6 Types of Apology

Originally posted on PsychCentral by GERALD SCHOENEWOLF, PH.D.

For many of us, “I’m sorry”, is a very common phrase we say. I know I apologize for everything to the point of where I wonder if I’m apologizing for my existence. I have never thought about the meaning of my apology, or least not that there could be 6 meanings, but as I went through the list I realized that many of my apologies are not productive and healthy apologies.

6 types of apologies

Let’s go through the list and include examples.

Apologizing to appease

In the past, there were times when I engaged in heated fights with an ex-partner. They would go on for hours with no solutions in view so I would apologize to end the fight. I’m not actually sorry, I am saying what I know is expected of me and to make the fight stop.

 Apologizing on demand

Adults to this to children all the time. We are supposed to model respect for children, but we do make them apologize when they don’t want to. This doesn’t teach them respect or compassion. We are also demonstrating that their feelings about the situation don’t matter and that an apology is always required no matter what.

I do not have a specific example, but I know I have frequently made children apologizing for hurting a peer. You can hear it in their voice that they don’t want to say it and are just doing it so you’ll leave them alone and the situation can be forgotten.

Apologizing without apologizing

This is an invalidating apology and oddly enough, one that I do a lot and didn’t think was a negative type of apology. I will say to my partner, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” The word “if” can send the message that nothing bad was done from your perspective, but you’ll say sorry anyways. Regardless of what I think is wrong or right, my partners hurt is real to him and I need to be compassionate and acknowledge it.

Apologizing from guilt

I do this A LOT! I also see it as apologizing out of desperation (perhaps a combination of appease and guilt apologies?). A few weekends ago I was very mean to my partner while we were driving in the car. My mouth kept spewing poison and I eventually threw my purse at the dashboard, spilling some of the contents onto the floor. The culmination of all of my behaviours in the end left me frantic and I apologized profusely. I didn’t feel sorry; I felt bad for myself, not for the hurt I caused during my rampage.

Apologizing to be polite

Many of us probably do this on a day-to-day basis (Canadians are known for saying sorry :P). Whenever I brush by someone in public, accidentally step on the back of someone’s heel while we’re walking or any other little accidental public encounter, I politely apologise (lately I’ve stopped doing this because I just don’t care). Again, you don’t actually empathize with the person who you brushed by, you’re just being polite.

Apologizing from love

This is THE apology. It comes from a voluntary place of empathy, compassion and love. It’s the one we really mean and we want the recipient to know that we care about them. A few days after my rampage (as told in Apologizing from Guilt) I was able to apologize from love. I love my partner and I know that my actions hurt him. I wanted him to know that I know my behaviour was unacceptable, that I made him feel bad and that I am working on changing my behaviour to strength our relationship and myself. An apology from love strengths relationships and truly can mend the wrongs that may have been done.

Is there an apology type you do a lot? Do you think apologizing from love is always possible or something you can strive for?

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14 thoughts on “6 Types of Apology

    • Ha ha! It’s so easy to just do it. I’m beginning to think that thought should go into apologies and that a well thought out apology given 3 days later is better then a weak one in the moment.

      • LOL. I had an argument with someone one time and at the end I was asked why I didn’t say “I’m sorry”. It was a rare honest moment with my emotions, but I replied with, “I’m not sure if I mean it just yet…”

      • I have had a similar argument. I was SO OFFENDED that I wasn’t getting an apology. It’s good to be honest though. I think your honesty would have done more good for the relationship then a fake apology!

  1. while it may take a few days to reach the point of a real apology out of love. i dont think any of us want to wait that long to be apologized to by another. we may expect the time to be given to us to do so, but i don’t think the party waiting wants to wait. and what happens with the sor point or center of the argument in the meantime, during those waiting days? do we just not talk to one another? do we talk, but coldly, because ‘IT’ is still in the room?

    • I feel it would be on a case by case basis. I have had people hurt me and then years later come back and apologize and I have accepted. Two years ago I contacted a boyfriend from gr. 10 and apologize to him for how I was during our relationship (his response melted my heart, it was so sweet). But I understand where you are coming from. I’ve walked around my house in the past feeling horrible waiting for an apology or waiting to see if my apology would be accepted. I guess this is when we need to call upon some positive coping to deal with the stress. Sometimes we need to accept that an apology may never come (I have some of those).

  2. I don’t see a problem with apologizing to be polite, for bumping into someone or whatever. I kind of like hearing it in these days of nobody being polite any more. I recently moved to New Hampshire and I was surprised. I thought New Englanders were supposed to be a hard, crusty bunch. Instead I find them to be quite considerate with the polite stuff. It has been a long time since I heard so many please, thank you and I’m sorry’s!

    I totally hate the non-apology. The “I’m sorry IF…” when you just got through telling someone they DID hurt you. Or, equally horrid the “I’m sorry…but yada yada.” Where everything following the “but” just explains why they aren’t sorry in the least. When you then refuse to accept such an apology you inevitably get the, “Gah! What do you want from me? I APOLOGIZED!”

    I won’t apologize unless I mean it. I don’t know where I learned that the if and but type were not apologies but I refuse to use either. “I’m sorry that I caused you pain” is a real apology and can be said even if you meant 100% of what you just said. “I’m sorry, that was such a stupid, horrid thing for me to have said to you” also works when it is true. Is this apologizing out of love? Maybe respect, too?

    I have a relationship with someone who just says “I’m sorry” every two minutes. (Yes, Canadian. 😀 ) He says it for everything and I now no longer hear it. I can’t. It is meaningless because it is said so often.

    • I will always say “I’m sorry” in public (at least 95% of the time anyway). It might make someones day to hear some polite words. We spend so much time with our heads down looking at our phones that a little kind acknowledgement is probably helpful.

      The “I’m sorry but…” has always made me angry. I usually end up screaming, “NO! NO BUTS! STOP AFTER I’M SORRY!!!” It was always painful to hear, “I’m sorry but if you hadn’t of done that then I wouldn’t have been mean to you.” So unproductive….You can’t force empathy unfortunately.

      Apologies do become meaningless if said too often and especially if they’re said and the behaviour keeps happening (with no progress towards change). I am trying to be more aware of my language in an apology like you have mentioned. Using words that acknowledge how someone is feeling is the best way to go 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. This is good. I especially enjoyed reading all the comments.

    How’s this for a prize-winning non-apology: Several years ago, a “friend” said something to me in passing that was breathtakingly rude. I stopped him and said, “I can’t believe you just said that. That really hurt my feelings.”

    His reply: “I’m sorry. Now, get over it.”

    I got over it, alright. I got over thinking he was my friend. 🙂

    • Oh my….. that is so rude! That might be the rudest apology I’ve ever heard! I am so sorry but so glad to hear that you got over him as a friend. That is not a friend! Oh my…I sometimes wonder how others would react if we treated them the way they treated us. We usually treat ourselves and others very differently. Do you think he would have accepted that type of apology from someone?

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