How To Respond To A Manipulative Apology

How To Respond To A Manipulative Apology

Navigating the Landscape of Inauthentic Apologies

Manipulation occurs when an individual exerts control over someone else, often targeting their emotional and psychological well-being through tactics like projection to achieve their objectives.

This behavior fosters a power imbalance, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the other person for personal benefit. Such dynamics can unfold across various types of relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, and familial connections, though they are particularly prevalent in relationships with a close or intimate bond.

Understanding Insincere Apologies

Manipulation is when someone exercises their power over another person. Manipulators tend to attack another person’s emotional and mental sides, which often involves projection, to get what they want.

They create an imbalance of power, taking advantage of the victim’s weaknesses for their gain. This can happen in romantic relationships, friendships, or family relationships.

They can also happen in casual relationships but are most common in close relationships.

“Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.” – Mark Matthews

Manipulative Apologies: How to Spot an Emotionally Manipulative Apology

What is a manipulative apology? Intentional or not, some signs can determine whether someone is a manipulator. They will exercise certain tricks and behaviors to get what they want from others.

Below are some behaviors commonly associated with manipulators:

  • Guilt
  • Comparing
  • Lying
  • Denying
  • Complaining

These are common tricks that manipulators will use to make others feel insecure and irrational. They do this by using the above tactics to get their ‘victims’ to feel swayed, or to persuade them to act in a certain way.

Manipulators have some other tactics that you can look out for. The main thing to remember is that their actions will always be an attempt to undermine your rational thinking. Some of these manipulative apology tactics are:

  • Knowing your weaknesses: The manipulator will know your weaknesses and will know how to exploit them in order to get what they want.
  • Insecurities: They will also know all about your insecurities and use them against you.  Sometimes they’ll do this discreetly, so you may not even notice.
  • Making you dependent on them: They may get you to give up people or things that are important to you, slowly isolating you so that you become dependent on them.
  • Exaggeration and Generalization: They’ll use vague accusations such as ‘no one cares about me’, making you feel sorry for them.
  • Cruel Humor: They may sometimes do this in front of others, poking at your insecurities in order to make others laugh.
  • Gaslighting: Gaslight apology is a very common behavior, where they will turn things around, making you question your reality. Often, this will happen when you confront the abuser. Study “Why Do I Feel Like Nobody Likes Me? Unraveling the Roots of Insecurity and Building Stronger Connections” to explore the psychological impacts of gaslighting and how it can affect one’s sense of security and relationships.
  • Over Apologizing Manipulation: The manipulator will exaggerate their apologies and over apologize which in itself is a red flag.

While there are many other behaviors and tactics to look out for, these are some common ones.

how to respond to a manipulative apology

An Apology without Change is Manipulation

The words ‘I’m sorry’ carry a lot of meaning, and to be truly sorry means that you feel regret and sorrow for your wrongdoings and any hurt you have caused.

Apologizing means taking accountability for your actions, regardless of the consequences.

Unfortunately, not all apologies are genuine. An apology without changing behavior is simply manipulation, and those in unhealthy relationships are likely to say sorry to manipulate their partner rather than express genuine empathy or regret.

Some reasons a manipulator may say sorry are below:

  • To make themselves feel better: They are unlikely to feel sorry in this situation, they just don’t like feeling guilty, so they are saying sorry to make themselves feel better.
  • To end the dispute: They could be apologizing to end the conversation as they no longer care for it.
  • Exercising control: Apologizing can also make them feel like they are in control again. By apologizing, they feel they are more likely to be able to get what they want from you after apologizing.

“An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.” – Lynn Johnston

How To Respond To A Manipulative Apology 

Before figuring out how to respond to an apology, you must acknowledge it is insincere. If it falls within the abovementioned categories, you know it is an apology or sorry manipulation.

Another way to determine whether it is or not is to think about their past behavior. Have they been manipulative in the past? Remember, an apology without change is just manipulation!

Will they be getting something out of this apology that benefits them? Once you have determined whether it is manipulative behavior, you can respond to an apology in a few ways.

While accepting the apology and avoiding conflict may be tempting, this will only allow the toxic manipulation to continue.

Call out their manipulative apologies

A good first step is to acknowledge that you are aware they are being manipulative. Be respectful but firm in your language, and use ‘I’ statements to avoid being confrontational.

Be sure to explain that you don’t feel their apology is genuine. You can refer to past experiences with this person to explain your point of view.

