definition of apology / definition of apologize

an original definition by J. E. Brown

n. In interpersonal manners, an acceptance of responsibility for a wrong, plus a pledge to change one’s ways. The wrong may be either intentional or accidental; an apology is fitting in either case. The apology is usually made to the person or persons wronged, but may also be made to any third party to whom the wrongful act was evidence of untrustworthiness. The purpose of an apology is to put the listener at ease regarding the trustworthiness of the apologizing party.

An apology is not complete if it does not reflect all four of these:

  • regret,
  • understanding of the problem,
  • acceptance of responsibility, and
  • willingness to do better.

These are the necessary ingredients of a strong and reliable behavioral curb, a self-imposed restriction which the offender agrees to live by. It’s your best guarantee and assurance that the behavior will not happen again (in fact, that’s the whole purpose of an apology). If you don’t hear all of the above elements in the apology, ask for them. If the offender resists, be skeptical.

vi. To make an apology.

  1. “I want to apologies.” (“Apologies” is not a verb and is not pronounced with a long \i\. “I want to apologize” and “I want to apologise” are the correct spellings.)
  2. Apolize” is not a word.

accepting an apology
see forgiveness

n. An excuse is not an apology. Rather, an excuse is a reason why or an assertion that an apology is not necessary.

Etymology: An excuse is any statement which excuses someone from blame, guilt, and responsibility.

Example of a valid excuse: “But I wasn’t in the house when your vase was broken. Here are my movie ticket stubs, showing I was somewhere else.”

Example of an invalid excuse: “Yes, the vase fell when I brushed against it. But it was an accident! I don’t go around breaking vases on purpose. That’s not me. I’m not a bad person. You’re looking at it out of context. You’re not giving me credit for all the good things I do.”

Excerpts from my book (in progress)

Apologies to Watch Out For

  • Backpedaling: Beware of people who apologize sincerely, but later back away from their apologies, bringing up the disagreement over and over in statements like “You hurt me when you corrected me,” as though your correction of them was not deserved or was some kind of original offense against them. Be suspicious of people whose annoyance (at being corrected) outlasts their remorse.
  • The “Iffy” Apology: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Beware that word “if”, which means “Your pain is still hypothetical to me, not something I’m convinced of.” It’s sometimes meant to call your perceptions into question, and to suggest that maybe you’re overreacting. If there’s no “if” about it, say so.
  • “I Don’t Know What I Did”: Beware the ones who apologize but claim not to understand what they’ve done wrong (even though you’ve explained it perfectly well). Their remorse is probably sincere, but they have no idea what to avoid doing in the future, and so, your trust in such people would be misplaced.
  • The Attitude Apology and The “But” Apology: Any apology of the form “I’m sorry, but ____.”
    Examples: {You’re reading “Definition of Apology” by J. E. Brown.}
    • “I’m sorry, but you have to understand....”;
    • “I’m sorry, but I was right to do that”;
    • “I’m sorry, but you ____”;
    • “I’m very sorry I did that, but I’ve moved on.”
    One thing I’ve learned about “I’m sorry, but” is that nothing before the “but” can safely be taken literally. {Read this comp1ete article at .}

Remember that forgiveness only happens when someone regains your trust. And not until. Remind the offender of this, if necessary. People who value your trust (as the favor it is) are called friends, and will show concern for your happiness.

Related reading at this site: How to correct someone in a letter.

— J. E. Brown

Fake Apologies and How to Recognize Them

While a true apology shows concern for the receiver, many fake apologies begin with “I’m sorry” but end with a point that is completely incompatible with remorse: {You’re reading “Definition of Apology” by J. E. Brown.}

