How to Craft the Perfect Apology

We've all fucked up at some point in our lives.  It's a part of being human.  But mistakes are how we learn and grow.  And if we don't learn and grow, then our lives become a never ending cesspool of crap (I should know, I've been there!).

But, when we make mistakes with other people, we have to be very careful in how we rectify our behavior to the person we hurt.  Despite what many people think, there is a right way and a wrong way to apologize.  The right way may not always get you forgiven, but it may mend the other person's heart, as well as your own.  Whereas the wrong way will always make things worse.

And I am here to teach which is which, as well as how to craft the perfect apology.

So, let's get started!

  • Every apology has to include a version of "I'm sorry."  But not every single "I'm sorry" is an apology.  Empty words with no meaning or feeling behind them mean absolutely nothing.  And empty words that you take back the next day by treating the person the same way again also means nothing.  So you have to mean it, or don't say it at all.  The Wrong Way: saying ONLY "I'm sorry" and expecting people to just get over it.
  • Every "I'm sorry" must also include who, what, and why (and empathize).  With every single apology, you must empathize with how the other person felt.  Put yourself in their shoes, how did it feel to them?  Then start with: Who are you sorry to?  What did you do?  And why did you do it?  Who: "I am so sorry I did that to you, that probably made you feel really bad."  Include the other person so they know that you realize that you hurt them.  What:  "I am so sorry I borrowed your item without asking, that must have felt like I was stealing from you" (use the real name for the item).  "I am so sorry that I didn't tell about my secret sooner, that must have felt like a betrayal" (use the actual description of your secret).  Just admit to what you did wrong.  Show them you realize exactly what you did that hurt them.  Why:  "I did it because I was jealous."  "I didn't tell you because I was afraid of what you might think of me".  The Wrong Way: "I didn't tell you because you always overreact!"  Never counteract your apology by blaming them back.  "I am sorry I did that to you, but you did it first!"  Neither of these are an actual apology.  If you can't apologize right, then don't do it at all until later when you feel more calm.
  • No excuses!  No buts!  "I'm sorry, but..."  No!  You need to take full responsibility for what you did wrong.
  • And no giving half-ass apologies, like saying "I am sorry that you were hurt by my words" or "I am sorry you took me wrong."  You can never place the blame on the other person (unless you honestly didn't do anything wrong and they did take you wrong, but even then, it's still better to actually apologize if you feel the need to).  Being condescending like this is an empty attempt to placate someone you've hurt.  Which is not okay.
  • Never apologize when you're still mad.  If you don't feel it, don't say it.  If they are begging you for an apology, you need to walk away until you can calm down and look at the situation with fresh eyes.
  • In order for an apology to be meaningful, just saying "I'm sorry" is never enough.  You have to be willing to sacrifice for the person.  You have to willing to either put in the time and/or completely open up yourself and leave yourself vulnerable so the other person can see you're for real.  You have to be willing to get into touch with the root of your actions, no matter how personal it may be.  

Here's an example: 

When I was younger, I ran a women's group.  We had a particular member who always had a wrong answer for everything.  She told us that apples had arsenic in them and would constantly instruct our members with nonsensical information.  She was irritating everyone in the group and out of frustration and a year of having people complain to me about her, I immaturely went to my Facebook page to complain about her.  This was many years ago, and while that situation taught me how to be a better person, I ended up hurting this woman so very, very badly.  I had thought I posted it privately and it turned out that it was public.  I realized this within thirty seconds, but in that time, she had read it.

She messaged me through her tears and told me what a horrible person I was.  And she was right.  I had messed up badly and acted out of my own immaturity rather than act like an adult.

So I let my guard down and told her that it was my issue not hers.  There was nothing wrong with her and I was just an angry person who had never learned properly how to deal with my frustrations other than talking shit.  I grew up with a mother who was (and still is) fake nice to everyone, and then bashes them behind their backs.  I said that as an adult, I needed to learn another way to deal with things.  I told her that when you write a letter to someone you're angry at, you say horrible things, but you're not supposed to send that letter.  It's a way to get out your anger without being an asshole.  Well, that's what my post was, the initial writing that nobody should have read but me.  It was the meanest things I could think of to get out my anger, and whether or not she could read it is not the point, the point was that I posted it where anyone could see it at all.  I told her she didn't have to forgive me because I was 100% in the wrong.  But I wanted her to know I was sorry and that it was my own problem to deal with, that the things I said about her I was feeling about myself, and it had nothing to do with her at all. 

