7 Secrets to Apologizing the Right Way

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Every relationship experiences conflict but when we can’t apologize, relationships don’t heal. People will disagree and hurt each other’s feelings, it’s part of lfe. Learning how to apologize is the only way to resolve the hurt and keep relationships healthy.

Maybe you’ve tried apologizing but it doesn’t seem to help. Or, you don’t think you shouldn’t have to say you’re sorry. But when nothing gets resolved, the hurt eventually drives a wedge in the relationship and I don’t want that for you.

I’m going to show how to give a sincere apology that works and avoid the kind that doesn’t!

Recognizing Family of Origin Influences

To be fair, many of us didn’t learn the value of an apology growing up.

I don’t recall anyone in my family saying “I’m sorry” or acknowledging mistakes out loud. This isn’t a criticism though. Apologies just weren’t considered to be important.

Feelings of pride and not wanting to acknowledge bad behavior are common struggles when it comes to apologizing. Some people struggle with shame around admitting their behavior. Secretly, we may hope that if we say nothing, the hurt will go away on its own.

But that doesn’t happen…

Secret #1 Identify Beliefs that Don’t Fit

Changing behavior starts with changing beliefs. It’s natural to feel remorse when making an apology, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel bad about yourself. Start by identifying old beliefs that get in the way of apologizing.

Some common beliefs include:

  • Thinking that you’re stupid or bad for making mistakes.

  • Letting pride prevent you from admitting fault.

  • Assuming that apologies make you look weak.

  • Expecting the other person to make amends first.

  • Thinking that you couldn’t be the one at fault.

Many of these beliefs begin in childhood which means they aren’t even yours! You don’t have to make decisions based on out-dated information. It’s time to create beliefs that will support your healing.

Secret #2 Apologizing Boosts Self-esteem

While admitting fault is uncomfortable, the benefits far outweigh the momentary discomfort.

The most important benefit is setting the example for others. Instead of giving the silent treatment, or having arguments that go unresolved, modeling sincere apologies shows empathy and compassion towards the person being hurt.

Being accountable then becomes an asset instead of a sign of weakness.

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I always feel better after apologizing. Ignoring my mistakes only prolongs the guilt. When you know how to repair things, you feel better about yourself because you have handled it directly. That takes courage!

Secret #3 Making Amends Builds Integrity

Admitting fault remind us that we are no better than anyone else. By acknowledging our mistakes a sense of healthy pride develops. We no longer have to hide from the embarrassment. Being accountable helps us forgive ourselves and move forward.

A sincere apology gives you the power to heal what’s happening in the moment. You can avoid the backlash of hurt and resentment that happens when we don’t take ownership of our own behavior.

Over time, apologizing becomes a healthy habit that lowers anxiety and stress. By addressing our wrongs in the moment (or soon after), we can let those issues go instead of spending hours worrying about what could happen in the future.

Secret #4 Know When “I’m Sorry” Actually Works (and When It Doesn’t)

In certain situations a quick apology can be an effective way to address things in the moment. This type of apology works best under these conditions;

  • When the mistake is minor and a single incident (meaning it’s not a pattern of behavior).

  • There is a foundation of trust already established in the relationship.

When there is trust, you can give the other person the benefit of the doubt. You are motivated to forgive because there is mutual respect.

Matters get more difficult when trust has not been established. That’s when saying “I’m sorry” can come across as superficial. Without trust, there is no capacity to forgive and move forward. A more substantial apology is needed to repair the hurt.

For instance, when someone repeats the same hurtful behavior or there are significant breaches of trust, a quick apology isn’t enough to address the situation. In both instances, a more thoughtful approach is recommended.

Secret #5 Be Specific When Apologizing

Making a sincere apology starts with being honest about the hurtful behavior. Being vague conveys the message that the offense wasn’t that bad. That’s why most apologies fail, because the painful and sometimes embarrassing details are left out.

By specifically naming the hurt behavior, the other person will feel like you understand their pain. Without that level of honesty, there is little chance for lasting reconciliation.

If the behavior is abusive verbally or physically, make a concentrated effort to acknowledge that. Taking this step shows a sincerity that can help to rebuild trust.

Also, seeking professional help shows a desire to change despite what the other person is doing. However, doing this as a last ditch effort to save the relationship often fails.

Secret #6 Being Vulnerable Does Not Mean Groveling

For an apology to be effective, there needs to be some humility. Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t require much vulnerability so often it becomes the go-to-method that most people use hoping it will be enough.

But true humility should not to be confused with humiliating yourself or groveling. Acknowledging bad behavior is not a sign of weakness but a strength. It takes courage to admit our own behavior without getting defensive. We do this by taking responsibility for our actions without putting ourselves down.

Secret #7 Watch Your Expectations

A common pitfall when apologizing is expecting one in return. This is where most people get stuck; thinking that the other person should admit fault too. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. No one can be forced into seeing their own behavior.

Avoid bringing up what the other person did to you because that will deflate the apology. By keeping the focus on your behavior, you will be role-modeling accountability and emotional maturity. This will also help you attract healthier people in future relationships.

Final Thoughts

When making apologies, remember that you can only change yourself. You can set a positive example but don’t expect them to follow right away. It takes time to change behavior patterns. Leading by example works, demanding someone else change only hurts. Using the right apology will help to preserve the loving connection that we all crave.


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