While it is tempting to accept their apology, as you want to believe they are genuinely sorry, stating that you aren’t accepting it this time is a step in the right direction.

How To Respond To A Manipulative Apology

Let Them Know How It Makes You Feel 

Once you’ve stated that you will not accept this apology, explain why. If they have done this before, apologized, and then repeated the same hurtful actions, explain how that made you feel.

Again, use respectful language and don’t place blame, as that can lead to a confrontation. Instead, you can try approaches like this:

  • Acknowledge their feelings and perspective: “I know you’re stressed because you’ve got a lot going on, but I feel disappointed because…”
  • Explain to them how this kind of behavior affects you and the relationship: “When you apologize without meaning it, you repeat the same actions, and it makes me feel…”

“Apologies require taking full responsibility. No half-truths. No partial admissions. No rationalizations.” – Greg LeMond

Explain What You Want From Them 

One way to measure progress is by explaining what you want from them after this apology. You can outline some positive actions they can follow that’ll make you believe they are truly sorry.

This person may not realize they aren’t being genuine, so if they have some guidelines, they can follow that if they are genuinely apologetic. Some people need a bit of guidance and some model behavior to follow.

This is also one way that you can measure their progress. After setting boundaries and outlining what you want from them, you can determine whether the following actions align with your goals.

10 Examples of A Manipulative Apology

    1. The Non-Apology

      The non-apology is a classic example where the person doesn’t actually apologize. Instead, they’ll say things like “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I offended you.” This type of apology puts the blame on the recipient’s feelings rather than acknowledging any wrongdoing.

    2. The Blame-Shifting Apology

      In this type of apology, the person admits they were wrong but tries to shift the blame to someone or something else. For instance, “I’m sorry I was late, but the traffic was terrible” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but you’re just too sensitive.”

    3. The Minimizing Apology

      Here, the apologizer attempts to downplay the severity of their actions or their impact on the recipient. For example, “I’m sorry, but it wasn’t that big of a deal” or “I didn’t mean for it to be such a problem.”

    4. The Conditional Apology

      A conditional apology includes an “if” statement, making the apology contingent on certain conditions. This can sound like, “I’m sorry if you think I did something wrong” or “I apologize if you misunderstood me.” It avoids admitting wrongdoing directly.

    5. The Passive-Aggressive Apology

      This type of apology is often sarcastic or insincere, making the recipient feel worse instead of better. An example might be, “I’m so sorry I didn’t read your mind and know what you wanted” or “I apologize for not being perfect like you.”

    6. The Guilt-Tripping Apology

      In a guilt-tripping apology, the person apologizes while also attempting to make the recipient feel guilty or responsible for their actions. For example, “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your event, but I was just so stressed and overwhelmed” or “I apologize for snapping at you, but you know how hard things have been for me lately.”

    7. The Distraction Apology

      This type of apology tries to divert attention from the actual issue by focusing on unrelated topics or bringing up past grievances. For instance, “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday, but remember that time you forgot mine too?” or “I apologize for not calling you back, but did you hear about the big promotion I got at work?”

    8. The Comparison Apology

      In a comparison apology, the apologizer compares their actions to those of others in an attempt to minimize their own wrongdoing. Examples include, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but at least I didn’t hit you like some people do” or “I apologize for not helping you, but I’m not as bad as your ex who never did anything for you.”

    9. The Exaggerated Apology or Over Apologizing Manipulation

      An exaggerated apology is overly dramatic (over apologizing manipulation) and focuses on the apologizer’s feelings rather than the recipient’s. For example, “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I did that, I’m the worst person ever” or “I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done to you.” This can make the recipient feel uncomfortable and shift the focus to consoling the apologizer.

    10. The Empty Apology

      An empty apology is one where the person repeatedly apologizes but doesn’t take any meaningful action to change their behavior or make amends. For example, “I’m sorry I keep forgetting to call you, I promise it won’t happen again” – but then it keeps happening.


Final Thoughts 

Dealing with someone manipulative is never easy, whether it is a friend, partner, or family member.

It is always best, to be honest and open about how their behavior makes you feel and never bow down to their manipulation, as that sets the tone for how they will treat you moving forward.

If you have tried being open with them and their manipulations continue, then it may be time to consider whether this person serves a good purpose in your life.

While this is harder for family members, it may be time to set boundaries and limit your interactions with them as much as possible if their presence only serves you negatively.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a genuine apology and a manipulative fake apology?

