4 types of apologies that don’t count, according to a psychologist

Admitting you’re in the wrong can be extremely difficult for some. Here, psychologist Dr Yisha Stiskala-Yu points out the red flags that prove an apology is insincere.

From time to time, our friends and family can act in ways that hurt us and make us feel let down. A genuine heartfelt apology is a powerful way to mend hurt feelings, and repair and restore relationships.

Many people find it difficult looking someone in the eye and offering a sincere heartfelt apology. Some confuse apologising as an act of submission and avoid it so as not to feel bad about themselves and weak. Others find the process of apologising just plain awkward and don’t know how to offer an effective apology.

The next time you are on the receiving end of an apology or feel compelled to offer one, keep in mind these four types of apologies that don’t count.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter to read more stories like this.

4 types of apologies that don’t count

1. The “I’m sorry you…” apology

“I’m sorry you feel that way”

“I’m sorry you were offended”

“I’m sorry you took it that way’”

The “I’m sorry you” apology is all form and no substance and can often cause the other person to feel more confused and stressed out. This type of apology shifts attention away from one’s hurtful behaviour and places blame and judgment onto the other person’s emotional response.

A true apology keeps focus on one’s own behaviour, with an emphasis on “I” and sincere expression of intentions and effort into not repeating the talked about behaviour. Examples being “I’m sorry I said”, “I’m sorry I acted”.

2. The “I’m sorry but…” apology

“I’m sorry I said that but it was a joke”

“I’m sorry but I was just trying to help”

“I’m sorry I did that but I just had a bit too much to drink”

A true apology owns the behaviour, expresses regret and does not include the word “but”. “But” is almost always followed by excuses and justifications about the behaviour.

This minimising type of apology often gets drowned in details of who’s to blame and who “started it”, leaving the other person feeling worse and deflated.

3. The “I’m sorry if…” apology

“I’m sorry if I disappointed you”

“I’m sorry if you didn’t like it”

These are examples of a conditional apology. Often, what comes after the word “if” places blame and judgment onto the person the apology is directed at and calls into question the legitimacy of how they are reacting and feeling.

When apologising, simply omitting the word “if” can powerfully change the sincerity and meaning of the apology “I’m sorry I disappointed you”, “I’m sorry you didn’t like it”.

4. The cute emoji LOL Apology

“Sorry 😁 LOL”

“Lol. 🌼 Soz.”

When apologising via text or social media, refrain from using cutesy emojis, and LOLs to temper the mood to keep it light. They most likely will be seen in a negative light, and take away the genuineness and meaningfulness of your apology.

The quality of relationships with others is consistently found by research as the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and happiness. We all have the need to be seen, heard and understood, and to feel valued and respected. Apologising in a sincere heartfelt manner, while difficult in the moment, is crucial to repairing relationships and keeping them strong in the long run. So the next time your loved one is seeking an apology, put aside your ego, let go of your need to be right, and put your relationship first.

Dr Yisha Stiskala-Yu is a Clinical Psychologist and the Clinical Innovation Manager at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world-class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.