What Does It Mean When a Friend Doesn't Accept Your Apology?

Sometimes friends remain upset even after you apologize.
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Conflict within a friendship is inevitable. When it arises, you don’t always know the best way to resolve it. Sometimes you may react in a way that is hurtful. While an apology to your friend has the power to heal the relationship, it isn’t always received as intended, and your friend may not accept it. This can be painful, especially if you don’t understand why.

1 Holding Grudges

Even though you have communicated that you are sorry, your friend may still harbor some resentment. This may feel like punishment to you, but it probably isn’t. Harboring resentment keeps you at an emotional distance and may signify that your friend is trying to prevent being hurt again, according to psychologist and forgiveness expert Everett L. Worthington, Ph.D. Holding a grudge can be a way to “save face” or appear tough, Dr. Worthington adds in his book “Dimensions of Forgiveness.” So your friend’s fear of being hurt again may block the willingness to accept your apology.

2 Feeling Betrayed

One of the biggest challenges in a friendship arises when trust is violated. Feeling betrayed creates a greater sense of emotional vulnerability, especially in a close friendship. If what happened involved a betrayal of your friend’s trust, forgiveness could be delayed despite your apology. As with holding a grudge, refusing to accept your apology might represent an attempt to keep you at a safe distance emotionally.

3 Doubting Sincerity

The way in which you communicate your regret for the hurt you caused has an impact on your friend's willingness to accept your apology. It’s not enough to just say you’re sorry. An effective apology is one in which you take responsibility for your behavior, let the person know that you understand what you did was hurtful and express your intent to not repeat the behavior, according to the article “The Power of Apologies,” sampled from the book "Apologies" by Marsha L. Wagner. If you didn’t offer such an apology, your friend may not feel that you were sincere.

4 Moving On

If you had a close friendship with the person, it may be worth trying again to mend the relationship. Respect your friend’s need for space by waiting approximately one week before following up with a note or phone call. If you didn’t take full responsibility for your behavior or clearly communicate that you understood what you did that was hurtful, offer a more effective apology this time. If the person still isn’t willing to forgive you, the best thing that you can do is be grateful for the gifts you received from the friendship. If the friendship wasn’t a close one and you offered a sincere apology that the individual didn’t accept, let it be. In either situation, try to forgive yourself and move on.

Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.