Occasionally people apologize, because they sincerely regret something they have done in past. If that’s the case, nice. Unfortunately, more often than not, apologies are manipulative lip service.
Let me translate what people actually mean when they say various standard phrases:
“I apologize for hurting you.” –> “I hurt you; I said the magic words, and now let’s forgive, forget, and move on. Now be content with my empty lip service and stop pestering me about putting my money where my mouth is. Or else you are a bad person for holding grudges.”
“I am sorry that you feel hurt.” –> “My actions were perfectly fine; it’s your reaction that’s problematic. I don’t want to apologize, because I did nothing wrong, but my public relations adviser told me that people won’t like me unless I do some lip service and publicly perform the spectacle of apologizing.”
“If I have hurt anyone out there, I am sorry.” –> “I didn’t really hurt anyone, so no harm done, and everything is perfect. Even if you claim that somebody got hurt as a result of my actions, I don’t believe you. On top of that, let’s just forget that some actions are always wrong regardless of whether somebody got hurt on this occasion or no as a result of random chance.”
“I apologize on behalf of John Doe.” –> “All bad things are John Doe’s fault. I did nothing wrong. We all know that I am not responsible for John Doe’s actions, because I am not John Doe, so I am using this ‘apology’ as an opportunity to blame him, demonstrate that I am a better person than him, and earn some social approval points thus elevating my social status by trashing another person.”
“I apologize on behalf of John Doe for being an obnoxious asshole.” –> In terms of meaning, equivalent to an insult, namely, “John Doe is an obnoxious asshole.” Add to this all the meanings from the previous “apology.”
“I apologize on behalf of my ancestors.” –> “I acknowledge that my ancestors/predecessors committed a crime. Your community has suffered for generations because of it, while I have inherited stolen property. However, since the original crimes were done by my ancestors, I cannot be held responsible for their actions. Of course, I do not feel like paying you any compensation from my own pocket.”
“I demand an apology.” –> “I want to make another person feel bad about themselves. I want to control another person and manipulate them into doing something against their will. After all, if the other person actually wanted to apologize, they would just do it, and I wouldn’t need to demand an apology.”
I inherently dislike it when neurotypical people say one thing but mean something else, when they engage in various spectacles in order to manipulate each other, earn social approval points, or try to establish a pecking order via lies and sneaky games. More often than not, verbal games about apologizing are exactly that.
By the way, apologizing norms differ in various cultures. A while ago, somebody (presumably from the USA) dared to type, “I apologize on behalf of Andreas Avester.” I considered that an insult, but I should probably give them the benefit of doubt. Maybe in their culture apologizing on behalf of others is more commonly accepted.
My opinion is that people cannot apologize on behalf of somebody else unless they are responsible for that person’s actions and were capable of influencing the unfortunate events. A parent can apologize on behalf on their child, because they failed to properly educate and supervise their kid. A boss can apologize on behalf of their employee. But if a husband were to publicly apologize for his wife’s actions, then that would subtly signal that the husband considers himself the head of the household and wants to publicly humiliate his wife, trash her, and establish himself as more cultured than her. And don’t even think about apologizing on behalf of some random person unless you want to piss them off.
Of course, you can apologize when you belong to a group of people who have collectively done something bad. And apologizing for the actions of your ancestors/predecessors serves the function of signaling that you disapprove of their actions—a useful action in a world where genocide denials are rampant.
So yeah, cultural differences yadda yadda. Or maybe Americans who are so keen to apologize on behalf of random people (a scenario in which a sincere apology is inherently impossible, because the person who apologizes couldn’t have possibly prevented the bad event from happening in the first place and thus cannot be held responsible or able to regret their own actions) actually mean these as mock apologies and stealth insults the way I perceive them. Who knows… I’m terrible at deciphering all those hidden meanings that people tend to imply when they say one thing and mean something else.
This, by the way, is why I hate having to apologize and hardly ever do it as long as I can avoid it. If I sincerely regret something I have done, I will think about how to compensate to the person whom I hurt. Otherwise, it would be just manipulative lip service. You know all those nasty phrases people tell each other. “I’ll pray for you.” “I’ll call you later.” “You look great.” “I’m sorry.” Mostly just lies. I’m theoretically aware that some people consider such platitudes useful for socializing and getting along with others, but I don’t like being forced to use them.
Also, when people apologize they often say something problematic that only makes things worse. Here’s an example from Mano’s blog.