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How To Apologize Like A Goddamn Adult

I'm sorry if you were offended but...

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IDK about you but I'd rather get no apology than get an insincere one that fails to admit fault.

@b.y.b.u.r.a.k / Via instagram.com

A good apology is hard to come by because, honestly, apologizing well is tough. It requires you to center someone else's feelings instead of your own while also admitting (to yourself and to them) that you fucked up. And I don't love acknowledging that I'm capable of doing things I associate with being inconsiderate or unkind. But I've decided to become the apology-giver I want to see in the world, so I looked into some apology best practices.

It turns out there's a pretty decent body of work out there all about how to say you're sorry. (SorryWatch, which analyzes public apologies, is just one gem I stumbled on.) But the most just-tell-me-how-TF-to-do-it thing I found is a five-ingredient apology recipe, by licensed psychologist Guy Winch Ph.D. I've used this recipe myself and have cooked up a couple of pretty OK apologies with it.

But before we even start, take a deep breath and emotionally prepare yourself to admit fault.

As Winch explains, the point of an apology is “to ease that person’s emotional burden and garner their authentic forgiveness.” That really isn't NBD, so get your head right. Take some time to think about what you’re about to do and imagine what it’ll be like to, for example, absorb someone's anger or hurt.

Cool? Cool, here we go.

1. You 👏 have 👏 to 👏 say 👏 the 👏 words 👏 “I’m 👏 sorry.”

NBC / Via netflix.com

The “I’m sorry” statement is non-negotiable. You can mix it up and say “I’m so sorry” or “I’m incredibly sorry” or “I’m real sorry, ma’am.” It’s dealer’s choice. Just make sure that the intensity of your “I’m sorry” statement corresponds to how badly you fucked up. (If it's a minor offense and the person is miffed but not devastated, “I’m just so incredibly sorry” is probably a bit much.)

1a. Never should the word “if” or "but" appear in your sorry statement.

@onlyyoumissmew / Via instagram.com

This is from me, not Dr. Winch. I don’t have a Ph.D. but I’m 101% sure I’m right.

I think I speak for everyone in the explored universe when I say that worse than not getting the apology you deserve is getting one that starts “I’m sorry if…” or includes "I'm sorry I did that, but the thing is..."

The deal is: If you’ve decided to apologize, it means that you’re admitting fault —

not fault that miiight be there depending on how you look at the situation; actual, real fault that exists in the objective reality we all share. Please excise any “if” or "but" statements from your planned apology.

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2. Be clear that a) you know what you did and b) that you regret it.

apologygenerator.com

This is where you name the specific thing you messed up, and also the fact that you know you blew it. Here are a couple examples:

• “I made a bad decision by telling Archie what you said about him.”

• “I was selfish when I bailed on our plans at the last minute.”

• “It’s not cool that I’ve been using your Seamless account when I’m drunk, and the fact that I do it because I really want pizza and am really broke is no excuse.”

3. Acknowledge the norm that was broken and/or expectation that was not met.

Warner Bros. / Via giphy.com

This is where you make it clear that you fully understand why what you did was wrong or hurtful.

• “You told me something in confidence and I didn’t respect that.”

• “I canceled our plans so late that you probably didn’t have time to make other plans."

• “It’s not cool to use someone’s Seamless account without permission."

4. Express empathy.

Nick / Via giphy.com

This is a crucial part of your apology because it’s when you let the other person know that you’ve taken the time to imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end of your behavior and, as a result, you realize it would suck.

• “It must’ve hurt your feelings to have someone break your confidence, especially about such a personal and sensitive thing. And I can see how it would make you wonder if you can trust me.”

• “I’d be so pissed if I was all ready to go out and someone bailed at a point in the evening when it would be really hard to find other people to hang out with.”

• “It was probably a really unpleasant surprise that made you reconsider letting me use your laptop.”

4a. "I'm sorry you feel that way" is not an expression of empathy.

Paramount Pictures / Via giphy.com

This is the most insidious non-apology there is because at first glance it has the makings of an apology — after all, it contains a sorry statement and an acknowledgement of feelings. But it's merely an expression of regret for the existence of bad feelings, with no admission of fault or mention of how the feelings came to be. It also basically places the blame on the other person for having feelings. At worst, this is the passive-aggressive "apology" you use when you want the other person to know you that you have no intention of admitting any fault whatsoever.

Note: "I'm sorry that I made you feel that way" is fine.

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5. Ask for forgiveness.

Instagram: @lance.ngujo / Via instagram.com

This is where you actually give them the power to decide when and whether to forgive you.

• “I know it might take a while, but I hope that eventually you’ll be able to forgive me.”

• “I hope you’ll accept my apology.”

• “I hope you will forgive me, and if you choose to change your Seamless password and hide your laptop after 8 pm every night, I will totally understand."