I’m Sorry You Feel That Way

I heard this sentence a lot, every so often for over 7 years since the first time I step foot in the United States, and it pisses the hell out of me. Now when I think of it, I can imagine talking to Comcast’s customer service.

That declaration might imply “your emotions are improper and ignorant, therefore I want you didn’t have them”. You’d at the very least get an empathetic assertion in the event you included that their emotions were clear and legitimate. But for an apology suggest you will be more thoughtful in future, and rather you need to acknowledge misconduct.

It’s a narcissistic apology where the blame is put back on the person wanting an apology, for even “feeling” anything.

In other contexts without the “I’m sorry”:

“How dare you feel that way!” 
“Hmm… you feel that way. That’s weird/Sucks to be you.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an actual apology, however it occurs a great deal in customer support. To me, it’s an equivalent to “fuck off”.

It is definitely not an apology. If anything it’s the opposite of an apology, suggesting as it does that the person who is “sorry you feel that way” has done nothing wrong, and that the fault lies with “you” for feeling otherwise. A more patent way of phrasing the sentiment expressed would be “Too bad for you that you can’t get over it.”

Technically, it’s called a non-apology apology, or nonpology, is a statement that has the form of an apology but does not express the expected remorse.

A real apology acknowledges not only that something wrong was done, but that the wrongdoer regrets having done it. “I’m sorry you feel that way” doesn’t come close.

Nonpology implies they’ve done something that’s not usually offensive, but now that they know it bothers you they’ll stop. It’s one of those things that people say when they want to move past whatever they did without taking responsibility for it. The illusion is that if they validate your feelings, you’ll be so grateful that you won’t notice anything else.

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is excellent for one reason: It tells you that whatever they did that bothered you, will definitely happen again. So it works as a warning.

Usually when people say this it’s snide and condescending and not at all an apology. That’s because the person who’s saying nonpology does not saying anything about yourself or your behavior, you’re 1) talking about the other person’s behavior 2) as though it’s a bad thing.

A real apology is of the form, “I’m sorry for my behavior; it was wrong because…”

Sadly however, it is becoming the norm in many customer service situations and social interactions. That says something bleak about human beings in general and their diminishing capacity and/or willingness for empathy.


P/S: This article is proof read by machine learning AI