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Dear Rachel,

My close friend recently accused me of doing something very hurtful to her and she will not speak with me until I apologize. In general, I have no problem saying I am sorry when I feel I have done something wrong. But in this case, I did not. She is totally overreacting and blaming me for her hurt feelings when in truth, it is her misperception that is the problem, not what I said… How can I say sorry for something I never did?


Dear Unapologetic,

There is no question that there are two sides to every story, and clearly, in your case, your sides are very different. Your friend feels that you did something wrong, that you hurt her, and that you are to blame. Furthermore, because she feels this way, she is waiting for you to apologize for your behavior. As you state, you clearly do not feel that you did anything wrong.

And you know what? It really doesn't matter if you did or didn't do what you have been accused of. It doesn't matter, because either way, she is hurt.

Now, I know that is a hard pill to swallow, but let me finish. That does not mean that you need to apologize for something that you didn't do. That would be dishonest and might appease her but would not change the situation. So where does that leave you?

There is a world of difference between feeling sorry for the fact that someone you care about is hurt and taking responsibility for having hurt that person.

What does this mean? She is your friend. No doubt you care about her. No doubt you don't want to see her in pain. Yet she is. And she feels you are responsible for that. Because you are defending your actions, you are not allowing yourself to feel her pain and to feel badly that she is in pain.

Try to separate your responsibility and only focus on what she is going through. I am sure that when you see your friend is so upset, you will want to comfort her. Tell her that you feel terrible that she is so hurt. And tell her you are sorry if she feels that you did something to hurt her. But more than that, explain that you did not intend to hurt her and in no way felt that your actions were hurtful. Nonetheless, if she is hurt, for that you apologize.

It may very well be the case that you did nothing wrong. Yet that is really not the issue here. Your friend is hurt, and her feelings are valid, and they are true, regardless of whether or not you are responsible for causing them.

Being able to apologize for someone's pain allows them to feel that you care and allows you to recognize that sometimes our actions are painful, whether or not we intend them to be.

I hope you and your friend are able to grow through this situation and that it will only serve to enhance and strengthen your friendship.


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Lisa Providence, RI January 22, 2011

Unapologetic You didn't say what your friend blamed you for, but if you didn't do anything wrong, you can only apologize to her for feeling the way she does. If she decides you're no longer her friend, move forward.

I've had to deal with people people who told lies about me and false accusations about me at a job I once worked at, and I was made to feel like I had no right to defend myself. I did yell at them and walked out on them and never looked back! Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, USA April 25, 2010

fake apology I fully agree with Laurence Thomas' analysis. A neighbor demanded that I apologize for something she believes my spouse did wrong and that a spouse should apologize for the actions of their husband/wife. Absurd. Reply

Anonymous Indianapolis, IN October 3, 2007

Apologies As I read Rachel's answer to the young woman, I recall (very recently) of a misperception of my niece's husband of a comment I made at my brother's funeral. My comment was totally innocuous but he took it the wrong way. When I was informed of this, I did apologize but I soon realized the issue was his own self-esteem. I did not comment on the latter and recognized, innocuous comments, can be misinterpeted. So I filter my comments when I am around him. The sad thing though for me is a lack of freedom to be real with him and our relationship has changed. Reply

Robert Fuchs October 2, 2007

I did not read the comments if someone already said that, sorry. I thing that this is only way to live togehter, without pain, without fire on the roof, without confusions... To say I am sorry for what you feel means gesture of good which logicaly will rise good on other side, and it logicaly means place for communication. Pitty that people usually arent able to do such gesture. To say and to feel sorry for what others feel it is proof that we live together as human beeings, who can feel more that advantantages or disadvantages of living in community. Our emotions investment and interest of others feelings it breaks the always bigger and more steady wall between you and me: civilisation. Thank you. Reply

Laurence Thomas Syracuse, NY via October 1, 2007

Fake Apology Feelngs, of course, are real. However, they are not necessarily justified. And the issue here is whether the feelings are justified. Apoligizing just to appease someone's feelings strike me as woefully hypocritical. Caring about someone most certainly does not requires that we merely appease the person's feelings. The offended person needs to be willing to give a little too; and it surprises me that you did not say anything about that. If both are excellent friends, then the burden of maintaining the friendship falls equally upon both. In the face of a sincere and genuine disagreement over one having been wronged by the other, it seems to me that both sides need to give a little. In this instance, the burden of saving the friendship does not fall entirely upon the accused. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY September 17, 2007

Honestly, I feel people should be genurine and very sincere in making apologies. I don't feel that just because some people feel fearful this time of year, that they should make apologies unless they truly mean to say that they are sorry for the cause they did, and Will Not Do it Again. I also feel if one has problems Forgiving, they should not hold a Grudge, but just stay away from Toxic People, and Do not Wish them Bad, or Good- but stay Neutral, and let G-d deal with them. This is the best course of action, and it alleviates both guilt, and aggravation.

Anonymous Denver, CO September 17, 2007

Fake apology I'm afraid that I was perhaps misunderstood, especially by the poster "Andrea." Judaism requires that we accept a sincere apology. We all make mistakes, intentional or unintentional. Most of us make the same mistake more than once in our lifetime. The act of forgiveness (not repression) is cleansing to the soul.

A sincere apology doesn't say I'm sorry YOU did something wrong. Edith (a poster here) explains it far better.

Andrea Schonberger University Place, WA via September 17, 2007

Fake apology = patronizing an insecure person Apologizing for something you did not do is just as bad as refusing to apologize when you were in the wrong. It has been my experience that when I apologize I am assuming responsibility for a mistake that I made. Apologizing merely because someone's feelings/ego were wounded amounts to patronization and no adult really wants to be pacificied like a child. I make it a rule never to accept apologies--my motto is: if you are really sorry you would not have messed up in the first place, especially if you knew better; but mistakes do happen so let us just forget it, see that is does not happen again, and go on from there. However, I have given tons of phony apologies for various reasons: to keep the peace, stop someone from bawling, so they will not throw my lunch away, ... etc. Boy, does that make me mad, plus I end up feeling like the biggest fraud in the world. Reply

Edith Brown Silver Spring, MD September 16, 2007

Apology If one is going to apologize, then one should do so with taking proper responsibility. To apologize in the way you suggest is a half way measure and insulting.

If A. feels she is not wrong, but cares about the pain her friend is feeling, then in my experience it is best to try to explain how sorry you are for hurting your dear friend, but there has been a terrible misunderstanding and then proceed to explain.

This is still fixing the problem, but without compromise to either party of their integrity or intelligence. Reply

Anonymous Denver, CO September 9, 2007

Apology Respectfully, Rachel, I disagree with your take on this matter, but not entirely. :-)

If you Google the words "fake apology", you'll understand that statements that approximate language such as "I'm sorry you feel that way" are not real apologies. There's a whole "art" of apologizing without taking responsibility for one's actions.

I just don't see how one can apologize for someone else's feelings. A true apology acknowledges actions that harmed another party, and there is no shifting of responsibility.

Just my musings, having offered fake apologies in my lifetime and been on the receiving end as well.


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