“I’m sorry you feel that way” or “You’re wrong and I just don’t care”? What might be hiding behind the apology we all know, we all use, but we all hate to hear?

We all have that one friend. The one who makes all the right moves of an apology, and seems to say the right things, but you walk away feeling worse but not quite sure why.

They told you they were sorry, didn’t they? It began with the right words at least. Or did they pretend they were sorry, but actually just make you feel like you were being irrational?

They apologized that you feel a certain way but didn’t actually take responsibility for their own behavior that made you feel that way.

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” 

It makes us feel like we want to relaunch the argument when we hear it. When we seek an apology or resolution with someone, both parties should come away feeling at least as though their feelings were properly acknowledged. A non-apology apology does not achieve that.

While using ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ can in some circumstances be well-intentioned, often it can be a signal of something deeper.

So why does someone non-apologize?

At face value, it may be an attempt to acknowledge someone else’s feelings. Yet, the vagueness doesn’t properly acknowledge the other person’s hurt and emotion at all. In fact, it acts as a way to diffuse conflict without having to take on responsibility for hurting someone in the first place.

The real reason why someone uses a non-apology apology can differ depending on the situation. It really depends on the context and how ‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ is said. How you feel coming out of the conversation is important to assess what was really going on.

1. They don’t want to, or can’t, take responsibility

Some people genuinely struggle to take responsibility for their own actions. A variety of factors can play into this.

Research has found that those who believe they can change for the better are more likely to apologize for their actions and take responsibility. Those who didn’t believe they could change, however, were less likely.

Beliefs on whether a person can change can depend on self-esteem, the extent to which a person wants to change, or whether they know it’s even possible. Ultimately, it seems that for someone to take responsibility, they must actually want to, and believe that change is possible.

2. They actually think it’s your fault

‘I’m sorry you feel that way,’ is a quick way to use the correct apology language to end an argument without having to admit fault.

Some people do this in an attempt to avoid conflict, even when they think they’re wrong. Perhaps they’ve had enough of fighting, or the fight isn’t a significant one. Either way, they may just be subtly placing the blame on you without you realizing it.

3. They’re deflecting

People don’t like to admit fault very readily. They might use deflective techniques to take the attention off of themselves and onto you.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ isn’t a way of deflecting the attention onto your feelings for a while without having to deal with their mistakes. This might be a genuine want to acknowledge how you feel, but can be a red flag that someone can’t take responsibility for their own actions.

4. They feel sorry for themselves

Arguments can create a sense of guilt in those at fault, and that can be difficult to deal with in the face of conflict. Apologizing with a non-apology is a way to quickly deflect the attention away from the problem so that they don’t have to face their poor behavior.

If you think your friend or partner is deflecting, it might be an idea to give them some space before talking to them again. Allow them to sit with their feelings for a while and approach the situation again calmly. You might get a better outcome than continuing to escalate the conflict.

5. They can’t empathize with you properly

There are times when our past experiences and history can make us more sensitive to certain situations. Not everyone can understand our personal sensitivities all the time, so they can’t always empathize.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, is a way of acknowledging those feelings even if you don’t understand them. As long as it’s said with care and genuine intention, it may not be such a bad thing.

6. They think you’re being silly or irrational

If someone doesn’t understand how you’re feeling, they may think you’re overreacting or being irrational. Telling you this, however, is not exactly a good move in the middle of an argument. This phrase is an attempt to calm things down without telling the person how you really feel.

7. They’re trying to stop the argument

Arguments are exhausting, no one enjoys them. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ uses similar language to a proper apology and can therefore sometimes just be an attempt to stop fighting. In these circumstances it doesn’t mean anything malicious, it might just be exhaustion leading to poor word choice.

8. They’re gaslighting you

In the very worst of cases, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ is a sign of an incredibly toxic trait. Gaslighting is a kind of psychological abuse that makes a person question how they feel and their perception of reality.

We all unintentionally gas light one another when we’re put on the spot, but most of us can recognize this and either stop or apologize. Some people use gaslighting as an intentional technique to control someone and continue their bad behavior.

Gaslighting is usually coupled with a number of other abusive behaviors, so it’s important to stay vigilant in case your relationship isn’t one to be resolved.

Remember: Context is Key

While ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ is infuriating, it’s not always said with bad intentions. It can be difficult to hear in a moment of high emotion and conflict, consider the context in which it’s said.

How something is said can carry a lot more definition than the words themselves. Exhaustion, frustration, and an inability to understand can cause people to act irrationally and not always consider the other person’s feelings.

If you can calm down from an argument and discuss again calmly, it’s likely that non-apology was meant with more innocent intent.

On the other hand, if you feel as though you’re being mocked, ignored, or even subject to gaslighting, it’s important to address those behaviors. Someone who genuinely cares for you will always try to understand and make changes so that they don’t hurt your feelings in the future.

If you find yourself unable to trust your own judgment, scared to ask questions, or questioning situations, reach out to friends and family for support. Having some outside influences will help you gain a little more confidence in the fact you have a right to be upset.

If your friend or partner won’t accept that they’ve been disregarding your feelings, it might be time to seek professional help or start assessing whether this relationship is one that you want to maintain.

References:

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167214552789
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com
  3. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

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the power of misfits

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Gary Jessup

    Absolutely love that phrase!

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