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Healthy and Harmful Apologies - How to say sorry

An apology is when there is an admission of an error or wrongdoing, followed by an expression of regret. A sincere apology allows you to say and show that you are not proud of what you have done and you won’t be repeating it.

Apologies, that tend to help people heal most, often include an acknowledgement of the action taken that has resulted in pain or distress, an action plan for how the wrong can be repaired and an actual change of behaviour. Without these elements, you may have an empty statement that leaves the recipient with little confidence that you will not repeat the harmful action again or that you are genuinely sorry, to begin with. Empty and fake apologies harm our relationships, interactions at work and with friends or family. These harmful apologies can also result in the recipient feeling uncared for and manipulated.

10 Examples of Harmful Apologies

1. They add "but" at the end of their apology as a way to avoid taking responsibility for the topic of conflict e.g. "sorry but you made me do it."

2. They dismiss your emotions surrounding the topic e.g. "sorry, you're taking it all wrong."

3. They apologise for the emotions you're experiencing rather than their action that caused this e.g. "I'm sorry you feel that way."

4. They apologise for a character flaw they point out in you e.g. "sorry I didn't know you were that sensitive."

5. They bargain their apology with something they want from you in return e.g. "I'll apologise only if…"

6. They apologise for the thoughts you have rather than their actions e.g. "I'm sorry you think that way"

7. They deflect all responsibility to you in their apology e.g. "I'm sorry but you are the one who…"

8. They minimise their own actions in their apology e.g. "I'm sorry, I was just trying to…"

9. They apologise for one minor part of the whole area of conflict e.g. apologising for not texting that they'd be home late when they promised they wouldn't be home late in the first place.

10. They apologise from a place of formality rather than accountability e.g. "I guess I should apologise for…"

When someone has done something wrong, you deserve to receive a real apology that displays a sense of humility, responsibility, and accountability. 

Some people have difficulty knowing how to say sorry. Perhaps, it is something that was rarely heard growing up, yet they were also deserving of it. Learning how to apologise in a way that is helpful, rather than harmful, is something that we can learn or improve.

Healthy Apologies include:

1. Expressing regret
"I am sorry that I shouted at you."

2. Accepting responsibility
"I was wrong, I shouldn't have done that."

3. Making amends
"I know I hurt you. What can I do to make it better?.”

4. Genuinely repenting
"I can only imagine how upsetting that was. Next time I will do things differently by…"

Requesting forgiveness
5. "I really value our relationship. Will you please forgive me?. I understand if you need time. I owe you that."

A Healthy Apology may sound like:

"I am sorry I shouted at you earlier. I've been stressed lately but that's no excuse to take it out on you. I'll work on managing my stress better from now on."

"I am sorry I didn't keep to my promise. I understand it made you feel like you didn't matter. What can I do to make things right?."

"I see this has upset you and I am sorry have caused you pain. I want to learn from this and understand your needs. Can you help me understand your perspective?."

"I feel awful about how I treated you earlier. I was wrong and I take full responsibility. Here's what I'll do differently in the future."

"I am so sorry for making fun of you. It was thoughtless. I will do all that I can to repair the damage I have caused. I hope one day you can forgive me."

Get some support:

You may have been on the receiving end of mistreatment. You could be holding trauma and pain after not receiving the apology you deserve. That is a huge weight that you should not have to carry. Counselling support can provide you with space to process the hurt and get to feeling better. You can be seen and heard.

You could be someone who struggles to say sorry or when you do it comes out in a way that upsets people. This is something that you can explore and find ways to improve. You may be having unresolved issues regarding the pain that you have felt too. Talking to a trained professional can really help. 

We provide therapy sessions for a wide range of issues via Email Counselling, Instant Messenger Counselling, Skype and Whatsapp calls and Telephone Counselling. Take a step towards change and book a session today, our experienced Counsellors are ready and waiting to support you on your journey.