She didn't end up forgiving me.  In fact, she took my women's group and ran it herself and never spoke to me again.  

But, apologizing has nothing to do with forgiveness.  It has to do with righting your wrongs and healing the other person's pain you've caused. 

She did say to me before blocking me "I understand where you're coming from but I can't do this with you".  So my words hopefully helped to her to understand that my mistake was MY mistake and had nothing to do with her.  I hope my apology helped her to heal and helped her not to feel bad about herself because some dumb girl on the internet with her own problems said something nasty about her.

Apologies are not only about healing the target of your mistake, they also help you to learn from the situation and use it to make you a better person.  After this happened, I realized that taking to social media to bitch about someone is not only wrong, but also not a very mature way to deal with my frustrations.  I also learned that you don't have to ignore your anger towards someone, but you also don't have to take it out on them, either.  After that, if I felt the urge to rant about someone (or anything, for that matter), I'd type it all out on my computer privately in Wordpad and then erase it when I was done.  

But what if you did something really horrible?  Like cheat on someone? 

Just like with any mistake, you have to change, you have to dig deep and find out why you did it, and you have to show the person you'll never do it again.  And you do need to give them an apology, but one that's rooted in their needs, not yours.  Something along the lines of this:

"I am sorry for what I did, and I never expect you to forgive me.  I will live my life knowing what I did to you was 100% wrong and will spend my life becoming a better person so one day you may find a way to heal from this.  If you choose to stay, I will do everything I can to prove to you that I will be better.  If you choose to leave, know that not all men (or women) are like me.  So don't be afraid to love again, because I am the one who did something wrong, not you."  

Words like that are never enough, but they are a start (and you have to mean it!!).  And you have to be willing to let the person leave your life after you've messed up, no matter who they are to you.  I am not saying just give up and let them walk away forever.  Sometimes people want you to fight for them.  But at the same time, some people don't.  Some people just want a clean break from your life, and you have to let that happen.  Because, like I said, apologies aren't about forgiveness, it's about helping them heal from your mistakes.

You also have to dig deep and be willing to make sacrifices, such as going to therapy to find the root of why you chose to cheat in the first place.  And you have to give your partner enough space so they can work out how they feel about what you did, and you have to be willing to help them get through it and not leave them to work it out on their own (unless they ask you to).

We are all human.  We all do stupid, stupid shit.  It happens.  But when we do, we have to be willing to break down the walls that caused us to mess up in the first place.  Otherwise, if our walls are left up, and we stay exactly the same forever.  A real apology and actually mending your relationship will break those walls down.  And even if you don't get forgiveness, if you do it properly, you will emerge through the other side like a phoenix from the ashes.  You will be reborn better, stronger, wiser, and more mature.  You will have learned from your mistakes and will have the strength to keep yourself from making them again (or, at least you will bounce back faster each time). 

Forgiveness doesn't just come from the other person, it also comes from you. 

When you mess up, you need to learn how to forgive yourself.  If you don't, you will never heal.  And if you don't heal, you'll never grow or change.  And if you don't grow and change, then your mistake stays a mistake and never turns into a learning experience (which is what all mistakes should end up being).  

I would argue that forgiving yourself is more important than receiving forgiveness from the person you hurt (though it definitely helps), and forgiving yourself is important to your mental health, and your apology (and subsequent healing actions) are important to the mental health of the person you hurt.  Both are needed in order to wholly heal all sides of the situation.  

Here is another example:

A girl I knew from high school was saying shitty things to me on Facebook.  She would be snappy at everything I said and eventually blocked me.  Then one day she said something directly about me on a mutual friend's page, about how she was glad my kids were homeschooled so her kids would never meet them and have my kids pick on them and call them anorexic, like I did to her.  A mutual friend screen shot this and sent it to me.  Finally, her behavior made sense.  A bunch of people yelled at her, told her to get over it, it was high school, but I saw the hurt in her words and had my friend copy and paste my apology to send to her. 

