How to Apologize Well

How to Apologize Well

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If you’ve struggled with substance use, it’s a good bet you will have to make some apologies. Your offenses may range from being generally irresponsible to causing serious harm to others. Part of the recovery process involves owning your mistakes and making things right when you can.

Apologizing is also the first step in mending relationships with friends and family; relationships that will help you have a stronger recovery and a generally happier life. Apologizing is always hard. The following tips won’t make it any easier, but they will help you present a better apology so you can start to move forward.

Apologize for the Right Reason

People apologize for many reasons. Unfortunately, most of these reasons are wrong. They may need a favor from someone they’ve wronged, they may want to avoid the consequences of something they’ve done, or they may want to protect their reputation. However, there is exactly one correct reason to apologize: you feel remorse about hurting someone else. An apology should come from a place of genuine empathy and compassion, or else it will ring hollow.

Show That You Understand Your Mistake

When apologizing, it’s important to demonstrate that you understand exactly why your actions—or lack thereof—hurt someone. Otherwise, it’s hard for someone to believe you feel genuine remorse or empathy, or that you won’t do it again. This typically entails saying exactly what you did and why it hurt the other person.

So instead of just saying, “I’m sorry I yelled and punched the wall,” add, “you must have been frightened and I had no right to make you feel that way in your own home.” Exactly what you say will depend on the circumstances, but it should demonstrate some ability to see things from the other person’s point of view.

Explicitly Apologize

Often, when we want to apologize, we show up looking sheepish, make some gesture toward an apology, and hope the other person gets what we’re driving at and lets us off the hook. Even if the other person is willing to meet you halfway like that, actually apologizing (saying something like, “What I did was wrong and I’m sorry”) is necessary if you want to do it right. It’s hard and uncomfortable, but it’s supposed to be.

Make Amends When Possible

Whenever possible, don’t just stop at an apology, but actually set things right to the extent that it’s in your power. There’s a good reason that making amends has been one of the 12 Steps for more than 80 years. An apology, decent though it is, is only words. Making amends usually entails some degree of sacrifice in terms of time, money, or effort to undo some of the damage you caused. You’re shouldering some of the cost of your own mistake. Demonstrating genuine remorse and a willingness to make amends suggests you’re less likely to repeat your mistakes in the future.

Give Some Assurance It Won’t Happen Again

It’s nice to know that someone who hurt you feels genuinely sorry about it, and it’s even nicer to have some assurance it won’t happen again. We’ve already discussed some ways of reassuring someone you don’t intend to repeat your mistakes—showing that you understand what you did was wrong and want to make amends.

You can also give an explicit promise: ”It won’t happen again.” You may further reassure them by telling them what steps you’ve taken or are planning to take to prevent a recurrence, such as getting treatment for addiction, getting therapy for anger issues, and so on. You might also propose consequences for repeating your behavior.

Ask for Forgiveness

After you’ve made your apology, ask for forgiveness. Do this explicitly: ”Will you forgive me?” When you harm someone, you turn them into a victim; you take away some of their control over their lives. When you ask forgiveness, you give a little bit of that control back. You’re letting them know you want something only they can give you, and—in this particular regard—you’re at their mercy.

Keep in mind that they’re under no obligation to forgive you, and the whole point is that there’s nothing you can do to make them forgive you. It’s beyond your control. It may take a little time, and they may never decide to forgive you. The important thing is to ask.

Don’t Ruin Your Apology With Excuses

Many, many apologies have been ruined with excuses. The absolute worst is the non-apology: “I’m sorry if you felt offended.” That amounts to a refusal to apologize so you might as well just be honest and say you don’t believe you did anything wrong. However, explanations can also mar a sincere apology. This is the sort where you say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you but I had a bad day at work and I got stuck behind a cyclist on the way home,” and so on.

We all believe we have good reasons for our behavior, but during your apology is not the time to bring them up. The other person only wants to know if you understand what you did, if you sincerely regret it, and if you are going to do it again. An apology is about validating the person you hurt, not defending yourself.

Respect the Other Person’s Wishes

Finally, not all apologies are welcome. This caveat is included in Step Nine: “Except when to do so would injure them or others.” People typically welcome an apology, especially if you’re willing to make amends, but if not, you have to accept that. You don’t have the right to make them feel worse just to make yourself feel better by apologizing.

Apologies are hard, and they take a bit of practice. You have to admit you were wrong and put yourself at the other person’s mercy to some extent. However, it’s usually the right thing to do, and if reconciliation is possible, it has to start with a sincere apology.

At Hired Power, we know that the support of friends and family is one of the keys to a long and successful recovery. We offer a variety of services to help our clients in ways treatment centers typically don’t, including interventions, transportation, case management, and sober assistance. To learn more about our services, call us today at 714-559-3919.