How to Respond to a Manipulative Apology: A Simple Guide

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When my boss and I had a huge argument, in which he was at fault, I was only too happy when he apologized to me.

However, his apology was less than honest, and he actually used a fake desire to make amends as a way to get his win in the argument and leave me feeling guilty. 

He had made clever use of a manipulative apology to get his way, while I was left feeling even more cheated and angry about the whole situation. His apology was conditional, telling me that he was sorry, but he also blamed me for placing him in that situation. 

An apology only lasts as long as the lesson is learned and actions are amended to show real regret about what you did wrong. 

But how do you respond to an apology that’s manipulative? 

What Is a Manipulative Apology? 

A manipulative apology is when someone uses an apology as a show of remorse, such as “I’m sorry” but then voids their expression of regret by adding blame or shifting responsibility for the incident. The result is a non, insincere, or fake apology such as “I am sorry you feel that way.” 

It may sound like an apology, but it’s actually not an admittance of guilt. Instead, it’s denying the victim the right to feel the way they do. This dismissal adds to the pain and shame the victim feels. 

A genuine apology makes the victim feel seen, which helps alleviate their pain. A manipulative apology makes the victim lose even more power, feel hurt, and suffer further harm.

There are multiple forms of manipulative apologies. It’s not always just about shifting blame. It can also be an apology for the sake of apologizing, so the perpetrator can get a “get out of jail free card.”

They apologize so they can get out of the sin bin, but actually, they have no remorse.

For apologies to be genuine and worthwhile, you should only accept an apology once the underlying issues have been addressed and aired out. This will often reveal the manipulation and help prevent further manipulation strategies.

Types of Apologies that Are Manipulative 

There are several types of manipulative apologies that people may use to get out of offering a real and heartfelt apology. 

You may have been the victim of these strategies before, and it’s often only in hindsight that you realize how you’ve been further abused by the very act of liberation that should have freed you from pain.

Because of these strategies, a conditional or false apology can do more harm than good.

Here are the main types of insincere, manipulative apologies: 

1. The Blame-Game Apology

When you get an apology, but the person then changes it to an explanation that removes all responsibility from them. We are often tripped into giving this type of apology by our ego, which doesn’t really want to admit to being wrong


  • “I am sorry I didn’t show up on time. My watch was broken.”
  • “I’m sorry you were hurt by what I said. You are just too sensitive.”

2. The Diversion Apology 

Politicians are really good at this type of apology. It’s when someone seems to apologize, but they actually deflect and divert attention away from their role in the incident. There’s often an “if” to this apology, shifting blame back to the victim. 


  • “I am so sorry if you were hurt.”
  • “I didn’t know my words would hurt you.”

3. The Dramatic Victim-Reversal Apology 

It’s always so interesting (and false) when the person making the apology turns everything so it’s about them.

manipulative | apologies | manipulation
If you feel the apology doesn’t meet your need for closure or that the person is being manipulative, you can call them out. 

They feel so sorry, they can’t believe you were hurt, and they never intended to gossip about you. The over-the-top apology makes the victim feel unseen and uncomfortable. 

Suddenly, the perpetrator becomes the victim, and they claim all the focus. 


  • “I am so upset with myself for hurting you, I can’t believe I did that.”
  • “You must be so upset, I am so deserving of being punished.”

4. The Minimizing Apology 

This is perhaps one of the worst types of non-apologies. Instead of owning up, the perpetrator will give a brief “I’m sorry” but then instantly compare it to someone else’s flaw to prove they didn’t mess up or disappoint you so badly. 

Effectively, they try to convince you to forgive them based on the fact they could have done worse to you


  • “I am so sorry I yelled at you, but I managed to control my temper and not curse you.”
  • “Yes, I am sorry I didn’t pick you up from work, but I did call to tell you to take the bus.”

5. The Distraction Apology 

Magic tricks are all about distraction. You get people to focus on something else, so they will forget to look at the real thing. Distraction apologies are often used by people who are really self-obsessed or deceptive

When these are used intentionally, they can become really abusive and leave the victim feeling utterly worthless and unseen. 


  • “I am sorry I forgot to call you, but I was in a meeting with my psychologist.”
  • “I am so sorry I forgot your birthday. I felt just as hurt when you forgot my birthday last year.”