"Sarah (name changed), I saw what you said about my children, but I want to make you well aware of the fact that my children were raised by good parents and would never, ever treat another human being the way I treated you in high school.  I hated myself in high school, and I was anorexic myself, so instead of people realizing the truth about me, I took that out on you.  I was a terrible person back then.  I picked on people so nobody would pick on me and there is no excuse for that.  You deserved better treatment than that.  I wish I could go back and take it all back and be who I am now, but I can't.  I am so very sorry, and I hope you can understand how hard it was to be teenage girl, as you were once one too.  Even so, there was no excuse for what I did.  I am not that person today and my children could not and will never be anything like I was.  I made sure of that.  If our children ever meet, my kids would be amazing to yours.  They are who I wish I had the courage to be when I was young."  

She read this and immediately unblocked me and sent me a friend request on Facebook.  We stayed friends for a little while, and realized we were nothing alike and drifted apart, but the horrible high school years were healed between us.  She was healed, as was I.  Another wound healed and another chapter closed, for both of us.

What if the other person wants to pretend it didn't happen?

I had two other friends from high school that I apologized to for the things I did to them, and both got severely defensive and angry with me for saying anything (we weren't even angry at each other at the time).  Not everyone is going to be open to your honest apologies or any kind of apology at all.  Not everyone wants to remember the bad times.  There are many who like to pretend they never happened.  It doesn't matter, because if you feel regret in any way, you need to explore that and find a way to try to make amends.  It will heal you, even if it doesn't do anything for them. 

So explore your regret and then say your peace.  If they shut you down, you have to ask yourself if you want to stay friends (if you are friends already) with people who want to rewrite history or those that are mean to you when you open yourself to vulnerability.  I, myself, have learned from personal experience that those type of people aren't ones I need to have in my life.  I even gave up a 20+ year friendship with one of those women because of that reason.  I know I treated her pretty badly as a young woman and a child, and she got angry that I would suggest such a thing.  But I couldn't live with the guilt, so I had to say my peace and move on.  Which is perfectly okay to do in life. 

The length of a relationship doesn't indicate the health of the relationship.  

Remember that.  

And keep your relationships (and yourself) healthy by apologizing correctly, apologizing often, and forgiving yourself frequently.

So remember, in order to heal from your mistakes, you have to do two things:

  1. Apologize  (and mean it)
  2. Forgive yourself  (because that's how you learn from your mistakes and become a better person)

You have to dig deep to do both honestly and thoroughly.  And always remember:

We do our best with what we have, so when we know better, we do better.    

I was once a pretty selfish young person who dealt with her problems by gossiping, backstabbing, and revenge.  Today, as of this writing, I am forty, and now I know better, so I do better.  I still make mistakes, yes, but I also know how to deal with them in a much more productive manner, for both myself and the person I hurt.  

Nobody is perfect.  But perfection is not something we should strive to be.  It's how we deal with our imperfections and mistakes that matter.  That's the measure of what type of person we are and what type of person we will be in the future.  

Because a true apology that means something is the cornerstone to being whole (for both of you).  That, with the eventual forgiveness of ourselves for our mistakes, becomes the glue that will bind our past selves with a brilliant future.  And they are the keys of true self love and acceptance.  All of which are needed to grow and change to become who we are meant to be.  

Admitting you're wrong is not a weakness, as many people think.  It's a sign of true self awareness, maturity, and wholeness.  And doing it right is a craft anyone can learn.  You just have to be willing to be vulnerable and open yourself up in ways you may have never had to do before.  It's not easy, but it's worth it.  

It's so very, very worth it.  

If you're having trouble getting in contact with your feelings or finding a way to apologize to someone, then consider contacting me at my Facebook page (by message) to set up a session so we can chat about it.  I can help you figure out why you chose to do what you did, and help you learn how to apologize in a meaningful way.  

Post a Comment