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When They Refuse to Apologize

Matthew Cuddeback, LCSW

We’ve all been there, someone has done something hurtful and you have been able to work through your emotions and process what happened and in order to feel as though it can be all wrapped up and everyone can move on, what you need next is an apology. Maybe you hint at the need for an apology, and they don’t pick up on what you are asking for. Maybe you ask for an apology outright, and they make excuses, avoid, or even refuse. It can be incredibly frustrating to experience this kind of dead end. Below are a few things to explore to help you work through it in a healthy way and decide how best to navigate the tricky situation.

  • There is a reason for why they are not apologizing. It is important to understand the person may not be willing to apologize because of something you did or a way you make them feel, and it also might have nothing to do with you. The reason may not feel like a good reason, but they do have a reason. Often times it is a result of the way they grew up, maybe people didn’t need to apologize in their family, maybe they were forced to apologize more than they were comfortable with. It may be you, and it may be them, figuring out which can help manage your response.
  • They may not understand why it is important to you they apologize. They may feel everything was mended well enough. They may not realize that often times the words of an apology carry a lot of weight for you.
  • It may be a sign you need to work on your communication more thoughtfully. As mentioned above, they may just have a different opinion about how to mange conflict. If it’s important to you and you are not getting the apology from your partner/sibling/friend/etc. It is worth having a calm, honest conversation about why it’s important to you and why they are struggling to apologize.
  • Do they deserve an apology as well? Perhaps they haven’t apologized because they are feeling hurt and looking for an apology as well. Be open the possibility you missed something as well and may need to do some repair work of your own.
  • Why do you need the apology? Are you looking for an apology so that you know they understood the way the interaction hurt you, or are you just wanting them to know they were wrong and you were right? Apologies are about understanding, you can apologize for hurting someone even if you did not intend to hurt them. Make sure you have a good reason for wanting that apology.

If you have inspected and worked on the above and you still don’t get the apology it becomes an issue of managing your feelings. The fact is you can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you respond. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. Maybe you distance yourself from that person and if they are sincere in wanting to repair, you explain that you are struggling with the relationship because they don’t seem to understand how important it is to you they convey their sincere apology. Maybe you take the high road and let them off the hook this time even if you shouldn’t have to. So long as you are being mindful of how the decision effects you, either option could be healthy. The idea that the world is just is a fallacy, sometimes a person can hurt you and refuse to take responsibility for it, all you can do is make sure you are comfortable with how you addressed it and make sure you manage your feelings and reactions in a way that is true to you.

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