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A Failed Apology: When an Apology Goes Wrong

By Karen Robinson

Heal Thrive Dream 

Your offender Gaslights You

I’m offering an intensive healing coaching session titled, “Are You Waiting For an Apology?”

I have found waiting for an apology both agonizing and annoying. How about you? Who owes you apology? If you want to tell your story, please email it to me: healthrivedream@gmail.com and if you are ready, we can discuss telling your story on my podcast: https://healthrivedreampodcast.com/abuse 

Are you aware that a well-executed apology has the capacity to mend broken relationships, soothe hurt feelings, heal mistrust, bridge gaps of misunderstanding, and offer a path to redemption? The opposite is also true. Just as a genuine apology can work wonders, a poorly thought-out one can exacerbate the situation and lead to even more damage.

A Review: The Anatomy of a Genuine Apology

Before delving into the nuances of a failed apology, it's important to review what constitutes a genuine apology. A sincere apology involves acknowledging one's mistake or wrongdoing, expressing remorse for the hurt caused, and demonstrating a commitment to making amends. This trifecta of acknowledgment, remorse, and accountability forms the foundation of an effective apology. This is the MINIMUM needed to heal trauma wounds.


When Apologies Go Awry

A failed apology is not merely the absence of these components; it's the presence of missteps that can render an apology insincere or even offensive. Many survivors unfortunately have the horrid experience of their abuser denying the abuse even took place! This is called “gaslighting.” Are you familiar with this term? Keep reading to learn more. For now, here are some common ways apologies can go wrong:

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1. The Non-Apology Apology

This is perhaps one of the most frustrating forms of apology failure. It involves using vague language that doesn't explicitly admit wrongdoing, such as saying "I'm sorry if you were hurt" instead of "I'm sorry for what I did." The former places the blame on your reaction rather than on the actual actions that caused you harm.

2. Defensiveness

A genuine apology requires vulnerability, but sometimes your abuser or the person who hurt you becomes defensive when confronted with their behavior. They may deflect blame, make excuses, or even counterattack. This not only derails the apology but also deepens the divide between you and them.

3. Insincerity

An insincere apology is a hollow one. When you sense that an apology is merely a formality and lacks genuine remorse, it can be even more hurtful than no apology at all. You and other survivors have a remarkable ability to detect insincerity, and an apology devoid of genuine emotion can and often does cause further harm.

4. Shifting Focus

Another pitfall is when the apologizer shifts the focus away from their actions by bringing up unrelated issues or attempting to overshadow their wrongdoing with positive actions. For example, saying "I'm sorry I hit you, but remember the time I helped you with that project?" diverts attention from the abuse.

5. Gaslighting

Gaslighting in an apology refers to the manipulative tactic of the abuser undermining your perception of reality, emotions, or experiences. It involves using deceptive or dismissive language to make you doubt your own feelings, memories, or understanding of the traumatic event. Gaslighting leads to you and other survivors feeling traumatized all over again. The abuser avoids taking responsibility for their actions. When gaslighting happens, the offender does NOT demonstrate remorse, blame is shifted, facts distorted, and you feel invalidated. How can you heal when this happens? You can. It just may not be easy.

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The Ripple Effect of Failed Apologies

The aftermath of a failed apology is often rife with consequences that can ripple through various aspects of your life. Here are a few potential outcomes:

1. Deepening Resentment

A failed apology can intensify your feelings of resentment and hurt. Gaslighting invalidates your truth, leads you to not feeling valued or understood, and can lead to rage or worse yet, a deepening of your depressive symptoms.

2. Erosion of Trust

Trust is fragile. A poorly executed apology or not receiving an apology at all, can erode trust, making it difficult for you to believe future promises or expressions of remorse.

3. Escalation of Conflict

Rather than diffusing a situation, a failed apology can escalate conflict. When you feel dismissed or unheard, you may respond with heightened frustration or anger. Unfortunately, this may place you in more danger.

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There is Some Hope

When an offender or abuser does offer a sincere apology or makes an attempt to rectify their actions, sometimes the relationship can be salvaged. If your offender is a family member and you want to help them to learn how to make things right with you, here are steps you can share with them to consider when making amends:

  1. Offender Acknowledges Their Actions
  2. Offender Expresses Genuine Remorse
  3. Offender Takes Accountability
  4. Offender Actively Listens
  5. Offender Learns From Their Actions and Makes Genuine Changes In Their Behavior
  6. Offender Gives You Time To Heal and Asks How They Can Aid Your Healing Process

Please hear that it has been my professional and personal experience that the people who hurt us don’t often apologize, accept responsibility, change their ways, or aid in our healing. I believe you already know this. Please have hope. Healing is still more than possible. Self-healing after trauma involves patience and self-compassion. Please engage in activities that soothe and empower you, like mindfulness, journaling, and exercise. Seek professional support if needed. Acknowledge progress, no matter how small, and prioritize your emotional well-being as you gradually rebuild and find your strength. Consider our healing community for survivors. This is Us: Healing From Trauma Together

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Karen Robinson

  Karen Robinson  

About the Author

I'm licensed therapist with 25 years of clinical experience. Service driven, specializing in trauma recovery, anxiety, and depression, holistic care, and transformation to create an impact for trauma survivors globally. Services include coaching, therapy, virtual courses, digital products, and on-line memberships.

Are you a survivor in need of HOPE?