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Black Box
Jun 9, 2007, 12:26 PM
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 ____."

Examples:
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.

[Adapted from "How Recipients React," at Letters of Reprimand and Correction ]

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 [but] 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

about the author
J. E. Brown, relationship activist, decided in 1987 that verbal abuse will be wiped off the planet.

Forms nli
Jun 9, 2007, 01:12 PM
We've had this here before. Perhaps the moderators will consider this to be a keeper.

Which point does: "I apologize for everything I ever did since the day I was born" go under?

My MIL is fond of:

"I'm sorry you perceived that I ____." Calling someone delusional is a tactic, not an apology. She has told me on a couple of occasions that my feelings are just perceived feelings--not real.

"You misunderstood."

"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. In this catagory are two more of her favorites, said with tear-filled eyes and trembling lips: "I was just trying to be friendly!" or "I was just trying to be nice!"

One point not addressed:

My MIL is always "just wanting" something. "I JUST WANT to be a grandma", "I just want to be friends", "I just want you to know that I'm thinking about you", "I just want to___"

The thing is, there's no JUST about it. 'Just being a grandma' means letting her fully participate in our lives, having her move in several months a year, and pretty much making her co-parent with acknowledged superior parenting skills to our own (it does not include her following instructions about the kids).

'Just wanting to be friends' means allowing her to do all that and more, including running our household and setting up family policy and co-decorating our house and being included in all our activities--and our being enthusiastic about it (it does not include her actually listening to what anyone says or respecting their point of view).

There's no "JUST" about any of her 'justs'.

Ladymay
Jun 9, 2007, 01:30 PM
This would be an excellent pinned topic. So very helpful. I think DH would like it if I printed this for him to keep for reference material. MIL is queen of the blame-shifting, the "I'm sorry that you feel..." and when she finally gave a genuine apology she later reverted to backpeddling. She's also insisting on detailed examples of "what's she's done to offend us so much." x( DH & I have decided that it's sad to accept that a healthy relationship with them isn't possible and we're grieving for that but that for the sake of our marriage & children we're just going to have to cut them off for good.

MambojumboNLI
Jun 9, 2007, 02:29 PM
Excellent!

Here's the unstated one from MIL:

"I'm sorry if I was raised in a dysfunctional family and chose to pass on this legacy to my children. I've had a hard life. This entitles me to treat everyone the way I was treated. Don't you know that you are supposed to cower in fear, like everyone else? I've had a hard life, you know, and there is no such thing as personal responsibility or accountability for my actions, because I will never grow up, because I've had a hard life, you know."

MambojumboNLI
Jun 9, 2007, 02:41 PM
Oops, I forgot my favorite "real" apologies from her. When she and SFIL gave my baby a cigarette lighter to play with:

"SFIL did that, and it's your fault, because you didn't tell him not to." And she was right there, so this apology also blamed someone else entirely.

A couple of years after sending jokes right after my miscarriage, then sending baby photos of SFIL's estranged daughter's baby, and multiple undermining and sabotage incidents related to this:

"I'm sorry to hear about your problem." WTF?

rhiakaran
Jun 10, 2007, 10:29 AM
Oh, my mil pulls the "just" card also - "We need to see the children, even if it is JUST for a few minutes after Mass in the Social hall."
"We just want to see the children"

NavyMom
Aug 16, 2007, 11:44 AM
Wow - great info. It is so nice to know that I am not going insane and really DO still have good instincts when it comes to my MIL. When your gut says "Hmmmm - I feel like I am being manipulated" then you are.

I was thinking dealing with a MIL like the above is like having a lazy know it all teenager.....very similar I think :-)

cutbill
Nov 29, 2007, 02:45 AM
How about this little gem, taken exactly from a letter from evil FIL:

I will, and have apologized, if a comment I have made, has offended because that seems the right thing to do. However (as the lawyers have it) it is not an admission of guilt.

