When you hurt someone or someone hurts you, you probably often think that you know how things will go: you (or they) will apologize, you'll talk things out, one or the other of you (or both) will accept the apology, and you'll move forward. Whenever you apologize to someone else for treating them poorly, letting them down, or betraying their trust, you probably take for granted the fact that they'll accept your apology. But there are some times you don't need to accept an apology — and perhaps sometimes when you shouldn't automatically assume that someone else will accept yours.
"I talk with clients about what it is they need so they can make a decision that is really right for them," Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAP, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Romper in an email exchange. "It's always OK not to accept an apology, but I think [it's] what an individual needs that determines when and if it's appropriate to accept it. Many people see accepting an apology as a way of saying that what the person did is acceptable, but I don't take it to mean that. In my mind it's more of an acknowledgement that everything that can be done has been done, and an attempt to move forward is the next step."
And even in these situations, when you're perfectly entitled to not accept an offered apology, it's important to remember that part of moving on can mean coming to a place where you're at peace with what happened and ready to let some of that go.
"I do believe that we can get to a place of forgiveness without accepting someone’s apology...Forgiveness is for us, it’s not about the other person and a lot of times people misconceive that, they think that, ‘well if I forgive them, then that means that they think that it’s OK or that I’m OK with this,’ but the truth is, forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you," Melissa Dumaz, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says. "It’s so that you truly heal within yourself — inside and out — about what has happened."
And in these situations, it's completely within your right to not accept an apology if it doesn't feel right to you.
1. When The Apology Isn't Genuine
If you've been wronged, you want to feel as though the apology you receive is genuine. If it's not, that's one of those times when you shouldn't feel as though you're obligated to accept. "As we know, an apology is an expression of regret for something we’ve done wrong, so if someone is apologizing but they’re not truly owning up to what it is that they did wrong or they’re not willing to change their behavior so they don’t do that same thing again, then sometimes it puts us in a position where it’s a challenge or we don’t want to accept their apology," Dumaz says.
You don't owe it to them to accept the apology they give you. "We are trained with this knee-jerk reaction," Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, a licensed psychologist, tells Romper in an email exchange. "They say, 'I'm sorry,' and we say, 'that's alright.' When they're not sorry and/or it's not alright, it is perfectly okay to not accept an apology."
2. You're Not Ready
If you're not ready to accept an apology, even if they mean it, but you want to be able to accept it and move forward at some point, it's perfectly acceptable to tell them you need some time. "I think we live in a society where it’s most common for people to accept the apology once someone apologizes, but that’s not always the case with everyone, so if we’re not going to accept it or we’re not ready, then I think it’s important for us to communicate that and to share why," Dumaz says. Make sure you're clear about why you aren't accepting the apology right now, because it might not be something they were expecting or completely understand.
3. When You've Heard It All Before
When people in your life make the same mistakes over and over again and continually apologize before going and doing it again, you don't necessarily have to accept the apology. Ranger says that altering your behavior to stop doing the same thing again is the best way to say that you're really sorry.
4. When You're Ready To End The Relationship Or Cut Off Ties
If you're not going to maintain a relationship with your friend, parent, sibling, coworker, roommate, or partner, you might not feel a need to accept an apology from them.
Even if you do ultimately decide to accept the apology, you're still not obligated to maintain the relationship with the other person. "Whatever the line is for you (abuse, infidelity, eating the last of something), you can decide, yes, I accept your apology, however, I don't want to be together [or] be as close as we were," Parisi says. "This is true of friends, family members, partners, coworkers, everyone in your life. That's the level of control you have. You can't control what they did or make them apologize in the way you want, but you can stand up for yourself and then choose what you want from the relationship in the future."
5. When The Apology Isn't Specific
"If the apology is not sincere, or is not specific, it is okay to not accept it," Lesli Doares, a couples consultant, coach, and author, tells Romper by email. "By this I mean if the person isn’t really acknowledging their problematic behavior or qualifying it based on something you did, they aren’t really taking ownership and that means they aren’t really apologizing."
Sticking to general, vague apologies might mean that they don't actually understand what they did wrong or aren't offering a sincere apology.
6. When You've Experienced Trauma
Dumaz says that, when it comes to someone who has experienced trauma, their healing is what's most important. Not everyone who's experienced trauma is ready or able to accept an apology and that's OK. "In these situations I think that it is important for the traumatized [or] victimized person to be able to make peace with and let go of what has happened in order to move forward with their [life]," Alithia Asturrizaga, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Romper by email. Sometimes you really do just have to do what's best for you.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.