Monday, October 20, 2008

Definition of Bad Apologies
I've had this bookmarked for a very long time. Too bad we won't get anything remotely close to a sincere apology & I really want to send this to the family like you wouldn't believe. But, I don't & it stays tucked away amongst the other many bookmarks in our toolbar. It's very relevant to our sick day/pajama day that we're having & after having to cancel our attendance at our activities for the week while Logan recovers (& hopefully Carter remains healthy). It's also a good article for me when I find myself in a situation that requires a sincere apology, because I know I could be better at saying I'm sorry as well.

definition of apology / definition of apologize
by J. E. Brown

To make an apology.

In interpersonal manners, an acceptance of responsibility for a wrong, plus a pledge to change one's ways. The wrong may be either intentional or accidental; an apology is fitting in either case. The apology is usually made to the person or persons wronged, but may also be made to any third party to whom the wrongful act was evidence of untrustworthiness. The purpose of an apology is to put the listener at ease regarding the trustworthiness of the apologizing party.

An apology is not complete if it does not reflect all four of these:
• regret,
• understanding of the problem,
• acceptance of responsibility, and
• willingness to do better.

These are the necessary ingredients of a strong and reliable behavioral curb, a self-imposed restriction which the offender agrees to live by. It's your best guarantee and assurance that the behavior will not happen again (in fact, that's the whole purpose of an apology). If you don't hear all of the above elements in the apology, ask for them. If the offender resists, be skeptical.

Apologies to Watch Out For

• Backpedaling: Beware of people who apologize sincerely, but later back away from their apologies, bringing up the disagreement over and over in statements like "You hurt me when you corrected me," as though your correction of them was not deserved or was some kind of original offense against them. Be suspicious of people whose annoyance (at being corrected) outlasts their remorse.

• The "Iffy" Apology: "I'm sorry if I hurt you." Beware that word "if," which means "Your pain is still hypothetical to me, not something I'm convinced of." It's sometimes meant to call your perceptions into question, and to suggest that maybe you're overreacting. If there's no "if" about it, say so.

• "I Don't Know What I Did": Beware the ones who apologize but claim not to understand what they've done wrong (even though you've explained it perfectly well). Their remorse is probably sincere, but they have no idea what to avoid doing in the future, and so, your trust in such people would be misplaced.

• The Attitude Apology and The "But" Apology: Any apology of the form "I'm sorry, but ____."

o "I'm sorry, but you have to understand....";
o "I'm sorry, but I was right to do that";
o "I'm sorry, but you ____";
o "I'm very sorry I did that, but I've moved on."

One thing I've learned about "I'm sorry, but" is that nothing before the "but" can safely be taken literally.

Remember that forgiveness only happens when someone regains your trust. And not until. Remind the offender of this, if necessary. People who value your trust (as the favor it is) are called friends, and will show concern for your happiness.

Fake Apologies and How to Recognize Them

While a true apology shows concern for the receiver, many fake apologies begin with "I'm sorry" but end with a point that is completely incompatible with remorse:

