I’m sorry, but…

IMG_4070Do you find it hard to say you’re sorry? It’s hard to know what to say if you’re sorry that you’ve hurt someone. The hurt may have been intentional at the time, but now you regret it. It may have been said or done in a moment of anger. It could be that someone has taken what you’ve said or done in a way that you didn’t mean it. Whatever the case, there are times that we all feel the need to say that we’re sorry.

This can be very hard.

I’d like to help you to make it easier.

Let me just say this, though: if the word “but” is anywhere near your apology, you are not sorry. You are trying for a win. You are trying to be right. “I’m sorry I upset you, but I didn’t mean to” is not a true apology.


Because you’re not accepting responsibility, and you haven’t let the matter go.

Some people are hard to apologise to, because they also like to use your apology as an opportunity to emphasise how wrong you were. You have to be emotionally strong to apologise to people like that.

When I say that you have to let the matter go, I don’t mean forgive and forget. I mean that you accept that you contributed to the situation and don’t have to fight to be right. Ask yourself,

“Which is more valuable? The idea of being right, or the relationship?”

Ways of saying sorry

There are many ways of saying sorry. Some are more appropriate to some situations than others. Some will fit with some people more than others. You can use more than one and select the ones that will mean the most to the person to whom you are apologising. It can always help to sit with someone and make eye contact.

  1. You can simply say what you mean, but this is hard and may sound rehearsed.
  2. Write a note that expresses your feelings. The person can read the note several times, and this reinforces the sincerity of the apology. (There are ideas for what to say later on.)
  3. Write a note with five reasons why the person is important to you.
  4. A small, meaningful gift along with the apology will sometimes make the person feel special.
  5. A hug. It’s harder to stay cross with someone if they are hugging you.

The different parts of saying sorry (and meaning it)

Express regret

  • I’m sorry I spoke harshly
  • I know I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m so sorry for that
  • I’m sorry my reaction hurt you
  • I’m so sorry I spoke harshly and reacted the way I did
  • I’m deeply sorry my reaction pushed your buttons

Accept responsibility wholeheartedly

Say what you did wrong, and accept your responsibility

  • I was wrong to speak to you in that tone. I shouldn’t have reacted like that
  • I keep losing my temper and I know that’s not right
  • I felt afraid and didn’t know what to say next
  • I felt defensive and acted that way
  • I felt overwhelmed by my feelings
  • I didn’t do well attempting to understand you
  • I was angry with you and raised my voice
  • I was too focussed on being right and didn’t listen to you
  • I chose the wrong words, which made the situation worse
  • I hear you when you say my actions or words hurt you, and I’m sorry for hurting you

Make restitution

If you know what will make it up to them, do it. If not, say something like:

  • I can’t believe I reacted that way. Please tell me what I can do to make it up to you
  • I’m not just sorry. I want to do better next time
  • I understand you might not be ready to talk, so know how important this is to me to resolve, and please let me know when you feel better and can guide me to a better place with you

Express your wish to change your behaviour

  • I don’t want to repeat this. Can you think of anything that could help make sure this doesn’t happen?
  • Even though I was angry, what I really want is to connect with you
  • I love you / you are my friend / you are valuable to me / and I want to find a way to move past this

Ask for forgiveness

  • I know this has hurt you. Will you please forgive me?

If you are writing these in a card or a note, you can pick and choose the phrases, and put them together to fit the situation. Use words that sound like you.

If you’ve found good ways to express any of these parts of an apology, let me know. Do you have anything to add that could help?

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