“I’m Sorry You Feel That Way” The Dismissive Non-Apology
AND HOW TO DO BETTER
SELF CARE IS SACRED
LETTING PEOPLE GO WHO CONSTANTLY HURT, BLAME AND DEVALUE YOU WITHOUT REGRET MAY VERY WELL BE ONE OF THE MOST LIFE SAVING GESTURES OF LOVE YOU COULD LEARN
One of the most hurtful and dismissive non-apology apologies is for someone to say: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It has been said to me about half dozen times by people and communities that I previously thought valued and respected me, or that were friends. It is one of the hidden tricks in an abuser’s toolbox. So let’s examine it for one minute. You’ve come to someone after they’ve been unkind, and you have care, respect and value for that person. You bravely talk about something that might have been hurtful that needs to be discussed openly. You may be an empathetic person that values healthy relational resolution. You may have invested years of friendship or in a working environment, and actually believed that you were valued and cared about. Part of health, transparency and clearing up negative karma, would be in fact, to bring to light and openly discuss something that one has done that was hurtful or insensitive, in order to clear the air and move forward in healthy way. You take a leap and venture into a slight risk of confrontation and say “hey what you said/did was really hurtful or curt and I’d like to talk about it so we can move forward.”
And here it comes…
The armored, dismissive, narcissistic gut punch…
I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY
Ugh! Verbal violence extraordinaire, packed neatly into 6 small cutting words, usually followed up by a victim blaming, defensive counter blame and a litany of self justified excuses. You were not heard, cared about and the abuser has now doubled down, and threw your heart and all dignity under a bus. Where do we find these people, really? Where were they raised? I won’t say a barn, because my daughter works on a farm and the animals, sadly have more natural respect to each other than we often do.
Now, there is one caveat if you do hear these words, and in this case, there is sincere care. If I for example, were to wake up with a migraine and my husband says “I’m sorry you feel that way,” this is not the gaslight-y intention we are referring to above.
Abusers do not want to be accountable, ever. Let me say, ever. They are emotionally and developmentally immature, and their reactive pride is far outweighed over your feelings and longing to be heard and the pain, resolved. There are some versions of the dismissive non-apology, victim blaming to be on alert for:
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“I’m sorry you felt that way.”
“You are being dramatic.”
“It’s not my fault you feel upset, you need to own…”
“Why are you so sensitive/emotional/reactive?”
“Can we just move on, why are you holding this?”
“No one else [or insert name drop of another enabler] would have a problem with what I said.”
Please dear ones that care for others, strive for healthy, open and transparent relationships where there is mutual respect, appreciation and value. If you hear any of these false non-apologies, these are intended only to hurt and blame you further. I can recall two times, one recently with a girlfriend and one a few months ago where I got the “I’m sorry feel that way” non-apology and I regret to say it, but it is usually the blazing red flag sign of the end of the friendship.
I Resigned That Day
Another time, I worked for a particularly dysfunctional dharma community, and I was actually yelled at by the director. I was running their website and we had a teacher event coming and I was brand-new to the community. As a volunteer I mistakenly chose the wrong image of another teacher who was coming from Nepal. It was a digital image that I put on the website. As soon as the director told me about it I immediately made the correction apologized profusely for my error.
He turned around and yelled me and accused me of being careless even accused me of being racist, and I was so distraught that I cried. That’s no way to treat an unpaid volunteer, or even a paid one! It turned out that that community had a long list of people that could not work under this director. I recently discussed a lot of these people in these “dharmic” communities have narcissistic tendencies and can be just downright unkind behind the scenes.
They wanted me to continue working and I did too, but I said “how you treated me was very unkind and I don’t feel comfortable and it doesn’t feel safe to continue unless the director had some accountability.” This is what’s called a behavior change request in relationships. And I think it safe to say, you can imagine the response that I got from the director and his assistant. They said to me- here goes…. “we’re sorry you felt that way.” No apology for the unkindness that hedged on abuse, no regrets for my tears it is basically saying a gentleman’s “eff you.” I resigned that day. This pattern repeated itself to a greater or lesser degree with some supposedly dharmic organizations I volunteered for. For many years, I truly blamed myself, but now, stepping back and reviewing, it wasn’t all me.
Please friends, do not allow yourself to be hurt or gaslit and manipulated by unkind (non)-friends or unhealthy communities or workplaces. Do not allow them the power over you to make you feel bad about yourself. If you came to someone with sincerity, an olive branch of longing to be heard to talk about what was hurtful or what was not helpful and the person just dismisses you and has no accountability, it is time to walk away.
I do tend to be a bit Polyanna and codependent always hold on to friendships, oftentimes I’ll give them one more chance and say “hey that wasn’t really an apology I’m still hurt about X,Y and Z,” the original issue. If I’m ghosted, blocked or they respond to me with defense rather than any humility or regret, then it is time to stop the madness and put a firm shut to that door.
Before You Say “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Now, I know it is part of our survival system that human beings are hardwired to get defensive when confronted. If you do truly value the person and they come with some type of pain or misunderstanding or seeming conflict, and they long to be heard and for resolve, please self reflect as a first step. What they are saying to you just may actually have some validity.
If they truly misheard or misinterpreted something please don’t (ever) say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” You can always say “I’m sorry this happened between us” if you truly did no harm. The best is if someone expresses something to you, take a moment before reacting or defending yourself, sit with it, put yourself in their shoes. Try to see if there’s anything that you might have done and could have done better. I believe you will find something. Once you find it, you can say “you know what I was a little bit unkind or insensitive and for that I’m sorry.” It doesn’t take that much to heal friendships, we all make mistakes, sometimes we have ask ourselves if it is worth a tiny modicum of self-awareness and putting our pride aside to simply, apologize. I think it is. Accountability is kindness, compassion and health.
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