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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

I am sorry. Really. (21)

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Hardest words in the English language, right there. I don't really know why that is, but ... let's face it: it is HARD to admit to doing something that caused another person to have pain or big feelings. I mean, we don't like big feelings so why would we bring them onto someone else, right? But here's the thing: if you ARE actually sorry, you should say so, and you should do it in a way that actually conveys your regret.

dog in a cone
Sorry looks like many things

Let's talk first about non-apologies.

What's a non-apology? Have you ever felt someone’s apology was insincere, or worse yet, just words put out there in a half-hearted attempt to make you (or themselves) feel better)? Or to wash themselves of guilt or association? Non-apologies are quite common, and unfortunately, they have the potential to severely damage relationships.

What does a non-apology sound like?

  • Haven’t you gotten over this yet?

  • I’m sorry you were offended.

  • I should be excused because I...

  • You’re too sensitive, I was only joking.

  • What’s the big deal?

  • To the extent that you were offended, I apologize.

  • Give me a break.

  • You just need to get over it.

  • There is nothing I can do about that now. I can’t take away the past.

If you are the one issuing the non-apology, and hear phrases like these coming out of your mouth or you feel defensive in your response, you are not really apologizing. Often people say such things with the expectation that the relationship will miraculously get better. This is an exercise in futility. This is not a sincere admission of culpability or involvement; this is just a bunch of words.

Listen, maybe you are NOT actually sorry for whatever it is that happened. Admitting to that, telling the wronged person that would be a lot more honest than giving an insincere apology.

If you want to be sincere in your apology, try to meet face to face so you can better convey your sincerity. Avoid using electronic communication as a means of apologizing. Shine a light on the issue and humbly admit you didn’t say or do things the right way. Acknowledge and validate their hurt and don’t get defensive. Some helpful phrases could be:

  • I did it, and I have no excuse.

  • I've damaged your trust.

  • I was careless, insensitive, thoughtless, or rude.

  • I will do the work to fix my mistake moving forward.

  • You have every right to be upset.

  • My mistake is part of a pattern that I need to change.

  • I will rebuild your trust by...

  • I’ve put you in a very difficult position.

  • I realize that talk is cheap. I know I need to show you how I will change.

It’s amazing how much more effective a humble and sincere apology can be in restoring a broken relationship.

If you are currently on the receiving end of an apology and have been wondering why you’re struggling to "get over it," I hope these insights have provided you with the "aha" you need to better articulate to the person apologizing what’s happening (or rather, not happening)—assuming you’d like to restore the relationship.

A genuine apology can go a long way towards repairing a wrong that has been done.

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