How to say sorry

Part 1, Part 2Part 3

Knowing how to say sorry and apologise gracefully...

... saves relationships
... builds trust
... preserves your energy by stopping needless worrying
... maintains and improves your self-esteem

Dealing with the guilt

When you're already dealing with guilt because of the damage your words or actions have caused, what have you got to lose by making a meaningful apology?

If you know you've been wrong, have made a mistake or you've let people down, it's best to forget about 'saving face' .

Other people are likely to know or sense that things don't stack up, even if you're trying your hardest to deny your wrong-doing. You may get away with it for now, but there's always the chance that the skeleton will fall out of the cupboard at some point in the future.

However, you wouldn't have landed on this page if you hadn't acknowledged on some level that you've made a mistake. That is - unless you're trying to find a sneaky way out of a 'situation'. If so, don't even bother to read on... this page is only for the genuinely sorry.

However rough you're feeling right now and however confused you are about where to start, don't worry! Saying sorry is a skill that can be learned. It's a noble thing to do, and an essential part of general communication skills.

Why apologise?

Most importantly, knowing how to genuinely apologise in a meaningful way helps to build and maintain healthy relationships. Saying sorry deepens a relationship in several ways:

6 Ways a meaningful apology can benefit your relationship

  1. It builds trust
  2. It prevents a potential deterioration of relationship problems
  3. It can kick start a renewal of your relationship
  4. It removes awkwardness between the parties - you know... that horrible feeling of not knowing what to say to the other person, resulting in you doing all you can to avoid them
  5. In an indirect way it opens up a way for your partner to admit to their mistakes
  6. It allows your partner to love you with all your flaws and imperfections

And the benefits don't stop there!

What is the potential outcome of saying sorry?

Well... there may of course be negative consequences to your admission of guilt. You may end up being punished, having to deal with the fall-out in your relationship, and having to 'pay' for it in some way emotionally, mentally, physically (see Signs of an Abusive Relationship) or financially.

I suspect you'll have considered at least some of that already.

Having a tough time dealing with guilty feelings (above and beyond the expected)? If they stop you from taking action, the secret to dealing with it is to switch the guilt off with self-hypnosis (after you have taken learning from them though!). Have a look at my page on Frequently Asked Questions about Hypnosis.

But I mentioned earlier other benefits of a genuine apology, and these include:

  1. Better relationships - with your colleagues, friends or family, or with your partner (unless you're admitting to infidelity - see links further down for other articles)
  2. A clear conscience, which potentially reduces anxiety, improves sleep and restores your self-respect
  3. Improved 'spare capacity' to deal with other dramas, projects, people or opportunities. Worrying about being found out to have done something wrong, and guilt about having caused hurt, takes energy that you can put to much better use
A mask tell us more than a face. Oscar WildeAre you hiding your true feelings?

What might you need to say sorry for?

Here are some examples of what may have caused distress to others, to a greater or lesser extent.

You may want to offer an apology for any of the following (and there are no judgements about seriousness here):

  • There was a misunderstanding because you were ignorant of the facts
  • You made assumptions and you omitted to check them out
  • You deliberately hurt your partner or someone else to 'get your own back'
  • You've been plain selfish
  • You've broken a promise
  • You acted on hearsay. Gossip hurts other people and undermines your self-respect
  • You've let your partner or other people down - at home, at work or at play

It could of course have been a combination of any these, or something different entirely!

Another reason you may have disappointed or hurt others is because you possibly just haven't 'felt yourself' lately. Don't even think of using this as an excuse, but it can be an explanation for your insensitivity to the feelings of others.

When you're feeling exhausted, depressed and stressed, your capacity to consider others may be diminished. This doesn't absolve you of responsibility or remove the need to apologise though.

Feeling overwhelmed? Need someone to talk to?

I've got it covered! However much I'd like to help you myself, I can't make that happen. But, you can talk to one of our online relationship experts right now.

How to say sorry

You may be feeling pretty 'sheepish' right now, assuming that you're here for genuine reasons.  If not - a gentle word of warning: disingenuousness will 'leak out' in your general demeanour, including your voice, choice of words and body language.  

Someone else will pick it up either consciously or unconsciously. The penny will drop for them at some point - if not immediately.

First of all, it's always best to say sorry as soon as possible, but only after some careful thought. Once you've really thought the situation through, here's a plan to help you with your perfect apology:

  1. Try to really understand what your mistake has meant to your partner or any other wronged party. You may need to do a bit of 'research' - only by imagining yourself in their shoes will you get a sense of what it's done to them.
  2. Decide how you're going to apologise (more details on the next page): by telephone? Email? Text? Letter? In person?
  3. Decide when you're going to do it.

Read more on how to offer the best possible apology and see an example letter in How to Say Sorry - Part 2.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Other Helpful Links

Stanford Graduate School of Business: Why feelings of guilt may signify leadership potential

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Elly Prior

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