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“I” Statements: Apology Edition, Part 2

Written by Kara Thompson, Licensed Social Worker

The communication practice of “I” statements is an impactful tool that aims to prioritize feelings and experiences rather than blaming and demanding responsibility. In Part 1 of this blog series, we discussed the concept of “I” statements, identifying non-effective communication, and how to practice this communication tool.  In Part 2 of the series here, we are exploring the role of “I” statements within the context of apologies. 

You can revisit Part 1 of this blog series to read the full scenario, but here is a brief reminder: You’re really looking forward to spending some time connecting with your partner after work, but when they get home they seem more interested in spending time with Instagram explore page than with you. Annoyed, frustrated, and hurt, you snap by yelling, “You never pay any attention to me! You are obsessed with your phone! ” To which your partner looks at you and responds with “I’m sorry you feel like that, but that’s just not true.” Andddd…. Once again, we are stuck.

In Part 1, we focused on re-working “You never pay any attention to me!” to an “I” statement such as, “I feel ignored and rejected when your attention is on your phone when we are together.” By removing the “you” and “never” in the original statement, we may increase our chances of being heard without being met with immediate defensiveness. By focusing on communicating the feelings behind the statement, we are able to work toward healthier communication patterns. Now, let’s look at another statement from the scenario that may not be quite as obvious… “I am sorry you feel like that.

I am sorry you feel like that.couple having a conversation across a table with coffee

I want to encourage you to pause and re-read that statement a few times to yourself as if someone was saying it directly to you. Does it feel validating? Or does something feel off? Does it sound like responsibility avoidance? While this statement does technically start with “I,” it is actually an example of a “you” statement. Similar to something like “I am sorry you took it that way,” it avoids the ownership and responsibility for the behavior. Rather than acknowledging the pain/frustration/etc., it puts the blame back on the speaker… inferring that if their feelings are incorrect.

So, let’s “I” statement-ize this…

“I am sorry you feel like that.” 

I am sorry for what I did.”

By transforming this statement, an authentic apology is being made. We are no longer apologizing for their feelings or experience, but rather for our actions. In a situation such as the one utilized for this example, the partner is taking ownership in recognizing that the time spent on their phone feels like rejection to the other partner. While the original statement “I am sorry you feel like that” came from a place of defensiveness, the use of “I” statement apology edition allows for reflection and responsibility-taking for the problematic behavior in that both parties acknowledge as problematic. As we talked about in Part 1 of this blog series, “I” statements empower assertive communication and aim to limit the potential for a defensive response by focusing on the feelings. And remember… even in apologies we can be implementing this tool.

IMPORTANT NOTE FROM A TRAUMA-INFORMED LENS: This “I” statement in apology form is to be used when there is true accountability and responsibility to be taken for the problematic behaviors… aka if someone has done something wrong. If dealing with someone who is gaslighting or manipulating in the relationship, the victim should not be forced to apologize for the purpose of reassuring the abuser. In the case of an abusive or toxic relationship, it is absolutely not our responsibility to apologize for behaviors that are not actually wrong. 

If you or a loved one are interested in exploring your communication patterns and working to implement some more “I” statements into conflict-filled conversations, reach out to us at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact us online or by phone at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment with a clinician today.

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