How to Apologize.

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.




“Yes, And”: Eliminate Argument Forever with These 2 Simple Words.

Sorry, Not Sorry: How to Break your Apology Addiction.

I will Never Apologize for being Vulnerable.

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Nikki Mar 23, 2016 10:49am

Thank you so much for this. I’ve been practicing this for a while and trying to encourage certain friends and family to do it also. It astounds me how difficult is for them. For some, it’s is so ingrained for them to want to defend and make excuses and give reasons. It can be so frustrating and insincere. It’s difficult to make them see that.

Elise Jul 23, 2014 11:01am

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!

J. Auvil Apr 11, 2014 4:32pm

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.

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Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven.
She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds.
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