On a way too regular basis we observe others making apologies and/or confessions for wrongs done. This morning in my house, my one son hurt the feelings of the other and in working through the problem he made his apology under our direction. Not to be outdone, the other son wasn’t truthful about the situation and so later he too made a directed apology (aka, highly encouraged, but not forced).
Have you noticed that these kinds of apologies, whether from a ten year old or a 50 year old, ring hollow? It is easy from our stand point to concur that they don’t really mean what they say.
I think, in general, that this assessment isn’t accurate. Here’s why.
To hurt another; to do something for ourselves at the cost of others requires that we divorce empathy and self, reality and fantasy. So, when we do apologize, we cannot quickly reconnect these parts. Often the person does feel bad, guilty, afraid of the consequences. Notice that these feelings are rather self-centered. In time, if they go about reconnecting care for others and their feelings, they will feel much more empathy and concern for the wounded party. However, at the outset of their confession, these two things are still divorced. Thus the hollow confession. They do not know what they are really apologizing for beyond a few facts. The longer the deception, the longer the disconnection and time taken to reconnect to the experience of the other.
There are other confounding variables that hinder empathic confessions. One’s goal (get out of trouble, stop the pressure, smooth it over, please the other) may also decrease the likelihood empathy.