How to apologize in a honest and meaningful way, according to psychologists

A real apology could help you mend fences with someone you care about if you’ve hurt them. It’s crucial to know how to apologize in a way that actually demonstrates your commitment to improvement. Effective apologizing can be aided by accepting responsibility and demonstrating empathy. Knowing when to apologize is a good start, but saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t constitute a full apology.

An effective apology involves acknowledging the action, acknowledging and empathizing with the other person’s experience, and promising to act better in the future.

According to Marina Gershkovich , assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, “Each of these phases is extremely crucial, yet people get each one incorrect in a multiplicity of ways.”

Giving excuses or making a general apology, for instance, can make it difficult to tell whether you truly realize and accept full responsibility for what you did. This is a problem because, in the words of Gershkovich, “you can’t restore anything if the particular haven’t been addressed.”

Here are four strategies provided by psychologists for apologizing fully, effectively, promoting healing on both sides, and strengthening relationships.

1. MAKE YOURSELF RESPONSIBLE Regardless of your intentions, what you said or did hurt someone else. Holding yourself responsible for your actions and understanding the other person’s viewpoint are therefore essential for a sincere apology.

Gershkovich advises, “Be vulnerable without becoming defensive.” Apologies provide us a chance to connect and mend any relationship rifts. “It is necessary to apologize to acknowledge the influence of your actions on another person.”

David Helfand, a psychologist and proprietor of the counseling center LifeWise , emphasizes the value of fully owning an apology. The relationship can only be repaired by first establishing a connection and bond, according to him.

2. TAKE ACTION TO RECOVER FROM YOUR MISTAKE Although you cannot undo what you have already done or said, you can try to make amends in the future. The crucial step, according to clinical psychologist Pauline Yeghnazar Peck , is creating a concrete plan to improve the situation.

Saying something like, “I know my actions totally destroyed the day,” is what she advises. I know we can’t change that day, but is there something you would like to do to celebrate right now?

Other sentences she suggests include “I would like to correct this,” “I was thinking you would love this,” and “What do you think about this?”

Not just Peck, but others, advocate taking some sort of action. The Gottman Institute ‘s top relationship health researchers follow a similar 3-step process when they apologize:

1. Express regret
2. Pardon
3. Start over.
After you’ve tried your best to fix the problem, Helfand advises getting input on how well you performed.

He adds that compared to acquaintances, close romantic partners or family members deserve more thorough apologies. According to him, the repair should get deeper the deeper the emotional connection.

3. Steer clear of expressions like “I’m sorry if” or “I’m sorry, but” An apology shouldn’t in any way sound conditional if you want it to be accepted. That entails avoiding terms like “if” and “but,” which absolve the apologizer of responsibility.

According to Helfand, when you apologize using language like this, “the receiver’s brain disregards the first half of the phrase and solely concentrates on the negative.”

Replace “but” with “and,” suggests Leah Rockwell, a licensed professional counselor with her own practice at Rockwell Wellness Counseling .

She asserts that adding “and” to an apology makes it simple to start a new conversation rather than end one. Whenever the word “but” appears, you are acting defensively, according to this maxim. Compare the sound of these two methods:

“I apologize, but I hope you can let me know what you need so that we can communicate more effectively in the future.” “I’m sorry, and I hope you can let me know what you need so we can talk more effectively in the future.” The first method assigns blame and deflects accountability to the other party. The second technique is much more effective since it shows that you are open to the other person’s timeframe.

4. BE HONEST An effective apology must be sincere, yet it must also be clear and emotional.

According to Helfand, “Just saying you’re sorry is not good enough typically” because we were raised to pretend to be sorry when necessary, “It usually doesn’t feel heartfelt in those instances.”

Sincere apologies might sound something like this:

Can’t we just move on?, “I’m sorry I missed your birthday, but I was so busy at work,” “I’m sorry you got furious,” “I’m sorry the day got fouled up,” and “I’m sorry you got mad.” While genuine regrets sound like this:

I’m sorry my impromptu comment made you look bad in front of your pals. I made a careless mistake, and I’ll be more careful the next time before I speak. I apologize for forgetting your special day. Being preoccupied with work instead of celebrating your achievement does not represent my priorities or how much I genuinely appreciate our relationship. Can I arrange a great celebration for you the following weekend instead? Additionally, according to Rockwell, timing also communicates sincerity in addition to the words themselves.

“With an apology, time is crucial.” If it’s too soon, it could seem like you’re attempting to sweep it under the rug or check it off your list, the author claims. “Too much time can make it sound forced or as if you forgot. A sincere apology considers the occasion, setting, and location of the incident.

5. Be upfront if you’re not prepared to apologize. Peck advises coming from an honest, real place if you don’t feel ready to apologize sincerely but still want to keep the relationship together.

“Admit it if you aren’t ready to apologize yet. Declare it if you want to keep the connection.
Try expressing yourself by using words like:

Our friendship means so much to me, and I am aware of how difficult what transpired was for you. It was challenging for me as well.’ “I need some time to allow my feelings settle so I can see and understand the situation more clearly. Before I can sincerely apologize and take responsibility for my part in it, which I want to do and you deserve. ‘Know I am working on my end of things toward resolution and I will come back and speak to you about it when I have made sense of it. You could be let down because you want to chat and fix things right away. Despite the fact that I know it might be hard for you, I appreciate you respecting this. I cherish and love you. WHAT TO DO IF A PERSON REJECTS YOUR APOLOGY Recognize that just though you are willing to apologize, it doesn’t mean that the other person will automatically change their mind if they are unwilling to accept your apology.

According to Rockwell, a genuine apology puts the relationship’s future and health first: “How we manage these tensions or stretch points can provide opportunities for learning about ourselves.”

A sincere apology also attempts to understand the other person’s viewpoint. If you can truly understand the other person’s perspective, it will make you feel more prepared to apologize; otherwise, your apology may not come across as sincere.

It may be simpler to recover from your error if someone forgave you right away. However, if they don’t, there are ways to deal with the regret. Grace and acceptance can assist you on your journey.

Self-compassion, according to Rockwell, is essential. “We are human, and if we are in a connection with another person, which is essential to our existence, we will injure that person and make mistakes in our interactions,” the author claims.

She continues by saying that such discomfort can be a tool for development. “Regret is another human feeling to deal through that, though unpleasant, can inspire us toward future change or variations in conduct,” says the author.

INSIDER’S KEY LESSON Many people make the mistake of making an unqualified “I’m sorry” statement or qualifying their apology with the word “but.”

Instead, a proper apology involves five key elements: recognition of the conduct, acceptance of full responsibility for your acts, understanding the other person’s viewpoint, true regret for the hurt caused, and a promise to act differently in the future.