  • Standing by what you did is not remorse, therefore not an apology.
  • Demanding to be forgiven is self-serving. A good general formula to help you recognize non-apologies is “If it’s self-serving, it’s not an apology.
  • Changing the subject is not an apology: “Well, what about what you did?” Changing the subject indicates an unwillingness to apologize.
  • Verbal abusers often show resistance to apologizing. Continuing to insist that what you’ve done was not verbal abuse somehow, or that verbal abuse is somehow not wrong, or that Wrong is somehow relative — that’s not an apology. The point of apologizing is not to say that the crime still feels reasonable to you.
  • “I’m sorry but ____” is not an apology, because it does not communicate an understanding that you did wrong.
  • Any blaming of the receiver’s perceptions: “I’m sorry you perceived that I ____.” Calling someone delusional is a tactic, not an apology. See Gaslighting, Definition of.
  • “You misunderstood.” Pretending that your words didn’t mean what they mean, i.e. pretending that your words don’t have literal meaning, is not an apology.
  • “I’m sorry you misunderstood” is a more blatant, in-your-face form. Most often, when someone says “I’m sorry you misunderstood,” neither is true.
  • Calling the receiver “ungrateful” for not instantly forgiving. In general, calling the receiver ethically defective, perceptually defective, etc., are not apologies, but are forms of gaslighting.
  • “But I didn’t do it on purpose!” The universal excuse of good intentions isn’t an apology; it’s an excuse for doing more of the same, for continuing to offend. It’s a childish belief that one can continue acting in a hurtful way as long as there is some nebulous “good intention” involved. Hitler apologists like to make use of this one, often in the form “He was only doing what he thought was best for his country, and that’s not so evil, is it?” Yes, in fact, it is. Don’t be taken in by excuses that look at the problem through the wrong end of the binoculars. Any offense can be described from such a high level that the problematic details conveniently disappear. But the motive behind the search for such a viewpoint isn’t really remorse, is it?
  • Saying “I don’t see the connection between my actions and your reaction” is not an apology. It’s a denial of responsibility. It’s a suggestion that the hearer overreacted.
  • “I’m sorry [but] you ____” is not an apology. It’s a blame-shift.
  • “I’m sorry you got all offended” is not an apology. It’s a slap. It’s a technique for adding insult to injury.
  • “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology. {You’re reading “Definition of Apology” by J. E. Brown.}
  • “I want to apologize” is no more an apology than “I want to lose weight” is a diet. (To be fair, wanting to apologize is a big step for most people. Other people have no intention of apologizing! Wanting to apologize is worth partial credit. It’s a start.)
  • “I’m sorry about what happened” is not an apology, any more than saying “I hate when that happens.” ;^) When someone says “I’m sorry about what happened,” consider answering, “And...what was that, exactly? I’d just like to be sure we’re on the same page.” People have been known to completely miss the point and apologize for the wrong thing.
  • Variant: “I regret that it happened.” Referring to one’s actions as “what happened” is not an apology because the speaker is not taking responsibility. There are two kinds of phenomena: those which “just happen” (earthquakes, tornadoes, old trees falling down in the wind) and things which are caused by deliberate, chosen actions (like the house damaged by a tree which falls when a drunk driver collides with it). Of course, the drunk driver will usually claim “It was an accident,” as if to say “I wasn’t the cause.” This is merely propaganda, designed to trick the gullible.
  • “I’m sorry for what I did” is an improvement. Still, it leaves things unsaid; it doesn’t specify what the speaker did, perhaps even conceals it on purpose, perhaps because the speaker doesn’t understand or agree that what he/she did was wrong. What a pronoun is to a noun, this statement is to an apology. A complete apology is not vague; it doesn’t say “I’m sorry about...that thing I did.” If the parties don’t agree as to the nature of the error, they don’t agree as to the meaning of the apology. The promise inherent in the apology has been left blurry.
    One sometimes sees this method used between nations. The thought process seems to be, “How small an apology can I offer while still causing the receiver to think I feel remorse?” ;^)
  • There are other ways of distancing oneself from responsibility. “That’s in the past” is an assertion that the passage of time is a substitute for an apology. It’s a suggestion that one is entitled to hurt others as long as no one notices for a very long time.
  • “We’ve both said unfortunate things” is not an apology. It’s an accusation. It’s inflammatory. It’s an attempt to shift the spotlight.
  • “I’m sorry about that. And now, isn’t there something you’d like to say to me?” An apology is not a quid pro quo — reciprocation is not required, unless wrongdoing occurred in both directions. But if not, only an uncivilized person would apologize to you as a way of forcing an apology out of you.
  • Deathbed apologies are not necessarily real. Real apologies are not triggered by intense emotions or deadlines or expediency. True apologies are motivated by “I’m sorry for what I did,” not “I’m sorry we weren’t close, I wish I could figure out why we weren’t.”
  • “Of course I’m sorry” contains just a hint of annoyance. It’s a bit like saying “Am I sorry? What a silly question. What are you, stupid?”

