When Does an Apology Stop Being an Apology?


I did a regrettable thing. A deadline loomed and every ounce of my energy was focused on that. Though sometimes distractions win, this time I was in the zone. To make this product outstanding I gave it everything I had.

With the project complete, I heaved a contented sigh and gave myself a couple of hours to deal with less intense stuff. Though still doing work tasks, it was sort of the mental equivalent of slumping into an easy chair. After days of operating in high gear, my brain shifted into low for awhile.

And I missed an appointment.

It wasn’t a work appointment; it was my son’s violin lesson. But it was an appointment. And it was completely off of my radar screen until she called me at what would have been 15 minutes into the lesson.

Now missing an appointment is embarrassing for any person, but missing an appointment when your business is talking about time management is particularly…um…distressing.

So, of course, I apologized profusely while admitting my mistake. She was very gracious and understanding and we made arrangements for a new lesson time.

But even though she was genuinely understanding, and even though she said that she’d been using the time getting things done so it didn’t mess up her day at all, and even though we came up with a new time that worked just fine for both of us, I had the urge to keep apologizing.

And that’s when it hit me that sometimes an apology isn’t an apology anymore. It ceases to be about genuine regret that I inconvenienced her and becomes all about me wanting forgiveness – over and over again.

When we keep apologizing long after the first apology has been accepted, we put the other person in the awkward position of having to repeatedly assure us that it’s okay. The other person feels obligated to keep coming up with new words to make us feel better about our mistake. Which, frankly, could be more annoying than the original infraction.

My takeaway was that one sincere apology is plenty. One apology says that I regret the inconvenience this caused you. Excessive apologizing says I’m not as worried about inconveniencing you as I am worried about what you think of me.



  1. Marsia Murphey on August 7, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Great insight! yes I have done the same thing I feel awful and want to feel better about myself so instead of taking ownership of my feelings I project that responsibility onto some poor unsuspecting person who was unlucky enough to receive my nicely wrapped package of insecurity dumped at their front door. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Mary Kutheis (kooth-ice) on August 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    And thank you for my belly laugh of the day…”nicely wrapped package of insecurity dumped at their front door.” Glad I’m not alone on this one!

  3. Deb Trautman on August 7, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thaks Mary. I really beat myself up for mistakes and keep apolgizing or making excuses to the other person. I want others to think I’m truly a responsible, smart person. After a few times of apologizing , my self-image, and possibly thier image of me, has taken on a life of it’s own. This is my goal I have decided to make my focus.

  4. Mary Kutheis (kooth-ice) on August 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I applaud your decision to focus on that goal. People should see you as a responsible, smart person because you are!