6. The Sting-in-the-Tail Sarcastic Apology 

This form of manipulative apology is the worst since it denies the victim any closure and adds more negative feedback and sarcasm to hurt them.

The apology is outright insincere, and the perpetrator throws a passive-aggressive sting at the victim, leaving them feeling even worse. 


  • “I am sorry I couldn’t remember to send flowers as I’m just not perfect like you.” 
  • “I apologize for not seeing that you have a chip on your shoulder about being told the truth.”

7. The “You’re Inconsiderate” Apology 

Victims already feel bad, and it’s a terribly mean apology that leaves them feeling responsible for the incident. Imagine having someone tell you they are sorry, but then they continue to tell you that you were to blame for their mistreatment. 

By making the victim feel bad, the perpetrator gets out of needing to apologize. After all, they just handed the victim the bag with all of the shame, burying their right to closure. 


  • “I know I promised to attend your graduation, but I just couldn’t get myself out of bed with my depression.” 
  • “I really feel terrible that I didn’t take you to school, but you know I don’t have the money for gas.” 

The Signs of a Manipulative Apology: What to Look For 

Knowing someone is insincere in their apology can help you choose how you respond and protect you from further pain. 

There are a few signs that can tell you someone is being false in their show of remorse.

1. Tone of Voice

The way someone sounds while apologizing can give away their real motive. An insincere apology may be accompanied by a raised tone of voice, disinterested sound, or a voice devoid of any energy

2. Use of Words

Someone who doesn’t mean their apology may use conditional words like “but” or “if.” These words are about changing the meaning of the apology. 

An apology that’s filled with “I” statements are also a sign that the person is self-obsessing and not interested in seeing or acknowledging the victim. 

3. Emotional Deviance 

If they apologize with an over-the-top dramatic tone of voice it can mean they are insincere.

Being emotionally too toned down and non-invested can also mean they are only going through the motions and have no remorse. 

4. Aim of Apology

Manipulative apologies are often aimed at deflecting the attention away from the person apologizing.

apologizing | fake apology | manipulator
You should be prepared to head off disingenuous apologies and manipulative strategies that try to generate currency for them by “soft-soaping” you. 

Instead of helping the victim let go of their negative feelings, the apology is only there to get the perpetrator out of trouble

5. Their Actions

An apology is only valid when it’s accompanied by a change in actions or behavior to better reflect what the perpetrator has learned and is changing their ways.

Look out for an apology that is paired with no change in behavior or attitude, indicating it wasn’t truly sincere

6. Body Language

When apologizing, the perpetrator has to “eat humble pie” and own up to their transgressions.

If the apology is accompanied by body language like a raised jaw, fierce eyes, clenched jaw muscles, or avoidant gazing, it can mean the apology is not sincere and is forced or only meant to get something from the victim. 

Types of People Prone to Giving Manipulative Apologies 

You may wonder who would ever intentionally use an apology to manipulate someone. After all, apologies are about relieving the victim of their burden, ensuring there’s better empathy and a shared belonging among the people affected by the incident. 

There are several types of people who would choose to use a manipulative apology:

Narcissists and Abusive People

Those who like controlling others or engage in abusive behavior are likely to use manipulative apologies to further establish control over their victim.

Gaslighters, narcissists, and dominating people can use this type of apology to keep their victim in reach. 

Those in Denial

If you don’t believe you did anything wrong, you would probably use a denial or non-apology to avoid really owning up to what you did.

Instead, you deflect blame or make the victim feel responsible since you can’t apologize. 

Those with Poor Self-Esteem

People with low self-esteem are likely to see an authentic apology as a validation that they are pathetic.

Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to grow and become stronger, they view it as a personal attack and will likely use sarcasm to hurt the victim so they won’t feel hurt. 

5 Step-by-Step Process for Dealing with a Manipulative Apology 

When you are expecting an apology that means something but you receive a manipulative apology instead, you will likely be caught off guard

This is why having a strategy in place to help you act appropriately and avoid being “handled” is vital to protect your mental health. 

Here are the steps to take to avoid being manipulated by a non-apology. 

