I'm sorry - helpful tips when apologising

Did anyone ever give you a direct apology when you were a child? There are times the adults caring for us failed us - we may have been exposed to harmful things, not protected, our feelings may not have been considered, tempers lost, neglect happened, and we may not have always been treated well. Do you remember receiving an apology from an adult? Or maybe you were blamed for making them do or say things (gaslighting), told you had imagined it, or it was simply just never spoken of ever again.

I don’t think it’s widely shown that apologising to a child is something that we do. The person in power is hardly ever seen to step off that proverbial pedestal to come down and say “sorry I fucked up there.” Yet the most powerful thing we can do is to apologise to someone seen as subordinate to us. Obviously not just those with less power - anyone and everyone you have wronged deserves an apology too. But the point is, saying sorry has not always been modelled well, therefore we might need a little support when practising it ourselves.

Apologising is something I’ve worked hard on in recent years - I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t come easily. It involves letting that ego really fall, being vulnerable and opening up to criticism, which can be tough to take.

When it’s comes to receiving an apology, I’ve come to a realisation that sometimes that sorry you’ve been waiting for will never come and there’s no point seeking it, and anyway, asking or making someone say sorry makes that apology feel a bit shitty anyway. You need that person to really believe in their apology. Sometimes it's best to let it go and move on, which is not always easy to do.

Hopefully you find this post helpful in taking account for your own actions and in how you show up in your relationships with other people. This is not a post for you to thrust under the nose of someone who you have felt has done you wrong. This is about you and not them. We are the only ones in charge of our actions, our emotions and how we react. Take accountability and lead the way to healthier and more mature connections.

We can foster good apology practise by role-modelling. We all fuck up and we all need to say sorry from time to time. Here’s some helpful pointers:

What can help to make your apology felt?

Taking full ownership of your mistake. “I’m really sorry I did that to you, you really didn’t deserve me to treat you that way” is good. “I’m sorry you feel that way” IS NOT an apology. You might as well not say anything at all.

Never use the word ‘but’ after you apologise. “I’m really sorry but if you hadn’t of done this I wouldn’t have acted like that” Or “but I was only trying to help” is not useful, it completely undermines your apology and makes it null and void.

Don’t minimise your behaviour. “I was just…”

The severity and impact of your behaviour is not yours to judge. You may feel that they over-reacted or were overly sensitive. It is not your role to determine how someone should respond to your behaviour. If you really are sorry for what you did even if you think their reaction was exaggerated - apologise and don’t comment on their response to your actions.

Be specific. General apologies don’t cut it. “I’m sorry for everything.” Nope. Actually describe what you did and if possible how it affected them.

Don’t push acceptance or forgiveness on them. If you apologise and they haven’t accepted it or haven’t gone back to being ok with you as quickly as you’d like, it’s not your right to enforce that on them. Sometimes they may never forgive you and that’s just something you have to live with, no matter how much you regret what you did.

You may think that too much time has passed but it’s never too late to give an apology even if that means kneeling at sometimes grave and detailing everything you did.

Apologising whilst angry, mid-argument or shouting a “sorry” is more than likely not going to be heard or felt by the recipient. If you’re truly sorry come back to them once emotions have calmed.

It’s good to ask them if there is anything else you can do to either rectify the situation or to make them feel better. This lets them know you’re really thinking about them and their feelings and not just doing it to make yourself feel better.

I hope you’ve found this useful, it’s not exhaustive, if there’s anything else you’d like to add please let me know in the comments.

Nat x