Throughout my life I’ve been entangled in the most wondrous, stressful, emotional, uplifting, life-changing, evolving relationships both romantically and pla. I have learned much more than I ever dreamed simply by allowing myself to engage fully with those in my life. All of the lessons didn’t come wrapped neatly though. Some of them I learned the hard way and with the hard way comes mistakes, and with mistakes come apologies.
A simple apology can go a long way if it’s done effectively and sincerely. If you wait too long it could fall on deaf ears. If you approach it too soon it might not seem genuine. If you don’t choose your words carefully you can actually damage a relationship beyond repair.
Apologize to yourself first
In my early adult years I shifted a lot of blame to others for my situation and that wasn’t fair to me or them. It took a lot of time and inner work before I could understand how to express myself for forgiveness but now I find relief within apologizing. My first step when I realize an apology is necessary is to apologize to myself. I made the mistake. I reacted or acted in a way that doesn’t represent who I am. I am seeking self-forgiveness.
Apologies and forgiveness are about more than words and actions. First, you must truly accept what has taken place and show compassion to that face in the mirror, you. It’s important but quite difficult to accept what you have done. I believe this to be the absolute hardest step to an apology and the reason why so many apologies don’t come off as sincere. Owning up to your mistakes is a tough self-realization pill to swallow and not a guarantee that your apology being accepted by someone else but an imperative component.
You need to acknowledge what you’ve done to reclaim personal power over this situation in your life. You made the choices, you were in control of your actions, now you can forgive yourself. If you’re able to, try to dig deep and figure out what caused the situation to undesirably unfold as it did. Often we are able to look back with clearer eyes than we had when we were in the moment and can identify the trigger or catalyst to what went wrong.
When you do this, be sure to touch on how to, if possible, rectify the problem. Is there something you overestimated about how you’d feel in this situation? Can you formulate a new way to circumvent this outcome in the future? Feelings of disappointment, anger, guilt, apprehension, and more are normal when you’re trying to come up with a plan to correct a mistake.
The focus should be on self-reflection and self-forgiveness first before you can convey the heartfeltness behind your apology to someone else. At a certain point, regardless, you will need to move on and stop punishing yourself for the mistake and this can happen faster when you accept responsibility and take action. You are here now, be present, but integrate lessons from past experiences.
There’s a lot of reasons you may feel an apology is needed. If even one of these jumps out at you, then you know deep down you should apologize:
- You know you were wrong in hindsight
- You lost your temper and said things you wish you hadn’t
- You broke a rule of social conduct
- You were lashing out because you couldn’t better express yourself
- You intentionally hurt someone’s feelings
- You want to take responsibility first
- You broke trust between you and someone else
That’s just some of the reasons you may feel prompted to apologize. There’s many more, some will be unique to just you and your situation. Deciding to apologize can be hard because it feels like you’re admitting out loud that you failed in some way, and that you are a failure. That isn’t true though. Apologizing doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with you. It also doesn’t mean that you are entirely responsible for the conflict. Apologizing is simply you taking a step toward a resolution between all parties involved.
Feelings are complicated and apologies are built upon correlating feelings to the right words. The benefits that come coupled with forgiveness can offer a way out for tension and anxiety, build a stronger bond, reduce the chance for future conflict, open new lines of communication, restore feelings of safety/trust, or bring awareness to triggers and unhealthy personal patterns. Apologizing will hopefully help someone else just as much, so pinpoint what this apology means to you.
Apologizing is healthy, mostly
There has been research on apologizing and how it affects us. We generally want to apologize when we regret certain actions or words we exhibited. It’s been theorized there are two types of regret: regret for inactions and regret for actions. That means you’re looking back and feeling regretful about something you did or didn’t do.
When you offer up an ‘I’m sorry,’ you’ll find you are clearing the way for any negative emotions to move through. Perhaps this occurrence has caused you stress, body pains, appetite fluctuations, mental fatigue, sleep disturbances, or more. That’s why clearing the air may be your solace.
Apologizing lets you release these negative feelings and manifestations from within. Forgiveness can be directly linked to lower blood pressure, lower cortisol, lower mortality rates, and lower heart disease. Some believe it could also support improving your immune system in the long-term. This process that can’t be done overnight so be patient as you navigate forgiving yourself, apologizing, and hopefully receiving forgiveness from someone else.