Step 1: Identify What Kind of Apology You Got – Genuine vs Manipulative 

When you receive an apology it’s important to not give in to society’s pressure and conditioning and simply accept it or say you forgive someone. Instead, take a few deep breaths

Listen carefully while the person is speaking. Become aware of their tone, posture, expression, and words. Decide whether the apology is real or if it’s a manipulation tactic. 

You can ask yourself a few guiding questions:

  • Do they look sorry?
  • Are their words honey-coated or authentic?
  • Is it a straightforward apology that acknowledges their role in my pain?
  • Do they use “but,” “if,” and “because?”
  • Do I feel better or worse?

Step 2: Know How You Feel About the Apology 

Take the time to really think and feel what your emotions are telling you. This helps you remain calm and act, not react. Taking a deep breath before responding to the insincere apology can help center you and ensure you don’t respond to what’s not there. 

After all, you may want the apology so badly you end up accepting what wasn’t really offered, such as with a non-apology. 

Do a self-check or emotional check-in with these:

  • Do I feel seen by this person?
  • Are they remorseful?
  • Are their body language and words congruent? 

Step 3: Call Out the Manipulator

Your emotions may have alerted you to a BS apology. You realize the person isn’t acting truthfully, and while they claim to be sorry, you can see they want an easy way out. Now what? 

It’s up to you to choose whether you accept the apology or not. Don’t accept it just because accepting apologies is the polite thing to do.

If you feel the apology doesn’t meet your need for closure or that the person is being manipulative, you can call them out. 

Try these statements:

  • “I don’t accept your apology as I don’t believe you really understand your transgressions.”
  • “Since you are incapable of understanding what your actions did to me, I can’t accept your apology as I won’t let you hurt me again.”
  • “Your apology sounds sincere, but I don’t trust that you are being authentic in your intentions, so I choose not to accept your apology. Please don’t contact me again.” 
  • “I fear that your apology only confirms that you don’t see things from my perspective, so you will do the same things again, which will hurt me, so I don’t accept your apology.” 

Step 4: Use Awareness to Create Boundaries

When you realize someone is manipulative enough to use an apology to further control you, it’s important to start creating protective boundaries. Just because you sussed them out and avoided their trap doesn’t mean they won’t try again

manipulator | apologizing | fake apology
Walking away is more about disengaging from that person, no longer investing effort or energy in their drama, and protecting yourself by minimizing time spent with them. 

You should be prepared to head off disingenuous apologies and manipulative strategies that try to generate currency for them by “soft-soaping” you

Here’s ways to reinforce and maintain boundaries through awareness:

  • “I’m sorry but we aren’t friends after the way you treated me, so I won’t be going to the company party with you.”
  • “No, I can’t socialize with you until you really understand how you hurt me, or you will do it again.”
  • “My personal life isn’t up for discussion. You lost the right to ask me personal questions when you misused information.”

Step 5: Be Prepared to Walk Away

You can refuse to accept an apology, but we are socially conditioned to respond with the pre-programmed “It’s okay; I forgive you.” Often, the apology is not sincere, and we only mouth the platitudes, which makes us liars too. 

When you are in need of an apology since you’ve been wronged, it’s important not to let the manipulator devalue you or drag them to their level of falsehood. If you see it’s not sincere, you should walk away

Walking away may not always be an option. So the walking away is more about disengaging from that person, no longer investing effort or energy in their drama, and protecting yourself by minimizing time spent with them. 

Final Thoughts about How to Respond to a Manipulative Apology 

Apologies require taking full responsibility. No half-truths, no partial admissions, no rationalizations, no finger pointing, and no justifications belong in any apology.” ~ Cathy Burnham Martin

Being on the receiving end of manipulation tactics is never easy, and receiving a manipulative apology is heartbreaking.

The wrongdoer expertly places blame on you, directs attention elsewhere, and offers an empty apology, merely for the sake of apologizing – because they have to. 

It’s not easy to respond to an insincere, non-apology, but remember to identify what kind of apology you got. Then evaluate how you feel, call out the manipulator (if you can), and use awareness to decide the way forward

Learn more about manipulation with these examples of manipulative sentences and phrases that people often use. It’ll help you identify when you are being manipulated.

And if you're looking for more articles about manipulation, be sure to check out these blog posts:

manipulative apology | apologies | manipulation
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