guilty for ‘making’ the other person feel bad for their wrongdoing. How on earth does that work!?

How do some people manage to walk away from apologising without actually having apologised, and how do we spot a fake apology?

Well for me, it comes down to four things. Acceptance of responsibility, or lack of, justification, deflection, and behaviour change.

Acceptance of responsibility:

When someone starts their apology with ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, or ‘that wasn’t my intention’, it’s fake. They aren’t taking responsibility. This can come down to boundaries, after all, I talk all the time about how we aren’t responsible for other people’s feelings, but when we know we’ve screwed up (and we all do it from time to time) we don’t get to tell the other person they aren’t hurt. We acknowledge the pain we’ve caused and we accept what we did was wrong. We don’t make excuses, or turn it back on them, we own our behaviour and we take responsibility for it.

On a side note, sometimes when we are being apologised to, we have to accept responsibility for our part in things too. It can go a long way to help resolving a situation when we offer that to the apologiser. When we can look at a situation and say ‘thank you for your apology, I should have done X differently too’, we are not vindicating someone, but merely showing we know where our part lies.


I mentioned not making excuses. That is what’s called justification. When someone starts justifying, I know immediately that they know they’re in the wrong, but they’re incapable of taking responsibility. When ever someone starts an apology with ‘I’m sorry, BUT….’, I know they don’t mean their apology.

When someone uses the word ‘but’, everything before it becomes irrelevant (Name that show 😉 ). When we justify ourselves, we are excusing our behaviour on some flimsy basis. We are exonerating ourselves of responsibility due to external circumstances.

And that is not okay. It is not an apology, it is an excuse for behaviour, and does not go any way to making amends.

Another thing that can happen when someone is making a fake apology is deflection. Deflection is when the apologiser tries to divert attention from their behaviour to another subject. They may raise a past incident where you behaved in a way that upset them. They may even use this deflection as justification. When that happens, I would probably walk away and say ‘until you are ready to focus on the issue at hand, I won’t engage in further discussion’.

Basically by saying that, I’m not allowing the apologiser to shift blame for their behaviour onto me, and I’m not allowing the apologiser to distract me from their behaviour by dragging up past hurts. This only leads to escalation and removes the focus from their wrongdoing. Not okay.

And finally behavioural change. I said at the beginning that the final part of an apology is a promise that the behaviour won’t happen again.

For me, that isn’t enough. It has to be demonstrated. The best form of apology in my opinion is behavioural change. It’s showing how sorry we are by never repeating the thing that caused the hurt in the first place.

If for example, someone says to you, ‘I find it really difficult when you criticise my hair’ (random I know!), you apologise for causing hurt, you admit it wasn’t kind of you, and you never ever criticise their hair again. Ever. Not even once.

And it is that, that change in behaviour, that shows that the apology is genuine, heartfelt, and intentional.

Another thing to remember is how to accept an apology. I always think it’s best to say ‘thank you for your apology’ rather than ‘it’s okay’. That’s because when we say ‘it’s okay’ linguistically it could sound as though we are saying ‘your behaviour was acceptable, you can do it again’. By saying ‘thank you’ we acknowledge and accept the apology with the behavioural boundary in place. Hope I’ve explained that properly, I might come back to it!

Anyway, remember, when someone apologises, they do these things:

1. Start by saying sorry or a variant of.

2. They take responsibility for their part in the incident.

3. They make amends

4. The change their behaviour.

I hope you’ve had a good Christmas, and are looking forward to the New Year. Next Friday, I’m going to do a video on making change and how to stick to it.

As always, take great care, be kind to yourselves,

Helen x

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