When You Need To Say Sorry and How To Say It

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We engage in a funny paradox with sorry. We feel inclined to apologise for things that aren’t our fault, however, when we are genuinely at fault, we get a lump in our throats and struggle to mutter the simplest apology.

Oddly, that is the time when we need to say sorry the most. When we have wronged someone and get that guilty feeling is the time we need to say “I’m sorry” the most.

Yet that is also the time we fail to do so the most.

We all know what it is like to feel guilty and ashamed. Click To Tweet

But what is the source of these feelings? Is it based on what you have actually done or is it because you feel bad about yourself?

When You Need To Say Sorry and How To Say It
“It’s always best to ask for forgiveness if you feel that you made a mistake. And again, asking for forgiveness is not just saying the words ‘I’m sorry’; it is also offering what you need to do.” – Grace Poe

Did this damage your reputation in the other person’s thinking. Getting to the core of the issue, do you feel sorry for yourself and the loss of esteem etc. or are you remorseful for what you’ve done to the other person?

The Massive Difference

There is a massive difference between these two.

The difference is massive in the way you shape your apology. And in the way, the receiver views that apology and whether they choose to forgive you or not.

Let’s see an example in action.
I am sorry for what I have said, but I was really stressed that day because of everything going on at work.
I have got to finish this massive amount of work by Thursday.
It was Tuesday, and I felt the pressure of not being able to complete it on time.

And another example.
I am sorry for what I have done to you.
I know I have hurt your feelings and I have no excuse to offer for what I have done.
Only my sincerest apologies because I have broken your trust and made you doubt me.
I’m genuinely sorry once again, and I hope you will be able to forgive me in time.

There are significant differences between the two examples I just showed you. But can you spot them?

In the first example, they only feel bad about themselves. And when you see all the excuses that they are coming up with you get a feeling that they likely to repeat the same mistake again.

When the circumstances are similar, they will do it again. Because they don’t realise it was up to them to stop and decide how to behave. To differentiate between their work and personal life.

And it was up to them to decide what to say and how to say it regardless of the circumstances. However, the company got the blame for their wrongdoing.

To me, this only proves that they don’t realise how they hurt your feelings. And they put themselves first.


However, the second example shows a person with remorse. Maybe, they have their reasons or tons of excuses, but in their apology, they don’t mention them.

Firstly, they apologise for their actions and then openly admits that their wrongdoing has caused the other person suffering. They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and open to criticism because they have already accepted their wrongful actions.

Remarkably, they don’t put further pressure on the other person but merely hope that they will find the ability to forgive as time passes.

When You Need To Say Sorry and How To Say It
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

Put yourself in the position of the hurt person. Who would you rather hear an apology from, and who would you be more likely to forgive?

For me, it is without any doubt the second one. The second person sounded like they realised the damage they have done to you and to your relationship.

By doing this, they are less likely to repeat the same wrongdoing again.

This brings us back to my earlier point. What is the source of these feelings of guilt and shame? Is it based on what you have actually done or is it because you feel bad about yourself?

If I rephrase that, you messed up and you are facing the consequences of your actions. Do you feel bad for yourself or do you feel bad about the other person?

Of course, it can be both, but who you put in the first perspective matters.

It matters to your apology. It matters to the other person. And it affects their judgment whether to forgive you or not.

How To Make A Lasting Apology

We will go deeper into the analysis of a proper apology, but before that, I want to provide four frames that you can apply when making your next apology.

Make sure you adopt each frame if you want your apology to be well received and help to heal the other person’s feelings.

Think of this as your checklist to use when deliberating over the most suitable way to apologise.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

This is the perfect time to develop your empathy and express it to the other person and putting yourself in the other’s person shoes does just that.

It enables you to understand what you have done wrong and why their feelings are hurt. All of us have different backgrounds and history, and we were brought up with differing norms and values.

You might not consider what you said or did that big a deal. However, the other person does, and it matters to them.

When You Need To Say Sorry and How To Say It
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” – D. H. Lawrence

So put yourself in the other person’s shoes and be more empathic and thoughtful to their feelings. This step alone will enable you to craft out a heartfelt apology they cannot say no to.

Be Genuine Or Don’t Bother

When you have wronged, there is no going back. You can’t undo what happened as much as you wish that you could.

The only thing left to do is, to be honest. Make your apology genuine. Use words from your heart that the other person will be able to feel.

When your apology is made on a foundation of a lie, know that your apology is designed to fail. Imagine they find you lying again after forgiving you.

Whatever trust they had is now shattered. And at that point, there is nothing you can do to reverse it. When apologising, think of it as the last stop of honesty.

