Recognizing if an apology is sincere or insincere can help you respond to it in a way you’re comfortable with. But you can decide when you’re ready to offer forgiveness.

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An insincere apology occurs when it doesn’t involve remorse or regret. Sometimes an apology may make you feel worse rather than offering an opportunity for reconciliation.  

A false apology can lead to resentment and anger, which may make you feel misunderstood, invalidated, or manipulated.

The person apologizing might have good intentions, but an insincere apology can interfere with repairing the relationship or fixing the situation.

Sometimes you’ll experience an apology where the person implies you overreacted or were at fault. These types of apologies aren’t meaningful and can often worsen the situation.

Understanding when an apology isn’t sincere can help you decide to offer forgiveness when you’re ready.

How to respond to an insincere apology 

1. Tell them how their apology is insincere  

Pointing out the flaws in someone’s apology clarifies your point and allows them to learn. You can tell them why you feel it was insincere and that you don’t feel like it resolved anything.   

Omar Ruiz, LMFT, founder of Online Private Practice, LLC says the “Best way to respond is to be transparent around your inability to accept their apology. Tell the person that what they have shared is not sincere and share your reasons, which mainly is that the person has not taken any responsibility for their behavior.” 

2. Set and enforce boundaries  

Setting boundaries makes it clear that you won’t accept certain behaviors. People will know your limits and what you expect from them. It can make responding to an insincere apology easier because the boundaries are in place.   

You can be assertive while staying calm, helping others understand your expectations. Wavering on your boundaries can signal that people don’t have to follow them. Consider staying strong even when it seems easier to give in.   

3. Don’t accept their apology  

You’re not required to accept an apology and shouldn’t feel bad for rejecting an insincere attempt. When something bothers you, it’s up to you how you want to move forward.   

4. Prioritize your safety  

When someone offers an insincere apology, they might get upset when you don’t accept it. If you know the person is prone to violent or rageful behavior, try to ensure a safe space for the conversation.

Your safety is the top priority, and you don’t have to give in to someone who hurts you.

5. Ask them to try again at a different time  

You can ask the person to try apologizing again at another time after they learn how to offer an effective explanation.

Rejecting their attempt right now doesn’t mean you want them out of your life forever. Once you explain your thoughts and feelings about the situation, you might need time to reflect.

You can give the other person a chance to learn and yourself an opportunity to process. Forgiveness sometimes takes time, and you don’t have to rush it.  

Examples of a sincere apology  

Research from 2012 suggests the following three different components make up an apology:

  • empathy
  • intensity
  • timing

Studies indicate empathetic apologies have a strong impact on people perceiving it as a sincere apology. And late apologies can increase the chance of someone thinking it’s insincere. The more components used in the apology, the more sincere it seems.

According to a 2021 study, offering a sincere apology consists of:

  • expressing regret and guilt
  • accepting responsibility
  • expressing feelings of guilt or remorse
  • admitting embarrassment

Learning to tell the difference between an insincere and sincere apology can help you recognize the elements you should see.

The chart below explains how the opening of sincere and insincere apologies can differ.

Sincere Apology Insincere Apology  
I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry, but… 
I messed up, and I’m so sorry. I messed up, but you aren’t perfect either.  
I treated you wrong, and you deserve better. I’m sorry, but most people wouldn’t be as dramatic about it as you are. 
I am so sorry for what I did to you, it was inexcusable. I’m sorry, but what would you have done? 
I could have handled that better, and I am responsible for my actions.  I’m sorry, but you could have… 
I’m sorry for what I did to you, and I want to fix it.  I’m sorry, and I won’t do it again if you make some changes, too.  
I know what I did hurt you, and I’m making a change. I’m sorry you felt hurt, but this is just how I am.
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry if you were offended. I was kidding. 

Let’s recap 

You’re likely to experience insincere apologies sometimes, and they can sometimes hurt you more than if you hadn’t heard them.

These apologies often come with stipulations, excuses, and shifting blame. You don’t have to accept them, as you’re the one who gets to choose when to forgive someone.

When you recognize when an apology isn’t an apology, you can consider how you want to handle it. You can explain the issue and wait to offer forgiveness when you’re ready.