I’m a Therapist, and This Is How To Respond When You’re Not Ready To Accept an Apology

Photo: Getty Images/ Johnny Greig
It’s true that people make mistakes, but what is also true is that there is always a consequence for the decisions that we make, and when we cause people harm, expecting them to forgive and forget isn’t alway realistic (and can even be unhealthy and toxic depending on the circumstances). What’s also unhealthy and toxic, however, is when we’re not ready to accept an apology, but we pretend to forgive people because we think it’s the right thing to do instead of what we feel ready to do. This can lead us to engage in unhealthy forgiveness, aka toxic forgiveness.

Unhealthy forgiveness refers to a type of forgiveness that may seem positive on the surface but can be harmful in the long run. It can look like continuously forgiving someone who repeatedly hurts you without any change in their behavior; forgiving someone without acknowledging the harm they caused or minimizing the impact of their actions; or accepting an apology too quickly, without taking the time to process and heal from the hurt the person caused.

Experts In This Article
  • Minaa B., MSW, LMSW, licensed social worker, mental health educator, and relationship expert at eharmony

Forgiveness is a choice after all, and there’s power in knowing that you get to choose what you allow, tolerate, and deserve. If you're not ready to accept someone's apology, it's important to communicate your feelings in a clear, direct, and respectful manner. Here are some tips you can follow.

3 steps to take when you’re not ready to accept an apology

1. Take time to process your emotions

Before speaking to the person, allow yourself some time to reflect on why you're not ready to accept their apology. It's important to understand your feelings and make sure you're not reacting impulsively or out of anger.

2. Be honest and direct

When you're ready to have the conversation, be clear and honest with the person. Let them know that you appreciate their apology, but you're not ready to accept it yet. Explain why you feel this way, and use "I" statements to express your feelings without placing blame.

What to say to someone from whom you’re not ready to accept an apology:

Here are some scripts to help you brainstorm what you may want to say so you don’t wind up accepting an apology or telling someone you forgive them for something you’re not actually ready to forgive.

  • “I appreciate you apologizing but I need to see changed behavior before we can move forward.”
  • “I am not ready to go back to the way things were. I need some time before I can forgive you.”
  • “I am not ready to forgive you. I am still deeply hurt by your actions and I would like for you to respect how I feel and give me the space that I need.”

3. Set boundaries

If the person continues to apologize or tries to pressure you into accepting their apology, it's important to set boundaries. Let them know that you need more time to process your emotions, and that you'll reach out to them when you're ready to talk more.

Be open to future conversations

While you may not be ready to accept the person's apology now, it's important to be open to future conversations. Let them know that you value your relationship with them, and you're willing to work toward a resolution when you're both ready.

Remember, it's okay to process your emotions and decide if you're ready to accept an apology. While forgiveness can be a powerful and healing experience, it's important to remember that it's a personal choice and not something that should be forced or expected of someone. Ultimately, the decision to forgive someone should be based on your own values, beliefs, and emotional needs.

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