— J. E. Brown

Lectures Are Not Apologies.

Lecturing the victim/receiver is a particularly aggressive and defiant form of blame-shifting. Examples:

  • “Everybody makes mistakes” is not an apology. It’s an assertion that apologies shouldn’t be necessary. It’s roughly equivalent to saying “Get over it” and “Grow up” and “Start learning how the world works.” It’s a form of talking down to people.
  • “People make mistakes.” Lectures aren’t apologies. Basic pabulums accuse the listener of being simple-minded.
  • “You know, relationships are based on trust. If you won’t forgive me and start trusting me again, then I don’t know how we can have a relationship.” Beware of people who refuse to prove themselves trustworthy. Beware of people who think forgiving them means you are the one who has to do all the work and all the changing. {You’re reading “Definition of Apology” by J. E. Brown.}
  • “My religious Book says you have to forgive me.” Again, self-serving remarks are not apologies.
  • Any suggestion that the victim needs to learn something, like a lesson or a skill (for example, not to overreact) is not an apology. An apology would be “I’m sorry I hurt you; *I* will learn from this.
  • “Get over it” and “Get past it” are not apologies; they’re attempts to trivialize the offense and to display unconcern for the hearer, to tell him or her “You are alone in this and nobody gets you.”
  • “You need to learn to let go” is a lecture, is mildly pathologizing, is patronizing (a form of talking down) and is a kind of gaslighting.
  • Saying “Forgiveness is a choice!” is not an apology. Repentance is a choice too, and so is the lack of it. {Read this comp1ete article at .}

— J. E. Brown

How to Apologize: Stick to the Formula.

Apologies are learned behaviors; people don’t naturally offer apologies unless they know or have been taught the methods for apologizing: when to apologize, how to apologize, and how not to apologize.

Apologies would be so much easier if people would stick to the formula. “I want to apologize,” they say, “but first I just want to add ONE more thing!” So they begin by giving you a brief apology, but then they botch it by adding something, like:

  • “You’re not perfect either, you know” (plus examples)
  • How disappointed they are in you, (and here’s why). OR
  • How disappointed they are in you, for presuming to correct them.

These are acts of defiance, not humility, and virtually guarantee that the apology will leave a bad aftertaste.

An apology has a beginning, a middle, and most importantly, an end. When you wish to apologize, just do it, and stop there. If you continue talking after you apologize, you’ll sound insincere. Do not tack on statements of conceit or propaganda to the effect that you’re a good person — That little voice that tells you to continue talking after the apology is the same voice that would have you believe It’s All About You. You cannot simultaneously rub someone else’s back and polish your own halo.

— J. E. Brown

An Apology Does Not Require:

  • Groveling. Some offenders have a mindset in which only God and the powerful deserve a sincere apology.
    This mindset believes an apology is something given by an underling to an overlord —
    that apologies are only about power, not about the restoration of relationships between equals.
    To them, an apology is a sign of submission. {You’re reading “Definition of Apology” by J. E. Brown.}
    Absolute power creates absolute attitude. Look for this attitude in those who think little people like you don’t deserve any apology, ever. And look for it in the friend who’s been waiting for the opportunity to seize control of the relationship.
  • Magic Words. Some people imagine that the way to apologize is the way they did it in kindergarten: by using words they don’t understand. An apology is not some magical incantation full of grand flowery words — an apology uses ordinary language and words you say every day.

