Fake Apologies – How to Recognise and How to Respond?

Humans make mistakes, and it is natural to want to apologize when we do. However, not all apologies are created equal, and some can be used as a form of manipulation rather than a genuine expression of remorse.

With this post, I wish to address the issue of fake apologies that I faced in the past few months and had to learn how to respond appropriately.

I'm embarrassed to admit that up until now, I haven't learned how to spot a fake apology. I projected my sincerity on people and trusted their words. Until I learned what manipulation using apologies looks like and how often people use it to evoke empathy to avoid accountability for their actions.

After reading this, I hope you will know how to recognize a fake apology, either in others or in yourself, and how to respond or call yourself out when you become aware of it.

What is a fake apology?

A fake apology is insincere, vague, or manipulative. These apologies are often used to placate someone without taking responsibility for the harm caused. They may also be used to shift the blame onto the person harmed or minimize the severity of the situation. The purpose of fake apologies is to avoid accountability for the impact of one's actions.

5 common tactics used in fake apologies

  1. Blaming the victim - shift the blame onto the person who was harmed. For example, "I'm sorry you got upset," or "I'm sorry if you took it the wrong way." This type of apology does not acknowledge the harm caused and instead puts the responsibility on the victim's reaction.
  2. Making excuses for the behavior that caused harm. For instance, "I'm sorry, but I was really stressed out," or "I didn't mean to hurt you, but I had a lot going on." This type of apology does not take responsibility for the harm caused and instead tries to justify the behavior.
  3. Minimizing the harm caused. For example, "I'm sorry, but it was just a joke," or "It's not that big of a deal, so I don't know why you're upset." This type of apology dismisses the harm caused and does not take it seriously.
  4. Using vague language that does not acknowledge the specific behavior that caused harm. For example, "I'm sorry for everything that happened," or "I'm sorry for any pain I may have caused." This type of apology does not take responsibility for the specific behavior that caused harm and instead makes a general statement.
  5. Focusing on the apologizer's feelings rather than the harm caused. For instance, "I feel terrible about what happened," or "I'm really upset that things turned out this way." While it is important for the apologizer to acknowledge their feelings, this should not take the place of a sincere apology that acknowledges the harm caused and takes responsibility for it.

Fake apologies are insincere and manipulative, and they do not genuinely express remorse for the harm caused and are designed to avoid accountability for harmful behavior.

All five tactics were used by my ex-partner, who swore to me he doesn't lie or cheat. Until recently, I didn't know why I would fume in rage after each of his apologies, only to realize that his words were tactics.

Even in facilitated conversations, when Radical Honesty trainers supported us in getting over anger, they were oblivious to the manipulation. That's the danger of not knowing about fake apologies - you have a culture enabling lies, manipulation, and lack of accountability that focuses on forgiveness before the damage is addressed.

How to respond to fake apologies?

When faced with a fake apology, it can be challenging to know how to respond. Here are five possible responses that can help you navigate the situation:

  1. Express your feelings about how the situation made you feel. For instance, you might say something like, "I appreciate the apology, but I still feel hurt by what happened."
  2. Request a genuine apology that acknowledges the harm caused. You might say, "I don't feel like this apology is genuine. Can you apologize in a way that acknowledges the harm caused?"
  3. Share the impact of the behavior on you. "I don't think you understand how much your behavior hurt me. I need a real apology that takes responsibility for that."
  4. Set boundaries if the person continues to offer fake apologies. You might say, "I don't feel like your apologies are sincere, and I can't continue to engage with you until I receive a genuine apology."
  5. Move on from the situation. This might involve accepting the apology, even if it doesn't feel genuine, and focusing on the future rather than the past.

By choosing an authentic response, you can navigate the situation with integrity and protect your own well-being.

What to do when you notice

Nothing soothes a person's heart as a sincere apology for the harm done. If you've realized that you've been using fake apologies, taking responsibility for your actions and apologizing sincerely is essential.

Here are some steps you can follow to apologize in a way that acknowledges the harm caused and demonstrates your commitment to doing better in the future:

  1. Begin by acknowledging the specific harm caused by your behavior. This might involve acknowledging the impact of your words or actions on the other person and taking responsibility for the damage caused.
  2. Offer a sincere apology, acknowledge the harm caused, and take responsibility for your behavior. For example, you might say, "I want to apologize sincerely for my behavior. I realize that my words/actions were hurtful, and I take full responsibility for the harm caused."
  3. Resist the temptation to make excuses for your behavior. Instead, I encourage you to take responsibility and focus on how you can do better in the future.
  4. Consider ways to make amends. This might involve offering an explanation or taking steps to prevent similar behavior.
  5. Finally, commit to changing behavior to do better in the future. This might involve setting specific goals or seeking support to address any underlying issues contributing to your behavior.

By following these steps, you can demonstrate your commitment to repairing the harm caused and building stronger relationships with those around you.

Finally, I want to remind you that apologizing without changing behavior is manipulation. If you continue causing harm, your apologies are insincere and eventually erode trust in your relationships - the trust in you and the trust in themselves - the person being manipulated.

Fake apologies cause cognitive dissonance and emotional dysregulation, eventually leading to mental health issues and chronic illnesses. If you are not ready to apologize and stop the harmful behavior, call yourself out and simply say that.

Being honest about where you are in the matter works better for everyone's well-being - yours and those affected by your impact. And if you are being manipulated with fake apologies, trust your gut and focus on the apologizer's actions, not their words, or consult a professional when in doubt.  

Keywords: fake apology, manipulation, communication, abuse, relationships, mental health, boundaries, honesty, self-awareness

Written by
Jura Glo

I’m a certified NARM Practitioner and a former Radical Honesty Trainer with over 9 years of experience working with individuals and couples globally.

I specialize in addressing trauma-induced relationship dynamics and am known for my ability to cut through superficial issues to focus on what truly matters.

My efficiency in identifying core problems and implementing solutions, coupled with my commitment to psychological and emotional safety, underscores my approach, characterized by full transparency and authenticity in my work.

Where to start?

Book a free assessment call to find out if and how I can help you improve your life and relationships

Book a free assessment call
Have you worked with me before? Book a single session