I’ve spoken a number of times before about the amazing power in apologies (including and especially in relation to a particular movie that I hold in great regard). And apologies do indeed hold great potential for healing and to create wonderous new possibilities.
As long as they are actual, true, authentic, apologies.
So there are good reasons to examine the flip side: the disingenuous and bad faith apology. Or, as I like to call them, non-apology apologies.* Because they’re kind of everywhere right now showing up in all sorts of places – media personalities, well-published authors, supreme court justice nominees, CEOs, presidents of certain countries, and police union spokespeople. And they tend to follow this particular pattern and strategy, known by its acronym of DARVO: Deny (or Deflect), Attack, and Reverse Victim & Offender.
It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Whatever comes in, deny it happened in all sorts of colourful terms, or, as an alternate, deflect it onto something else (the common “whattaboutism” fallacy). Then attack, either the person, their credibility, or just something else entirely. Make up false stats and statements, have people question their own sanity, call the kettle black, and etc.
But the last one is the one that really stands out, where the polarity of things is attempted to be reversed. Suddenly the injured party is the one at fault, and the offender is now the victim of everyone’s mean words.** Never mind what the issue – and let’s not forget, the harm – is, no, the real thing we should be talking about is how terrible it is for me. That’s the strategy. It’s all a smokescreen to distract from the harmful actions, results, and culpability, all while attempting to gain sympathy by making everyone else the bad guy or gal.
This is the very opposite of an apology, to be sure. Often it is quite blatant (or at least becomes blatant once we’ve armed ourselves with this DARVO distinction so we can be mindful and see it when it’s being employed) and other times it is more subtle, slipped in between an “I apologize” type statement that, when considered in full, is doing anything but.***
Apologies (and forgiveness) are sacred and beautiful things, the mark of a truly powerful, strong, generous, and self-assured person. DARVOing is the poisonous opposite, that furthers harm, stokes conflict, and erodes trust. Being mindful of this tactic, we can avoid falling for it and not let slide what shouldn’t.
* And if I can just single out the one type I find most egregious in this non-apology apology trend is the “I apologize if anyone was actually offended” and its close variation “I apologize if I hurt someone.” This is such absolute caca! Neither of them takes ownership or responsibility or show any remorse, or even semblance of conception that their behaviour (and therefore them) is the or at issue. It’s all foisted upon everyone else. Especially in that first one, which effectively says “I think you’re all lying or wrong, and fk you all, I am perfect, and I’m the real victim here because you all suck.” It’s DARVO par extreme. Ugh!
** Which is another tactic that grinds my gears. “That’s not the right way to express it…” tactic to divert attention from the actions/behaviour/world view/etc that caused harm – or is ongoingly causing harm – and instead turn the conversation about how it is expressed and oh how unfair it is that you are so mean to me. Even worse when the person refuses to articulate what the appropriate means might be… but it’s all diversionary BS to avoid the real conversation about the very real harm.
*** Some of the recent examples of this can be kind of funny especially when you take the transcript or the statement and do word counts to see how often they mention themselves instead of others, how often they say sorry instead of unfair or cancel or my life has been hell, and the like. No surprise, it’s more about how terrible it is for them than anything about being present to the impact their actions had or are having.