• Standing by what you did is not remorse, therefore not an apology.
• Demanding to be forgiven is self-serving. A good general formula to help you recognize non-apologies is "If it's self-serving, it's not an apology."
• Changing the subject is not an apology: "Well, what about what you did?" Changing the subject indicates an unwillingness to apologize.
• Verbal abusers often show resistance to apologizing. Continuing to insist that what you've done was not verbal abuse somehow, or that verbal abuse is somehow not wrong, or that Wrong is somehow relative -- that's not an apology. The point of apologizing is not to say that the crime still feels reasonable to you.
• "I'm sorry but ____" is not an apology, because it does not communicate an understanding that you did wrong.
• Any blaming of the receiver's perceptions: "I'm sorry you perceived that I ____." Calling someone delusional is a tactic, not an apology. See Gaslighting, Definition of.
• "You misunderstood." Pretending that your words didn't mean what they mean, i.e. pretending that your words don't have literal meaning, is not an apology.
• "I'm sorry you misunderstood" is a more blatant, in-your-face form.
• Calling the receiver "ungrateful" for not instantly forgiving. In general, calling the receiver ethically defective, perceptually defective, etc., are not apologies, but are forms of gaslighting.
• "But I didn't do it on purpose!" The universal excuse of good intentions isn't an apology; it's an excuse for doing more of the same, for continuing to offend. It's a childish belief that one can continue acting in a hurtful way as long as there is some nebulous "good intention" involved. Hitler apologists like to make use of this one, often in the form "He was only doing what he thought was best for his country, and that's not so evil, is it?" Yes, in fact, it is. Don't be taken in by excuses that look at the problem through the wrong end of the binoculars. Any offense can be described from such a high level that the problematic details conveniently disappear. But the motive behind the search for such a viewpoint isn't really remorse, is it?
• Saying "I don't see the connection between my actions and your reaction" is not an apology. It's a denial of responsibility. It's a suggestion that the hearer overreacted.
• "I'm sorry you ____" is not an apology. It's a blame-shift.
• "I'm sorry you got all offended" is not an apology. It's a slap. It's a technique for adding insult to injury.
• "I'm sorry you feel that way" is not an apology.
• "I want to apologize" is no more an apology than "I want to lose weight" is a diet.
• "I'm sorry about what happened" is not an apology, any more than saying "I hate when that happens." ;^) When someone says "I'm sorry about what happened," consider answering, "And...what was that, exactly? I'd just like to be sure we're on the same page." People have been known to completely miss the point and apologize for the wrong thing.
• Variant: "I regret that it happened." Referring to one's actions as "what happened" is not an apology because the speaker is not taking responsibility. There are two kinds of phenomena: those which "just happen" (earthquakes, tornadoes, old trees falling down in the wind) and things which are caused by deliberate, chosen actions (like the house damaged by a tree which falls when a drunk driver collides with it). Of course, the drunk driver will usually claim "It was an accident," as if to say "I wasn't the cause." This is merely propaganda, designed to trick the gullible.
• "I'm sorry for what I did" is an improvement. Still, it leaves things unsaid; it doesn't specify what the speaker did, perhaps even conceals it on purpose, perhaps because the speaker doesn't understand or agree that what he/she did was wrong. What a pronoun is to a noun, this statement is to an apology. A complete apology is not vague; it doesn't say "I'm sorry about...that thing I did." If the parties don't agree as to the nature of the error, they don't agree as to the meaning of the apology. The promise inherent in the apology has been left blurry.
One sometimes sees this method used between nations. The thought process seems to be, "How small an apology can I offer while still causing the receiver to think I feel remorse?" ;^)
• There are other ways of distancing oneself from responsibility. "That's in the past" is an assertion that the passage of time is a substitute for an apology. It's a suggestion that one is entitled to hurt others as long as no one notices for a very long time.
• "We've both said unfortunate things" is not an apology. It's an accusation. It's inflammatory. It's an attempt to shift the spotlight.
• "I'm sorry about that. And now, isn't there something you'd like to say to me?" An apology is not a quid pro quo -- reciprocation is not required, unless wrongdoing occurred in both directions. But if not, only an uncivilized person would apologize to you as a way of forcing an apology out of you.
• Deathbed apologies are not necessarily real. Real apologies are not triggered by intense emotions or deadlines or expediency. True apologies are motivated by "I'm sorry for what I did," not "I'm sorry we weren't close, I wish I could figure out why we weren't."
• "Of course I'm sorry" contains just a hint of annoyance. It's a bit like saying "Am I sorry? What a silly question. What are you, stupid?"

Lectures Are Not Apologies.

Lecturing the victim/receiver is a particularly aggressive and defiant form of blame-shifting. Examples:

• "Everybody makes mistakes" is not an apology. It's an assertion that apologies shouldn't be necessary. It's roughly equivalent to saying "Get over it" and "Grow up" and "Start learning how the world works." It's a form of talking down to people.
• "People make mistakes." Lectures aren't apologies. Basic pabulums accuse the listener of being simple-minded.
• "You know, relationships are based on trust. If you won't forgive me and start trusting me again, then I don't know how we can have a relationship." Beware of people who refuse to prove themselves trustworthy. Beware of people who think forgiving them means you are the one who has to do all the work and all the changing.
• "My religious Book says you have to forgive me." Again, self-serving remarks are not apologies.
• Any suggestion that the victim needs to learn something, like a lesson or a skill (for example, not to overreact) is not an apology. An apology would be "I'm sorry I hurt you; *I* will learn from this."
• "Get over it" and "Get past it" are not apologies; they're attempts to trivialize the offense and to display unconcern for the hearer, to tell him or her "You are alone in this and nobody gets you."
• "You need to learn to let go" is a lecture, is mildly pathologizing, is patronizing (a form of talking down) and is a kind of gaslighting.
• Saying "Forgiveness is a choice!" is not an apology. Repentance is a choice too, and so is the lack of it.

The less remorse you see, the more likely you are dealing with someone who doesn't value your friendship, doesn't fear losing it, and wouldn't be sorry to see you go. You may wish to adjust your own efforts at reconciliation accordingly.

This advice holds true no matter who was at fault. Normal people, even blameless ones, will feel some guilt or dread at the thought of losing your friendship; but persons who show you defiance and attitude are feeling neither of those. Dread and guilt show you that there is a bond; that bond is the "glue" necessary to hold the friendship together until it mends.

Sadness, grief and mourning are the normal reactions to the anticipated loss of a valued friendship. Annoyance, on the other hand, is what people feel when a computer crashes, or a pen runs out of ink, or a car fails to start; in general, whenever something that is there to be used doesn't do its job.

4th edition. 03 Jul 2006


momto1 said...

I have to say, I love this. I think you should "accidentally" see to it that your family members recieve it in an email....much like the ones you've gotten.

Relationshop said...

Dear Kristin,

It's always rewarding to see so many people who are interested in relationship education :^)

We're moving our website. The article shown above may now be found at:

Thank you for your interest in our content.

J. E. Brown (mr.)
relationship activist
Materials for Good Relationships