How Not to Apologize

I have apologized countless times for countless offenses, and I have been apologized to more times than I can say. Reasons for my apologies range from almost bumping into someone, to running late, to attempted murder. (exercising dramatic license)

Apologies can be categorized as follows:

1.) Sincere and heart felt apologies when truly filled with remorse

For example: I forgot a side dish (my contribution to a gathering) on my kitchen counter, showing up empty handed. “I feel like a jerk, I’m really sorry.”

2.) Apologies for something that happened to someone as a consequence of a wrong committed by a third party.

For example: I work for the man, whose motivation is greed which manifests itself in endless cost savings efforts. The end result of these efforts is a bad customer experience and me apologizing to customers for something beyond my control. I also occasionally find myself apologising for someone else who screwed up. This isn’t really an apology, although I do say I’m sorry. This is commiseration. I am saying “yes, that sucks, and I’m sorry for you, but I’m as much a victim of corporate greed and ineptitude as you are.”

3.) Appeasement apologies, which do more harm than good if they are offered to anyone with half a brain. I have been on the receiving end of more than my share of them. They are also not really an apologies. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” or “I apologise you think I would do something that would garner an apology.” These are insults, a twist of the knife after the first offensive jab. 

For example: When my son was six years old, he joined the swim team at our local YMCA. My girls, who are a few years older, were also on the team. A pattern started with my son almost immediately. Goggles, swim caps, etc., something different every practice, disappeared from his bag. I first blamed my son. I’d check the lost and found, I’d ask the coaches to check the locker room, but nothing was ever retrieved. In the ten minute time span between the pool, showers, locker room, and the waiting area, something went missing. 

I am a working stiff. Twenty five dollar goggles, five dollar swim caps, shower shoes, swim trunks, etc. missing every week angered me. I began inventorying his bag before we even left the building, and then I’d send him back into the locker room to look for what was missing. Nothing ever materialised. I had his sisters on the lookout. I’m not sure what the coach thought, but he just shook his head every time I mentioned something else missing.

This continued the entire season. At the state competition that year all the swimmers who made it that far received a giant temporary tattoo of the team mascot. It was handed to them to be applied before the big swim meet the following week. I sat on my foldaway chair in the holding area reading some profound novel, waiting for my sons event, when a teenaged boy reached over, put his hand in my sons open tote bag which was between my feet. He quickly pulled something out and went to sit by his group of friends. 

I was shocked. I went after him, and in front of the group, I said, “You just took something out of my bag, give it back to me right now.” He ignored me. I repeated myself louder and I took a step closer. Taking a deep breath, I realized I had an audience. The third time I was inches from him, and I repeated ” I saw you take something out of my bag, and I want it back right now. He told me to relax and said he’d give it to me, but did not move. I said I was not leaving until I had it. He reached into his bag, pulled out a torn and crumpled up team mascot tattoo and threw it at my feet. 

I saw red. Shaking with anger, I looked for the coaches, and this boy’s mother, but I couldn’t find anyone. After we left the meet at the end of the day, I composed a long, scathing letter to the head coach about YMCA core values, ethics, and the lack of respect for personal property among the older boys on the team, and the example they were setting for the younger children. I also went on to mention the money this teenaged boy, who came from a nuclear family of wealth, had cost me throughout the season. This was personal. 

The response I got was a phone call from the head coach saying he was sorry for what had happened and that he would have a talk with the boy, and the team. This would be an apology that fits category 2, as listed above. The coach seemed to be afraid of me at that point, which also angered me. Why was I put in the role of crazy lady to end this form of bullying that had been taking place for several months?

My girls told me that the coaches ended practice early the next day to have a “team building meeting” in which they vaguely covered the topics of what it meant to be a team, respect, personal property, and the difference between right and wrong. 

The next day, the coach sought me out to give me a letter composed by the little shit who had cost me so much aggravation and hard earned money, and the sanity I held onto by a thread. What does it say about me that I saved the letter?

“Dear Mrs. ____, 

I apologize for any misconceptions regarding my actions during last Sunday. It honestly had never been my intention to keep the decal. 

                                Sincerely, Alex ___”

I had to laugh. This letter of “apology” is my example of category 3 as listed above. It is an apology, but it’s not really an apology. It’s a refusal to take responsibility, and it redirects blame to the victim. I had “misconceptions”.

That was the end of the missing items from my sons bag. I did not have any further interaction with Alex, because he did not return to the YMCA after that. Legend has it that he joined a different swim team. My son was unfazed by all of this from beginning to end. He couldn’t have cared less about the missing items, or his mom yelling at some older boy on the team. My children and I now preface all apologies to each other with “I apologize for any misconceptions you have…” 

In conclusion, I would suggest you think before you apologize. Consider your motivation for the apology, and whether you are going about it the right way. If your apology fits into category 3, don’t bother, you are causing more harm than good. 


If you wonder what this behavior leads to the answer may be found in the following post: 

Poor Ryan


August 1, 2016, One Word Prompt: Apology~ <a href=””>Apology</a&gt;

5 thoughts on “How Not to Apologize

  1. Totally agree about no. 3! Meaningless apologies are the worst. The person is not truly apologetic about what they have done. More often than not it makes you feel like you’re the one in the wrong for being offended about what they did.

    Liked by 1 person

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