How to Apologize.

Via on Jul 23, 2012


Here’s the deal: We all behave badly.

We all speak without thinking.

We are all assholes from time to time.

(If you aren’t, email me. I want to have you write for elephant and enlighten us on how you manage it.)

Unless you never talk to another human being—ever—sooner or later you are going to do something that hurts or offends someone. It’s a given. As much as we bring joy and laughter into each other’s lives and connection is wonderful, we are also going to piss each other off. Over and over.

What to do:

1. The word “but” has no place in your apology.

Neither does it’s sophisticated sister, “however.” Either you are sorry or you aren’t. No buts. When you add the word “but” into an apology, you are effectively negating the entire thing. “I am sorry I hurt your feelings, but…” Yeah, I’m not sorry. I just put my “but” in and told you why you actually deserved my bad behavior. Not helpful.

2. Less is more.

“I’m sorry I didn’t listen.” No excuses. No explanation. No “I deserve your forgiveness because this is why I did it.” Just the apology. This isn’t to say that there are never times that you need to clear up a misunderstanding. If you are sincere about mending something you have broken, start with “I’m sorry.” Don’t add much else right away. This is especially important if when you apologize, you feel defensiveness rising up. Sometimes even when we are sorry, we still feel justified. We want to explain why. It’s not really as important as we’d like to think. The sorry is what matters.

3. Ask for forgiveness.

Oddly enough, this is the harder part for most people. “I’m sorry” can be hard. “Please forgive me” can feel totally foreign to us. When you ask for forgiveness after hurting someone—no matter how big or small the hurt—you are acknowledging that they don’t have to. It isn’t automatic. Asking indicates that it’s important to you, underscores that you have done something that needs to be forgiven and requires openness on your part. The answer might be, “Nope. I don’t forgive you.” It’s a risk.

4. Let it go.

Don’t keep explaining. Don’t keep bringing it up. Don’t joke about it. Do like your momma told you when you were five: Say you’re sorry. Give a hug to make it better. Move on. One of the easiest ways to keep something from healing is to keep picking at it. Say you’re sorry when you screw up. And then the next time you screw up—say it again. Don’t worry about blaming anyone else or getting defensive. Just apologize sincerely and let it go.

There is a Hawaiian tradition called Hoʻoponopono.

It’s an ancient forgiveness ritual, and some new age groups have picked up on it as mantra of sorts. There are cleansing rituals and dancing, and whatever else you would imagine for ancient Hawaiian traditions.

I’m not interested in any of that. But, if there are such things as magic words, I’d agree they’ve found them:

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

I love you.

Thank you.

 Use them often.

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About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is the strongest girl in the world. She is the love child of a pirate and a roller derby queen. She hails from the second star to the right. Her love of words is boundless, but she knows that many of life’s best moments are completely untranslatable. When she is not writing, you may find her practicing yoga, devouring a book, playing with her children, planting dandelions, or dancing barefoot with her heart on her sleeve. She is madly in love with life and does not know how this story ends; she’s making it up as she goes. Kate is the owner and editor-in-chief of Be You Media Group. She also writes for The Huffington Post, elephant journal, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, Yoganonymous, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. She facilitates writing workshops and retreats throughout North America. Heart Medicine, Kate's book on writing, is now available on You can follow Kate on Facebook and Twitter


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9 Responses to “How to Apologize.”

  1. Hector V. Barrientos-Bullock Harleigh Quinn says:

    I planned to write an article on precisely this, this week.
    Mine is a little different, though, so I believe I can still write it.

  2. @jeff69s says:

    1. Declare you are sorry. “I am sorry. I would like to offer an apology for______________”
    2. Take responsibility. (I did THAT, I said THAT)
    3. Acknowledge the impact of your actions on the other person. See it from their point of view. “I can see that what I did might have affected you this way___________”
    4. Offer an amends. Purpose of amends is to make it right. Offer something in particular OR ask the person what it would take to make this right for them. Ask them what they need from you to forgive and let go. (Pay for damages, a special gift, pattern interrupts such as humor, piggy back ride.)
    5. Make a new promise.
    6. Ask for forgiveness.

  3. Kathy says:

    Great article. And so true. Especially about how there are no "buts" in apologies. I am usually guilty of that. On a minor side note, there is a grammatical error in the first rule, "it's" should be "its" (no apostrophe).

  4. J. Auvil says:

    To clarify: the ritual cited is NOT Hawaiian ho'oponopono but 100% new age mumbo jumbo. The true Hawaiian practice of ho'oponopono is a ritual of conflict resolution that involves a trained mediator and the presence of all parties involved in a crisis or dispute. We don't say "I'm sorry, please forgive me" etc. We sit and resolve problems together in true ho'oponopono; everyone involved gives voice to their grievances. Then we make peace with each other by giving assurances which cannot be broken. That is ho'oponopono – a process not just a bunch of sweet sounding, fluffy words said aloud to appease one person's egoic needs.

  5. Elise says:

    Thanks so much for this. I did this recently and unknowingly followed your advice. It feels good to not hold onto anger and ask for forgiveness. I forgave myself in the process. Thank you!

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