Of course, there will be situations where saying sorry could cause further damage but that usually comes when you apologize out of fear, are bullied into apologizing, apologize as a means to an end, or feel you aren’t truly sorry. I’m sure you know someone who over-apologizes. They say sorry for the slightest, most insignificant infractions. You don’t want to appear weak, insecure, or not worthy of respect. Maybe you are an over-apologizer. If so, ask yourself why you feel the need to utter those two words so often and take a closer look at your self esteem and confidence levels.
A simple ‘sorry’
There is no magic formula for an apology. It is a very personal and deeply subjective format that is going to pan out differently for everyone. I generally opt to keep my apologies simple and direct, so there’s no more room for miscommunication. You want the recipient of your apology to take what you’ve said to heart and that’s why it needs to come from that exact place.
Let’s say I’ve lost my cool at my partner when we were cooking dinner together and I said something hurtful:
- Start with the basics. Begin with “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.” These words help convey the remorse you are attempting to express for your actions or words. What’s most important is the words be authentic and sincere. If you don’t mean it, they will be able to tell, and so will you. “Honey, I’m sorry for being short with you…”
- Briefly explain yourself. Optionally, very shortly offer an explanation for your actions. I’ve found explaining this helps the other party see the motives behind my position. This isn’t an excuse — use this as a way to show the vulnerability you feel at this time and in the past when this happened but you couldn’t express it. “Honey, I’m sorry for being short with you, I was frustrated that it was late and we didn’t have dinner ready.”
- Take ownership of your part. Remember when I mentioned earlier you have to accept responsibility for what you did or didn’t do? This is where you can acknowledge that and empathize with the other party. Think of this as the part of the apology where you show you understand how they may have felt. I feel this is where the biggest emotional connection is made in an apology. “Honey, I’m sorry for being short with you, I was frustrated that it was late and we didn’t have dinner ready. I know you were just trying to help and probably felt unappreciated. I should not have been short with you.”
- Attempt to make amends. Here is where you are going to attempt to make things right. I only say ‘attempt’ because that’s all you can do. Without expectations from the other party, you need to have a plan on how to fix things from your end. Many times, due to how much time has passed you can’t offer a 1-for-1 replicated redo of an event or occurrence. Avoid empty promises, guilty compromises, and complicated gestures and get real; the amends should be appropriate. “Honey, I’m sorry for being short with you, I was frustrated that it was late and we didn’t have dinner ready. I know you were just trying to help and probably felt unappreciated. I should not have been short with you. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, please let me know/if I can make you dinner one night this week I’d be happy to.”
- No repeats. As a final step I would suggest you let it be known that you will not repeat the action or behavior. For trust to be rebuilt, they need to understand that you want to repair things but also that you are willing to change. No one wants to forgive someone who they believe didn’t “learn” anything in the end. Once you express that genuinely, do your very best to honor your words in the future. I like to invite the other party to hold me accountable to this. Your reputation and relationship with them is on the line. “Honey, I’m sorry for being short with you, I was frustrated that it was late and we didn’t have dinner ready. I know you were just trying to help and probably felt unappreciated. I should not have been short with you. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, please let me know/if I can make you dinner one night this week I’d be happy to. I will manage my frustrations better so I don’t hurt your feelings again in this way. Please call me out if I do.”
If all of that sounds too complicated, a sincere “I’m sorry for _______,” will get the job done. It’s short, simple, and gets straight to the point. It also avoids your explanation coming off as an excuse — there will always be reasons why you did/didn’t/say/act, etc the way you did. These aren’t always needed in an apology if it’s going to bog it down and open the wound of the circumstances again.
Tip: Write down apologies first in a journal. By doing this you are providing a way for you to ensure the message you’re trying to verbalize is getting through clearly and succinctly. You can also look back in the future and see how you’ve grown.
Forgive but maybe don’t forget
As I stated before, this is an undertaking. You aren’t trying to undo all the hurt and pain that you and the other person felt. That’s impossible. You’re simply trying to share your remorsefulness openly. This is a key part of the healing that needs to take place for everyone affected. Give them space and time to hear you, process your words, reflect, and heal.
When someone who is wronged receives an apology from the offending party they can begin to develop empathy towards that person, which can foster forgiveness.
We all process things differently so maybe they will immediately forgive you, it might take some time, or they might not forgive you at all. Be patient and respect their way of getting through this, even if it doesn’t turn out like you hoped.
Apologizing is hard. It requires a level of humility that many of us do not exercise often. Blame shifting is easy, however, the self reflection needed to start the process of apologizing is tough. It requires a great deal of emotional maturity and openness. This is your strength, this is your power and something you can actively do.
All it takes is two simple words to get you started on the path of modesty, healing, self-respect, and love, are you willing to say them first?