Say how it made you feel, what exactly happened, why you thought it was the right thing to do and what you learned in the entire process.

If you don’t sound as if you mean it, how would you expect the other person to believe you? Honesty is the only way to get the other person to forgive you and move forward from this situation.

Leave The Excuses For Another Time

You might have a million excuses for what happened. You might even call them reasons and not excuses. And that is great.

Everyone one of us has reasons for acting the way we do. As I said, we have all been raised in different environments.

In the act of making an apology, drop the excuses. Click To Tweet.

Apologise sincerely, say it with meaning, say you realised how you hurt them and then stop. Don’t add a “but” in the process.

Then, later on, as your relationship heals, you can have a healthy conversation about what happened. Go through it and explain why you behaved as you did. Then all your excuses, sorry, reasons can come out.

The new light that will be shed on the situation is only effective after they have forgiven you. Allow them the time and space to cool their head and begin to see it all from a different point of view.

Only then will your excuses and buts have a possibility of being accepted. And I should say partially accepted.

When You Need To Say Sorry and How To Say It
“Feeling sorry for yourself is not only a waste of your energy and time but one of the worst habits that you could develop.” – David Brett-Williams

Because you still have to take responsibility for what you have done and not try to wriggle away from it with endless justifications.

Just accept that you have wronged, and be grateful that the other person has forgiven you. After all, that is all that matters.

Stick To Your Promises To Make Sorry Last

Lastly, if you have vowed to that person that you’ll change, then just do what you promised. Change.

Do not delude yourself into thinking you can repeat what you have done, again and again. I’m saying this because some people think that if they were forgiven, they could pull it off one more time.

The chances for this are so small that they are minute. Just remember how much you hurt the other person the last time.

Consider that trust is like a mirror. If it breaks, you can fix it, but you will always see the cracks in the reflection. Click To Tweet

If you have vowed to change then change. Don’t continue to create more cracks.

The truth is that words without any action to back them up are empty and meaningless. And only reinforce the belief that you were never sorry, to begin with.

Virtues Gained From Saying Sorry

By showing you are genuinely sorry you leave your ego behind. You open your heart, you are vulnerable, you say you were wrong. And that requires the absence of your ego.

And while you might lose one thing, your ego, you gain many other positive things in return.

Here are three things that you gain that make saying sorry worthwhile:

A Deeper Relationship

You get the potential to know that person on a much deeper level. Sure, disagreements in relationships, be it family, friends or lovers, are a regular thing.

However, when you apologise, and you mean it, then you get to talk on a deeper level about feelings. And get to know each other much better.

After this encounter, if it all turns out well, you have met another person in them.

I am never suggesting that you create situations to say sorry. However, this person you got to know may not have appeared under any other circumstances.

Value that person, but be sure not to repeat the transgression again.

Being Right

You avoid the never-ending cycle of being right. If your fight goes on and on, and you cannot stop taking swipes at each other, then a simple “I’m sorry” stops it dead in its tracks.

Living in a constant battle brings stress and woe and nothing but stress and woe. So after weeks of arguments, it turns out that you were right? Nothing.

Your ego is fed, but those weeks that kept you further apart and put a strain on your relationship cannot be returned. You cannot make up for that lost time.

The battle of who is right and who is wrong is fought only within your perception. They are your truth and not anyone else’s.

In the end, you both end up being lonely in your own “winner” and “loser” positions. If you fight these, “I must be right, so that means you are wrong” fights your relationship will suffer greatly.

Sorry the feelings rain down on us
“I believe forgiveness is the best form of love in any relationship. It takes a strong person to say they’re sorry and an even stronger person to forgive.” – Yolanda Hadid

The person who ends being wrong feels defensive and not listened to and not understood. This creates frustration.

And they likely to fight even harder next time just to prove their point argument and win. A real merry-go-round of a battle.


You build or rebuild trust. Saying I’m sorry is a significant trust builder in any relationship.

The other person sees that you are accountable for your actions, and this means a lot to them. By stepping up and saying sorry, you show that you recognised the impact your transgression had on them.

The Bottom Line On Sorry

A heartfelt apology is intended to heal the feelings of the injured party and restore the relationship. And to a lesser extent repair the reputation of the transgressor.

The guidelines are simple.

Be empathic towards the person you have hurt and start with “I apologise” or “I am sorry.”
Accept full responsibility for your actions and the negative impact it had on them.
Be specific when saying I’m sorry and save the excuses for later.
Offer a sincere promise that you’ll make an effort to change, and most importantly stick to your promise.

This is what it takes for the hurt person to heal, build trust in you and not be wary of you repeating your mistakes again.

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David Brett-Williams