8 signs someone has given you a fake apology, according to psychology

I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have too. Someone says they’re sorry, but something feels off. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re left with this nagging feeling that their apology wasn’t genuine.

This is where psychology comes in handy. It can provide us with some telltale signs to look out for when it comes to spotting a fake apology.

In this article, I’ll be sharing 8 signs that someone has given you a less-than-sincere apology, according to psychology. So next time, you’ll know what to look for before accepting an apology that might not be as heartfelt as it appears.

1) Lack of empathy

One of the big red flags in a fake apology is a lack of empathy.

Genuine apologies are typically filled with empathy, as the person apologizing understands and acknowledges the pain or discomfort they’ve caused. This is a key aspect of a sincere apology, as it shows that the person is not only acknowledging their mistake but also showing concern for how it affected you.

On the contrary, a fake apology might sound scripted or forced and often lacks this element of empathy. It may seem as though they’re just going through the motions, saying what they think they’re supposed to say without truly understanding or caring about how their actions have impacted you.

Empathy is often missing in insincere apologies because the person apologizing isn’t genuinely sorry for their actions, but rather they’re more interested in getting the uncomfortable situation over with.

This is an important sign to look out for when trying to discern whether an apology is genuine or not.

2) Defensiveness

Another common sign of a fake apology is defensiveness. Instead of acknowledging their mistake and taking responsibility, the person offering the apology may use it as an opportunity to defend themselves or justify their actions.

I remember a time when a friend was late to our dinner plans. Instead of simply apologizing, he started his apology with, “I’m sorry I’m late, but…”. The “but” was followed by a string of excuses about traffic, work, and whatnot.

In this instance, the apology was more about him justifying his tardiness rather than acknowledging that he had inconvenienced me by being late. His defensiveness made it clear to me that his apology wasn’t sincere.

Psychology explains that when someone is truly sorry, they are more likely to take full responsibility for their actions without making excuses or becoming defensive. So watch out for those “buts” in apologies, they can be quite revealing.

3) Overuse of passive voice

The use of passive voice can be a subtle, yet revealing sign of a fake apology. In passive voice, the person or thing causing the action is often omitted, allowing the apologizer to subtly shift blame or avoid taking full responsibility.

Consider the difference between “I’m sorry I hurt you” and “I’m sorry you were hurt.” The first sentence shows accountability and ownership of the person’s actions. The second sentence, in passive voice, subtly shifts the focus from the apologizer’s actions to the feelings of the person who was hurt, without acknowledging that it was the apologizer’s actions that caused those feelings.

People often resort to using passive voice when they’re trying to dodge responsibility. So next time you hear an apology, pay attention to how it’s phrased. It might reveal more about its sincerity than you think.

4) Conditional phrases

Conditional phrases like “If I hurt you” or “If you felt bad” are another telltale sign of a fake apology.

When someone uses these kinds of phrases, they’re not really acknowledging that they did something wrong. Instead, they’re implying that it’s a hypothetical situation, or worse, suggesting that it’s your perception of the situation that’s the problem, not their actions.

A genuine apology is unconditional. It doesn’t hinge on how the other person feels or whether they’re upset. It acknowledges a mistake and expresses regret for it, plain and simple.

So, if you hear a lot of “ifs” in an apology, take it as a signal that the person might not be genuinely sorry for what they’ve done.

5) Absence of genuine remorse

Deep down, we can often sense when an apology doesn’t carry genuine remorse. It’s something in the way it’s said, the look in their eyes, or perhaps a lack of warmth in their voice.

When someone truly regrets their actions, you can feel it. Their apology carries a certain weight, a sincerity that touches your heart. You sense that they not only understand the pain they’ve caused you, but they also feel it themselves.

However, in a fake apology, this element of remorse is usually missing. The words might be there, but the feeling isn’t. It’s like listening to a well-rehearsed speech; the delivery might be spot on, but the emotion is absent.

That heartfelt regret is what makes an apology sincere and meaningful. Without it, an apology can come off as hollow and insincere. So always trust your instincts when it comes to sensing genuine remorse.

6) Quick to move on

In my experience, when someone is eager to move on quickly after apologizing, it can be a sign that their apology isn’t sincere.

A few years ago, a colleague of mine made a mistake that cost our team quite a bit of time and effort. She apologized, but then immediately tried to shift the conversation to another topic. It was as if she was more interested in brushing the issue under the rug than genuinely apologizing and making amends.

A sincere apology involves giving the other person time to process what has happened and express their feelings about it. It’s about creating a space for healing and understanding. When someone is quick to move on after apologizing, it can come off as dismissive and insincere.

From this experience, I’ve learned to watch out for those who are too eager to change the subject or move on after apologizing. It’s an important clue about the sincerity of their apology.

7) No change in behavior

One of the most telling signs of a fake apology is when the person’s behavior doesn’t change after they apologize.

An apology should represent not just an acknowledgement of a mistake, but also a commitment to change. If the person continues to repeat the same behavior they’ve apologized for, it’s a clear indication that their apology was not sincere.

A genuine apology comes with the intention to do better and avoid repeating the same mistakes. So, if you see no change in behavior after an apology, it’s fair to question its sincerity.

Remember, actions speak louder than words. An apology without change is just empty words.

8) The apology is forced

The most crucial sign of a fake apology is when it feels forced. A genuine apology comes from a place of sincerity, a true desire to make amends. It’s not something that can be fabricated or coerced.

If someone is apologizing because they feel obligated to, or because they’re trying to avoid further conflict or consequences, chances are the apology isn’t genuine.

An authentic apology should never feel like an obligation or a strategic move. It should come from the heart, a genuine expression of regret and the desire to make things right.

So trust your instincts. If an apology feels forced, it probably is.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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