An Apology Does Not Include:

  • Belligerence. Saying “I’m sorry!!!” in a yelling or aggressive tone is certainly not very apologetic. Rather, it’s a demand that the recipient back down. It’s a threat which says “If you don’t drop the matter, I’ll raise the volume level.”
  • Indignation. A real apology does not include indignation at having to apologize.
  • Trivialization. The words “I simply said” followed by a sanitized paraphrase of what the offender really said is not an apology, but a smoke screen.

— J. E. Brown

Before Accepting any Apology

Before accepting any apology, ask yourself: “Which of the following did I see?”

  • annoyance
  • blame shifting and suggestions that you misunderstood or overreacted
  • remorse

The less remorse you see, the more likely you are dealing with someone who doesn’t value your friendship, doesn’t fear losing it, and wouldn’t be sorry to see you go. You may wish to adjust your own efforts at reconciliation accordingly. {Read this comp1ete article at .}

This advice holds true no matter who was at fault. Normal people, even blameless ones, will feel some guilt or dread at the thought of losing your friendship; but persons who show you defiance and attitude are feeling neither of those. Dread and guilt show you that there is a bond; that bond is the “glue” necessary to hold the friendship together until it mends.

Sadness, grief and mourning are the normal reactions to the anticipated loss of a valued friendship. Annoyance, on the other hand, is what people feel when a computer crashes, or a pen runs out of ink, or a car fails to start; in general, whenever something that is there to be used doesn’t do its job.

— J. E. Brown

Q & A.

  1. How to apologize for not changing?
  1. There is no apology for that! Change is the only real apology! Look: A verbal apology is the advertisement of a change. It is a promise to change. It is only words. And if those words aren’t followed by actions — in other words, if you promise to change, and then you don’t change — then your verbal apology becomes false advertising. And false advertising blows your credibility. You say you want to apologize for not changing? There is no bigger lie.

  1. What to do when someone asks for an apology they don’t deserve?
  1. This is the most common question about apologies.
    … I don’t really have an answer for this.
    … I just wanted the reader to feel as appalled as I feel every time someone asks this question.

— J. E. Brown

Random Thoughts.

Most offenders believe their victims had it coming. That’s why most apologies are Trojan horses for re-asserting the offender’s warped perception of the pecking order, including beliefs that Might Makes Right, Parenthood Makes Right, White Makes Right, etc. Most “apologies” are Trojan horses for further mind games.

The best reason to request an apology is so you can gather evidence that the offense was committed intentionally and was committed because the offender sees you as his inferior, his beta and his bitch.

Most mistreatment is rooted in the attitude “I am entitled to do this to you, and you are required to put up with it.” Consequently, any apology must mean “I abandon my claim to this feeling of entitlement.” Unfortunately, some people think “I apologize” is a command, an order which means “You will forgive me now.” This too is an entitlement attitude, and proves that the apology is a fake.

“I won’t do it again” is an apology. “I don’t think I did it, but I promise not to” is not a convincing apology, because it reveals that your vision is faulty and that you have a tendency to not even see the act when you commit it! If you can’t even see and acknowledge the truth of the evidence, why should anyone trust you when you promise to stop yourself next time?

“I’m sorry if” is like saying “It had never occurred to me that that would be the result of my actions.” It’s like saying “I’m proud to be clueless!”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you” is usually a smokescreen and a diversion from the real issue, which is “but I didn’t mean to be careful either.”

— J. E. Brown

6th edition 07 May 2016
5th edition 07 Apr 2007
4th edition 03 Jul 2006
3rd edition 08 Jun 2006
2nd edition 08 Nov 2004
1st edition 15 May 2004

about the author

J. E. Brown, relationship activist, decided in 1987 that verbal abuse will be wiped off the planet.

He has been working on it ever since.

While writing a book on relationships, he occasionally designs online surveys and writes educational materials for this web site.

Further Reading at Other Sites

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