Huh??? And no, hes' never apologized for anything and this was his lame attempt. What an sob. This was the last communication before cutoff btw.

Grieving Widow
Dec 10, 2007, 07:51 AM
Four months ago, one SIL agreed to let me vent in emails to her about how I feel I and my children were treated during DH's illness and after. She promised (LOL) it would be between us only, but she obviously shared it with her sister, my other SIL. The one she shared it with is the same one who only called 5 times and asked my daughter to comfort her son.
This is a portion of the email she sent me:

I have lost my brother, I will never have three brothers ever again. Regardless of how angry you are at losing him, I will not subject myself to your demeaning, petty, frivolous, hurtful and cruel accusations. I am not perfect, I never claimed to be, but I treated you with respect and dignity because you were married to my brother, who loved you and saw the good in you.... I am sorry for absolutely everything you believe I did to you.


Sound remorseful to you?? LOL

- Grieving Widow

coolcat
Jan 9, 2008, 02:37 AM
"You misunderstood."

"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. In this catagory are two more of her favorites, said with tear-filled eyes and trembling lips: "I was just trying to be friendly!" or "I was just trying to be nice!"

One point not addressed:

My MIL is always "just wanting" something. "I JUST WANT to be a grandma", "I just want to be friends", "I just want you to know that I'm thinking about you", "I just want to___"

The thing is, there's no JUST about it. 'Just being a grandma' means letting her fully participate in our lives, having her move in several months a year, and pretty much making her co-parent with acknowledged superior parenting skills to our own (it does not include her following instructions about the kids).

'Just wanting to be friends' means allowing her to do all that and more, including running our household and setting up family policy and co-decorating our house and being included in all our activities--and our being enthusiastic about it (it does not include her actually listening to what anyone says or respecting their point of view).

There's no "JUST" about any of her 'justs'."


Maybe we have the same MIL!!!

I've heard the "I didn't do it on purpose" and "I really wasn't _______ing, you just thought I was."

Then the sobbing, and the "But I JUST want to have a good relaaaationship with you and I feel like I have to walk on eggggshells around you!!! Whaaaaaa!!!!!"

I'm keeping a copy of this article. It is invaluable. Thanks.

MrsMabe
Jan 14, 2008, 04:09 PM
Exactly!! Oh my goodness, that is MIL to the tee. Along with "I'm sorry I'm always predicting the failure of your marriage, but since I have 3 failed marriages under my belt I am an expert on the subject."

Oh, and "Don't you know that you are supposed to cower in fear, like everyone else?" is exactly why MIL hates my guts....because I have them.

IG
Jun 20, 2008, 09:56 PM
Hi. I am new to this site, and I feel like an entire 180-pound woman has slid off my stooped shoulders. I feel free--and sane--for the first time in years.

My MIL has said the following to me:
"I can't believe that a smart man like your father would marry a woman like your mother."
"Well, you're average, but [my husband] is special."
And so on.
But she is a therapist, so she can never, ever, ever be the one who is wrong. She is the one who "understands" human relationships, so she is the one who "explains" to me how I have "misinterpreted."

Of course, then she has an "I will never apologize" breakdown:
"If I believed I could ever have said any of those things, I deserve to cut my throat! I don't deserve to do the work I do! I deserve to die!"
and then a few moments later, of course:
"But you just misunderstood."
And later:
"I'm glad you acknowledge that your temper makes you misunderstand" (!!?????).
And finally, on a nice colorful note, sent about a week after the exchange in which she said the "slit my throat" thing:
"I'm glad you're going to work on your temper."
And when I dared to mention the things she said to me again:
"I don't understand why you lecture me and hurt my feelings, when I just worry that I'll never see you two again and I'll never get to have a relationship with my son and I'm dying and I won't bother you for long and it's been such a long struggle for me!"

Are you saying that I am not crazy? That these things that really don't seem like apologies, I don't have to accept as such? Oh, GOD thank you.