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How Can I Work on Apologizing?

By: Danielle Bertini, LCPC

Let’s face it, sometimes apologies can be tough. They require us to put our egos aside and acknowledge that we may have hurt someone we really care about. And what people don’t realize is that understanding how to apologize is something that can be a learned skill. Phillips (2021) offers five tips on how to have more successful apologies. 

The Apology Must Restore Self-Respect and Dignity

Words or behaviors that make a person feel anything from slighted to humiliated attack a person’s dignity and sense of self. Often, the person offended can feel powerless and may cover their feelings with thoughts of retaliation or grudges.

That being said, the offender should restore the self-respect and dignity of the offended by acknowledging his/her own error, betrayal, and more. Essentially, the offender must be willing to acknowledge a lack of personal dignity on their part. For example, “I betrayed your confidence and acted in a way that violated our bond.”

The Apology Must Reaffirm and Reset the Shared Values of Both Parties

By acknowledging that they made a mistake and that it won’t happen again, the offender reaffirms that there is a shared set of rules and values that have been violated. If the offender does not understand what is unacceptable and what they have done, there is no restoration of the shared belief system. For example, “I apologize for lying about using our money. I betrayed your trust. I promise to speak with you before I buy something. What I did was wrong.”

The Apology Must Make it Clear That the Offense Was Not the Victim’s Fault

Often, when someone has been physically or psychologically harmed, there is a tendency to make sense of the offense by blaming themselves. Central to a sincere apology is the admission by the person apologizing that the blame belongs to them. Saying something like, “I’m sorry, but you got me so angry,” is not an apology, but rather an excuse. Here is something to say instead: “I have to apologize for my behavior to your family. I am sorry. I had no right to start an argument that upset everyone. I will call them and personally apologize to them.”

The Apology Must Restore Physical Safety in a Relationship

In situations where there is physical harm, domestic violence, bullying, digital threats, and more, an apology must not only reflect ownership of the offense but must also guarantee future safety. Here’s an example: “I am sorry that I hurt you. There is no excuse. I don’t blame you for wanting to leave. I have to make sure this will never happen again. I have located an Anger Management Group. I understand that I may need to make other living arrangements for a while.”

The Apology Includes Reparation for Harm Caused by the Offense

Whether it is concrete or emotional, making reparation is an important part of a truly felt apology. In personal relationships, the person apologizing often adds to their expressed remorse with reparative action. For example, “There is no excuse for me never going to any of your concerts. I was wrong. I am so sorry I missed something so important to you. I have changed my schedule and I will be at your concerts.

While an apology may be truly felt and well-intended, it cannot and should not demand or be contingent on the offended person’s acceptance. This disqualifies the apology. To apologize is to share remorse and shame, to accept consequences, and to restore dignity and healing to those we have hurt. If you find yourself struggling with knowing how to apologize, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists in Chicago. You can contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors, or reach out to us online to get started.

References

Phillips, S. (2021, January 17). I’m Sorry, But: How Do You Offer a Real Apology? Psychology Today. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/speaking-about-trauma/202101/i-m-sorry-how-do-you-offer-real-apology 

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