There are many overused words in the human dictionary and “sorry” just happens to be one of the more popular ones these days. There are two very different types of apologies: saying sorry for something that is your fault and saying sorry to pacify someone even though it wasn’t your fault. The latter happens much more frequently in women because women have lower limits on what they consider to be “wrong behaviour”, but this doesn’t mean that only women have a problem with apologising too much. Many of us can benefit from learning when to swallow the urge to seek forgiveness.
Apologies are the glue in relationships that piece back broken trust after an argument. However, when we apologise without truly meaning it, we’re merely patching up the surface and not actually fixing anything. These are called manipulative apologies because the words are used to steer a situation in a certain direction you deem desirable.
What counts as manipulative apologies
- Attempts to placate somebody by saying sorry just to temporarily put out the fire, rather than genuinely accepting that you’re in the wrong.
- Quick ends to an argument. Sometimes we apologise because it’s what the other person wants to hear and by doing so, we’ll end the fight before it escalates.
- Frequent and half-hearted ones. This is familiar to many of us – when we apologise for habitual behaviour that we don’t actually put in a conscious effort to change.
- Those that are used as a means of escaping the blame for anything.
The easiest way to identify manipulative from sincere apologies is by being honest with your emotions. If you don’t feel better after saying sorry, chances are that the apologies were manipulative in nature. Sincere apologies always lighten emotional load.
Apologies used in defence
Another way to classify apologies is whether they stem from fear or regret. Some apologies can be sincerely made, not from genuine acknowledgement of wrongdoing but to defend against someone else’s ire. It’s common to accept the anger directed at you as being rightful, even though you don’t know why. The truth is that when people are upset with themselves, they project their negative feelings onto others around them rather than coming to terms with their own feelings. You don't deserve to be anyone's whipping boy, so there's absolutely no point in apologising for something you had nothing to do with.
The right time to apologise
As mentioned earlier, sincere apologies remove your emotional burden. The right apologies are ones we really mean, and these do good not just for you, but for the person you’re apologising to. Meaningful apologies are the hardest because we’re acknowledging true regret and it’s hard to admit sometimes; they also reflect an intention to not repeat the offending behaviour which requires effort and self-control. You’ll see that sincere apologies really do restore someone’s trust in you and helps to mend cracks in relationships.
We are taught the Golden Rule from young: to treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s human nature that we occasionally slip up and do things that hurt others, but that’s okay. An apology from the bottom of your heart can fix things and maybe even strengthen the relationship. What’s not okay is manipulative apologies that don’t benefit the other party, or defensive apologies that aren’t good for yourself. The next time you find yourself starting to apologise, take a moment to consider if that's what you really mean.