A genuine apology acknowledges the wrongdoing, expresses remorse, and takes steps to make amends, while a fake apology serves the apologizer’s interests and often avoids responsibility.

Why do people use manipulative apologies?’

People may use manipulative apologies to evade responsibility, gain sympathy, maintain control, or manipulate the recipient’s feelings.

How can I tell if someone’s apology is sincere?

A sincere apology focuses on acknowledging the wrongdoing, expressing genuine remorse, and taking steps.

What is a manipulative apology?

A manipulative apology is one where the person apologizing uses the apology to serve their interests rather than express genuine remorse or regret for their actions. These apologies often contain tactics to shift the blame, downplay the impact of their actions, or create a sense of guilt in the person receiving the apology.

What are the signs of a manipulative apology?

Signs of a manipulative apology include expressions of guilt, comparing, lying, denying, and complaining. Other tactics include exploiting known weaknesses, triggering insecurities, creating dependency, using exaggeration and generalization, cruel humor, gaslighting, and over-apologizing.

How do manipulators use apologies for their gain?

Manipulators may use apologies to make themselves feel better, end a dispute, or regain control of a situation. An apology allows them to manipulate emotions and perceptions, which in turn, helps them gain what they want from the situation.

How can you tell if you accept a manipulative apology?

To determine if an apology is manipulative, consider the person’s past behavior and whether the apology aligns with the tactics of manipulation mentioned earlier. Also, consider whether they stand to gain something from the apology that benefits them. An apology without a subsequent behavior change is likely to be manipulative.

How should you respond to a manipulative apology?

If you determine that an apology is manipulative, it’s important to address it. Call out the manipulative behavior respectfully but firmly, explain how it makes you feel, and outline what you expect from a genuine apology. Avoid accepting the manipulative apology, as this can perpetuate the cycle of manipulation and anger.

Q6: What are some examples of manipulative apologies? A6: Manipulative apologies can take many forms, such as the non-apology, the blame-shifting apology, the minimizing apology, the conditional apology, the passive-aggressive apology, the guilt-tripping apology, the distraction apology, the comparison apology, the exaggerated or over-apologizing manipulation, and the empty apology. These strategies are designed to deflect blame, avoid responsibility, or manipulate emotions for personal gain.

Why is recognizing a manipulative apology important?

Recognizing a manipulative apology is crucial because it allows you to understand the nature of the relationship you’re in and to protect your emotional and mental well-being. By understanding the tactics used in manipulative apologies, you can establish boundaries, demand respect, and prevent further manipulation.

Can forgiveness make a manipulator change their behavior?

A manipulator can change their behavior if they recognize the harm they’ve caused and genuinely wish to amend their ways. However, it’s essential to remember that an apology without change is just manipulation. Therefore, it’s crucial to observe if the person’s sincere apology consists of behavioral change over time.

Is over-apologizing a form of manipulation?

Over-apologizing can indeed be a form of manipulation. When someone over-apologizes, it can deflect attention from their wrongdoing, make the recipient feel uncomfortable, or shift the focus to consoling the manipulator, thereby exerting control over the situation.

Can a manipulator be unaware of their behavior?

Yes, a manipulator may sometimes not be fully aware of their behavior. Some people may have developed these behaviors as coping mechanisms over time and may not realize they are being manipulative. That’s why it’s essential to communicate openly about how their apologies and actions affect you, which may lead them to recognize and change their behavior.


1. Mayo Clinic – Recognizing domestic abuse in relationships: This page explains the signs of abusive relationships, including emotional manipulation, which could help readers understand the concept better.

2. American Psychological Association – Apology science: This source provides a scientific view on apologies, explaining their components, how they work, and their effects on relationships, adding a level of authority and expertise to the content.

3. Psychology Today – How to spot and stop manipulators: This article describes manipulative behaviors and how to deal with them, which could provide additional tips for readers.

4. Harvard Business Review – The Organizational Apology: Although this article is focused on organizational apologies, it provides insights on the components of effective apologies, which may help readers distinguish between genuine and manipulative apologies.

5. HelpGuide – Emotional Intelligence Toolkit: This resource helps develop emotional intelligence, which may assist readers in recognizing and dealing with emotional manipulation.

About our Author Michelle Landeros, LMFT license# 115130
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT

Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.

Last updated: July 13, 2024