“I said I’m sorry, so you need to move on” is the worst non-apology you can give

You’re not sincere and your apology is trash.

When I originally started writing this article, I thought about all the times I’ve called out white people about racism and they’ve apologized and demanded I move on. Then I realized this happens in every relationship, and we all do it. We demand spouses move on. We demand friends get over the hurt. We demand the person we harmed move on because we have. It’s a not-so-subtle form of gaslighting, and no one deserves to be on the receiving end of it.

Here’s the thing. If you apologize in the hopes the other person stops talking about how you hurt them and eventually moves on, your apology is trash. It’s not sincere. You don’t mean it. It’s a means to an end of that encounter. It’s all about you. It has nothing to do with them. You hope your fake apology stops the drama because it’s making you uncomfortable and angry. You put your own feelings before the person you hurt.

You haven’t even given their feelings any thought. Why not take the responsibility of finding out how you harmed them? Let them tell you how you made them feel. If you care about that relationship, shut up and listen. Let them scream and cry. Let them curse. Let them get out all the ways your words cut them. Don’t respond. Sit there and do the thing you didn’t do before — respect their feelings.

Once they’re finished, take a moment to think about what they said. Then repeat it back to them so they know you listened and understood. Then apologize and tell them why you’re doing it. Simply saying “Sorry” isn’t enough. Explain why you’re sorry. Let them know you understand exactly what you did wrong. But keep this in mind:


Did you hear me? You owe them an apology, but they don’t owe you forgiveness. If they’re willing to tell you how you hurt them but are unwilling to forgive you, chalk it up to a life lesson and do better. Saying “Sorry” isn’t a “Get of Jail Free” card. They may want nothing to do with you. Respect that. Don’t grovel or guilt them into changing their mind. As soon as you try to manipulate their feelings, you show just how little you care about them. You owe them an apology, but you also owe them respect. If they choose to walk out of your life, let them go.

Somehow apologies have become about the person apologizing, not the person who deserves the apology. “If I say sorry, I can put this behind me.” How incredibly obtuse and selfish. Saying sorry isn’t about your feelings. What exactly do you have to put behind you, how badly you treated the other person? You’re trying to stop them from talking about their feelings because their words make you uncomfortable. You forget your words caused them pain.

We have to do better in relationships. I know I do. It’s uncomfortable to listen to criticism, but it won’t kill you. Sometimes it’s hard to apologize even when we know we should. And we should. We still may lose a relationship because of the harm we caused, but at least we tried to do the right thing.