Have you ever had an apology from someone and you felt it wasn’t genuine? Did you feel the apology was made to shut you up, or to get out of an awkward situation? These are all signs of a manipulative apology where the person is not sorry at all.

Manipulative apologies are easier to spot than you think. For example, the person will not take responsibility for their actions. Or they will use an apology to brush away your feelings.

Here are 5 key signs of a manipulative apology

1. Not taking responsibility

  • “I’m sorry for the way you feel.”

  • “I’m sorry that joke offended you.”

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

This is the most common kind of manipulative apology. The onus is on the other person’s feelings, not the person who made them feel that way.

Sometimes people apologise in this way, not because they are being manipulative, but because they genuinely cannot understand why someone is so upset. Perhaps they think the person is being hypersensitive about an issue. Maybe they don’t realise that they have touched on a sore point for that person.

None of that matters if you have upset or offended someone. They are entitled to feel the way they feel. What you did or said may not have affected you in the same way, but that’s irrelevant. You may be able to laugh at a joke on a particular topic, but again, this is not the point.

Something you have said or done has upset someone. The right way to apologise is to take responsibility for upsetting them.

Genuine apologies look like this:

“I am sorry I offended you.”

Manipulative apologies look like this:

“I am sorry you were offended.”

In the genuine apology, the person is saying sorry for something they have done to the other person.

In the manipulative apology, the person apologises but does not take ownership of their part in the problem. They are saying sorry because the other person was offended.

2. Apologies, but with a ‘but’…

manipulative apology

  • “I’m sorry I snapped, but I was flustered at the time.”

  • “Look, I’m sorry about my friend, but you did wind him up.”

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you are being way too sensitive.”

Any apology that includes a ‘but’ is an example of a manipulative apology. Basically, nothing is important before the ‘but’. You may as well not include the apology part.

Using a ‘but’ in an apology is a manipulative way of pushing some of the blame onto you. Again, you are not taking responsibility. In these examples, you are apologising, but you are also edifying the situation. This is so that the other person has to bear some of the blame.

Sometimes, simply removing the but can result in an effective apology.

I snapped at a friend the other day. I have two very large dogs, one that I have to keep under control because she can be dominant if not held in check. I was trying to control them both and my friend offered some advice during a tense situation that wasn’t helpful. I snapped at her and was very rude.

However, I immediately apologised and said:

“I’m really sorry I snapped at you. I was flustered at the time and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

This is different to a more manipulative apology:

  • “I’m really sorry I snapped at you, but I was flustered at the time.”

You might think that the second example is fine to use, after all, all you are doing is explaining the situation. However, while is it good to explain, using a ‘but’ weakens the initial part of the apology. You are apologising, however, you are giving yourself an excuse to get out of the situation.

3. Rushing you to accept their apology

  • “Look, I’m sorry, OK?”

  • “I’ve said sorry, let’s move past this.”

  • “Why are you bringing this up again? I already said sorry.”

According to research, people offer manipulative apologies for specific reasons. Karina Schumann believes that one is a lack of empathy for the other person. Be wary if a loved one is rushing you to accept an apology or being dismissive of your feelings. It could show a lack of concern for you in general.

If someone loves you, they will not want to rush or push an issue under the carpet and forget about it. If you are hurting, they should want to do everything in their power to help you.

Rushing you or getting irritated with you because you cannot ‘move on’ is a sign of a lack of respect.

4. Gifts instead of a sincere apology

There’s that old joke when a married guy brings his wife flowers home and she wonders what he has done wrong. Expensive gifts or gestures are not genuine apologies. Buying someone a gift without saying sorry is a manipulative apology.

Whether it is a trip he has always wanted, a piece of jewellery you know she has talked about, or even something simple like arranging a boys’ night out for your guy. If you are not saying the words: “I am sorry”, you are being manipulative.

You put the other person in an awkward position of having to accept your gift, but the problem is not really resolved.

5. Dramatic, over-the-top apologies

  • “Oh my God, I’m so so sorry! I’m begging you to forgive me!”

  • “How will you ever forgive me?”

  • “Please accept my apology, I’ll simply die if you don’t.”

These types of manipulative apologies are more about the person giving the apology than the feelings of the recipient. Narcissists and people with big egos will offer up over-the-top and inappropriate apologies like these.

However, it’s not about you or how sorry they are. Their grand gestures are to boost their self-image. You might notice that these dramatic apologies occur when they have an audience. Dramatic as their apology appears, it is shallow and without authenticity.

Final thoughts

It is easy to fall into a trap of being manipulative when apologising, even if you don’t mean to be. The trick is to take responsibility for what you have done, and not blame the other person for how they feel.


  1. psychologytoday.com

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Vince

    Great writeup, highly informative and concise.

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