How to apologize? Every human being has done something that hurt another person. It’s part of the human experience to hurt and be hurt by others, especially the people we are closest to. Many people lash out in anger when they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. They also make mistakes, like breaking promises, forgetting obligations, or breaking something that belongs to another person. This happens even though everyone is doing the best they can, and all people want to have happy, comfortable relationships. 

After making a mistake, many people feel guilty. Guilt can be an intense, distressing emotion, especially when it’s allowed to fester. The good news is that there is an effective solution that can quickly reduce that guilty feeling: Apologizing.

Here are some tips that will help you to make a genuine apology that can repair relationships and reduce guilt.

 

 

Check the Facts Before You Apologize

Before launching into an apology, it’s important to check the facts and be sure that your guilt is warranted. We have noticed that a lot of our clients over apologize–that is, apologize when they haven’t actually done anything wrong. A handy way to determine whether or not your guilt fits the facts is to use the DBT skill “Check the Facts.”

Guilt fits the facts when you have done something that violates your values and/or you have hurt yourself or someone else. It’s worth apologizing even if you did it accidentally. If you are feeling guilty and it doesn’t fit the facts, then don’t apologize. This will reinforce your guilt. 

What’s more, over-apologizing on a regular basis might make others think that your apologies are insincere, even when they are warranted.

 

 

How to Apologize, Step by Step

 

 

 

Once you have determined that your guilt fits the facts, it’s important to give the other person a heartfelt apology. Here is how to do it.

 

1. Accurately describe what you did that is causing you to feel guilty, and take responsibility.

When you mindfully describe your offense, it lets the other person know that you understand what you did wrong. Be sure to give a clear, nonjudgmental description, and state that you take responsibility for your actions. If you are vague or evasive in your description, it might sound like you are avoiding responsibility, or your apology is insincere.

 

2. Apologize by expressing remorse.

Here’s where you say that you are sorry, and that you regret hurting the person. Be sure that you are expressing remorse for your actions, and not for their feelings or the way they “took” your actions. 

 

3. State that you believe you’ve caused the other person to feel upset, and ask them if you’re right.

The reason that you are apologizing is that you feel guilty for causing the other person pain. So let them know that you see how you hurt them. It’s also important to ask if you’re interpreting their feelings correctly. Making an incorrect assumption about their feelings can be invalidating.

 

4. Validate their emotions.

Once the other person tells you how they feel, validate their emotions. Emotional validation involves telling the other person that you understand how they feel, and that their feelings make sense.

 

5. Commit to making amends.

Finally, ask the other person what you can do to make it right. If you broke something of theirs, you might offer to replace it. If you said something hurtful, you might promise to work on regulating your emotions so that you don’t do it again. There are many possibilities for making amends. 

 

How to Apologize-Examples

 

Here are some examples of effective and ineffective apologies.

 

Effective apology                                        Why it’s effective

Yesterday when you spilled your drink on the table, I lost my temper and yelled at you. I called you stupid and told you that you were ruining dinner. That was wrong, and I’m so sorry. I think that I must’ve hurt your feelings. You seemed sad and offended, and that makes complete sense. I would’ve felt sad and offended too. What can I do to make it up to you? This is a heartfelt apology. It acknowledges the offensive behavior and takes full responsibility for it. This apology is also validating of the other person’s emotions and offers to make amends.
I’m so sorry that I broke your phone. I know that it’s expensive, and obviously your phone is important to you. Can I offer to buy you a new one, or at least pay to get it fixed? This apology expresses remorse from the beginning and it names the offensive behavior. It also offers a specific suggestion for making amends.

 

 

Ineffective apology                                     Why it’s ineffective

I’m sorry if you were upset about what happened. I didn’t mean to break your phone. You shouldn’t have left it on the table. This apology does not express any remorse, and it apologizes for the other person’s feelings rather than for the offensive act. It also blames the other person rather than taking responsibility.
I’m sorry that some things were said that were upsetting.  Never use passive voice in an apology! This sounds like an attempt to avoid responsibility.
I’m sorry that you’re so sensitive. Again, this is apologizing for the other person’s feelings, and it’s blaming the victim.

 

 

 

Ask for Help From a Mental Health Professional

 

If you frequently find yourself in situations in which you feel guilty and you’re not sure how to handle it, talking to a mental health professional might help. At Gladstone Psychiatry and Wellness, we have many talented mental health providers who are here to assist you. Give us a call at 443-708-5856 or email us at new.patient@gladstonepsych.com.