How NOT to Apologize When You Have Seriously Fucked Up:
1.) Apologize in email. Hey, why should you actually have to FACE the person you harmed and DEAL with the real consequences of your actions - like the fact that they might still be hurt and upset? It's so much easier to do it from a distance - that way you can go around telling everyone how you made all this EFFORT to rectify things. If questioned on this, you can fall back on your old excuses about how the other person is just too scary to face in person. (People you have betrayed aren't usually very compliant). Ignore the fact that this avoidance is completely contradicting any statements you might make about "taking responsibility" for your behavior (see below).
2.) Make sure the "confession", er, apology comes MONTHS or years after the incident. It's just too much work to actually own up immediately afterwards. Let's face it, you're not after any real resolution, and you are not offering any kind of restitution - you are looking to assuage your guilty conscience and buy absolution, and, if you play your cards right, you can get attention for your act of "bravery" in coming forward. If it's absolution you are looking for, why not join the Catholic church instead?
"Powerful and sneaky people use apologies as end runs around repentance. They betray a trust; and, when they have been found out, they say they are sorry for "mistakes in judgement". They smile through their oily apologies when their crime calls for quakes of repentance. They get by only because we have lost our sense of the difference between repentance for wrong and apologies for bungling.... We should not let each other get away with it. A deep and unfair hurt is more than a mere faux pas. We cannot put up with everything from everyone; some things are intolerable. When someone hurts us deeply and unfairly [deliberately], an apology will not do the job; it only trivializes a wrong that should not be trifled with."
-- Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgive and Forget"
3.) Use generic sweeping statements, so that you don't have to own up to, or deal with any specifics. This is a great way to avoid any REAL acknowledgement for the stunts you have pulled, while giving the appearance of sincerity. As Dr. Phil (C. McGraw) says:
"Acknowledgement is a no-kidding, unvarnished, bottom-line, truthful confrontation with yourself about what you are doing or not doing, or what you are putting up with in your life that is destructive. It's not some pious, phoney-baloney, half-hearted rendition of what you think they want to hear. Nor is it a watered-down, politically correct 'confession' that you think will buy you closure at the expense of truth. I mean brutal reality: slapping yourself in the face and admitting what you are doing to screw up your life. This also means admitting that you are getting payoffs for what you're doing, however sick or subtle those payoffs are."
And God knows, real acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility is not what you were after or you wouldn't have apologized in email in the first place.
4.) Try to evoke sympathy for yourself as part of the apology. Use worn-out lines like "It may not mean much to you now...". Thank the person for their past "support" of you in your (largely self-inflicted) trials and tribulations as a not-so-subtle reminder of how "rough" things have been for you. You can also use this as a way to look magnanamous and introspective while avoiding taking any real action. Whine about how you are finally working on your "issues" (never mind that you have been saying the same thing for years), as if that is supposed to mean something real. Avoid any discussion about what you are doing *specifically* to work on those issues. After all, (despite your previous litany of lies) the person you are apologizing to should trust that you really mean what you say this time, right? Talk about how you are finally accepting responsibility for the consequences of your behavior, and then avoid making any effort to talk to the other person face to face. Talk about how you miss the fun you had with the other person (carefully avoiding any mention of the fun you had at that person's expense at the same time). See if there is still a chain left to be yanked. Remember, this is all about assuaging your conscience and repairing your damaged image - not about doing real work or genuine caring for the other person, but nobody else needs to know that. With a little careful manipulation, you can use this apology to get sympathy and attention from other people as well.
5.) Don't give any reasons about why you have suddenly decided to extend this tremendous effort (writing an email) after so much time has passed. It is equally important that you avoid replying to any questions they might ask about specifics. Remember, this isn't really about making amends, it's about making yourself feel better.
6.) Expect instant redemption and forgiveness. Remember, no matter what you have done, a few words are supposed to magically wipe away all the pain of the past with no further work required by you. Now that you have made a token gesture, the other person should just "forgive and forget" so that you find it easier to sleep at night.
7.) Get upset when your trite "olive branch" isn't received with warmth and acceptance. Go whining to whomever will listen, about how you made all this *EFFORT*, and how *HARD* it was for you to take that step (what with all your issues, and all), and how it was REJECTED because that awful person actually expected you to DO SOMETHING REAL. After all, you have ISSUES and such, and that means you should be exempted from behaving in a manner congruent to your words, and everyone should coddle you and praise even the smallest effort on your part.
8.) Take no further action. Use pat phrases like, "I'm doing my best to take responsiblity for the consequences of my behaviour", but don't actually DO anything beyond sending the email. It plays well, and you can always use that "doing my best" as your cop-out when you don't actually follow-through - it wasn't a REAL commitment to change, it was a "best-effort", and your emailed apology was a fine demonstration of how good THAT is. I can't stress enough how important it is that you don't reply to any questions the other person might have about your email, especially ones that ask "why now?", "what specifically do you acknowledge was inappropriate?" and "what specifically you are doing to take responsibility?". After all, you don't owe them any explanation. Like I said, this isn't about doing anything for *them*, it's all about YOU. Indicate in your original apology that you still have some of the other person's belongings, but don't actually make any effort to RETURN them, or contact the other person in any way. After all, once you've made your apology, you can wash your hands of the whole messy affair and wipe your conscience clean without having to dirty yourself with uncomfortable things like integrity, sincerity, action or actually facing the person you harmed.