Whether it’s pride, embarrassment, or something else, sometimes, it’s hard to say sorry. Or, perhaps you find it difficult to find a way to say you’re sorry and sound like you mean it — even if you really, really do.
Worrying that a “sorry” may sound insincere is a worthy fear. After all, you may know from personal experience that tons of sorrys — but no change in behavior — may make them hard to believe. But don’t worry. This doesn’t have to be your fate.
We’re always happy to help you navigate difficult conversations, such as condolences, how to express grief for a loss, and more. Though you can’t control who ultimately forgives you, we can help you with how to phrase your apologies in a straightforward, respectful, and elegant way.
If you do the best you can to apologize to whoever needs to hear it, that’s all you can do in some situations.
1. “I see where you’re coming from. That was not at all my intention.”
Some people, more than others, need to know that their feelings are acknowledged and seen — whether they’re rational or not. Giving someone a bit more understanding and practicing patience is generally all you need to do.
You have to always keep in mind that everyone (well, mostly everyone) processes emotions differently than you do. A small comment may rub someone completely the wrong way, when, in your mind, it was harmless.
2. “I’m glad you’re letting me know I hurt you — I never wanted that to happen.”
Expressing gratitude to someone for being open with you is a good way to trend the conversation in a positive direction, even if it seems negative. And, furthermore, telling someone that you never wanted to hurt them may sound obvious.
Some people need to have everything spelled out for them. You should also notice that this response is rather gentle. When someone is hurting, the last thing you want to do is come across as combative — even if you’re hurt by the situation as well.
3. “Thank you for being honest about your feelings. I hope I never do anything to make you feel this way again.”
Again, this response is a good way to trend the conversation in a positive direction. Having positive conversations about otherwise negative things may be uncomfortable, and it’s a big part of what happens at Cake, such as death positivity.
However, it’s also important to thank people for being honest about their feelings toward you or in general. After all, they’re taking a probably difficult and vulnerable step by telling you that they’re hurt.
They feel comfortable expressing these feelings to you, so the last thing you want to do is squash your opportunity to make it right. In fact, by telling you in the first place, they’re already creating an opportunity for you to make it right.
4. “What I said was not considerate. I really wish I could go back in time.”
Acknowledging that you were wrong is a good way to show remorse and that you’re sorry. This can be incredibly difficult at times, and, often, it’s expected that you may need to take some time till you’re ready to express this.
Swallowing your pride isn’t a fun thing to do. However, emotions and reactions aren’t always rational. Being “right” to outside parties may not always be possible. You can know in your heart that you’re right, but you may have to ignore this in order to respect someone else’s feelings.
5. “That was completely unfair of me to do. I promise I will never do that again.”
If you left someone out or otherwise weren’t considerate of them, it’s important to express an apology. And, you should also make a conscious effort to not do what you did again. However, be careful with promises. If you don’t fully intend to keep your promise — don’t make one.
6. “I care about you so much, and it’s killing me that I hurt you.”
Things happen. No one is perfect. In every relationship, there’s always a chance that you will be hurt or hurt someone else.
Reminding someone how much you care about them and that you’re in pain because they’re in pain is another way to express your apologies. Of course, you should have this conversation as delicately as possible.
7. “I know I need to give you some space, but can I please explain that I know how wrong I was?”
Acknowledging people’s feelings as well as their need for space to process their emotions is important. Bombarding someone with your “need” to be forgiven or “need” to apologize is never the way to go.
You can open up the conversation whenever you feel the moment is right. However, saying that you’re willing to give the other person time before you have a discussion is the most considerate thing to do. And, letting them know that you’re ready to talk about how you were in the wrong is also a step in the right direction.
8. “I feel horrible about what happened, and I really regret it.”
“No regrets,” may be a mantra of some; however, it’s not always sensical to live this way. The more open you are with people, the more likely you are to hurt or be hurt by someone.
Telling someone that you also feel horrible about the way something transpired can also help them to see the situation through your eyes as well, and he or she may soften a bit.
9. “If there’s any way that we can move forward from what happened, I will do everything that I can to ensure it never happens again.”
You will have to choose the time wisely for when to say this. Wanting to move forward is a great sentiment. But, your loved one may not be ready to “move on” and may need more time to work through their emotions. You should try to be as patient and respectful of his or her feelings as possible and not try to steamroll them.
10. “I see how much you’re hurting from this, and it’s hurting me too.”
If your loved one is going through a hard time and you’re unsure what to say — you’re right if you think “I’m sorry” may not cut it. For example, your loved one may be working through a death in his or her family or acknowledging a death anniversary. Here are more ideas for what to say (and what not to say) on a death anniversary.
11. “What can I do to fix this?”
If you’re not necessarily at fault but are still sorry about a situation a friend or loved one is dealing with, expressing your desire to help may be all they need to hear. After all, it’s far easier to move past mistakes if they’re resolved. Mistakes that are fixed — and fixed well — arguably never happened at all.
12. “I love you no matter what, and I will do whatever I need to to make it up to you.”
Reminding someone how much you love them and that you’ll do anything for them can hold a lot more weight than a simple “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps this goes without saying. But, if you don’t truly mean that you love someone no matter what and that you want to make it up to them no matter what, don’t say so.
13. “I will spend every moment making this up to you.”
It’s important to express how serious you are about righting a situation. Of course, you can say this even if you’re not technically at fault. You can “right” a situation even if it doesn’t really have anything to do with you specifically. How, you may ask?
Well, if your loved one is dealing with trouble at work, with their health, or within their family, you can serve an important role to them. Listen — really listen — to their concerns, fears, and more.
Help them work through their emotions and see different perspectives in a gentle way. Just be supportive. For example, you may wonder what encouraging things you could say when someone is sick.
14. “You’re right in your feelings. I wish there was something I could do to fix this, and I’m going to try regardless.”
Telling someone that they’re correct in their feelings and that you wish you could fix the situation is a good combination of many of the example apologies we’ve discussed. Though there may or may not be a direct way for you to correct a situation, telling your loved one that you want to help them opens the door.
Perhaps there’s a small or manageable way that you can help him or her, and they’ll let you know. It’s important to keep the conversation open when anyone is hurting so that healing can begin.
‘Sorry’ Is the First Step to Healing
It’s true. Even if you’re not directly hurt by a situation, working through the worst of the emotions that you or a loved one are experiencing is the first step to resolving the issue or issues, and thus, healing. While you’re working through these emotions — both together and independently — it’s important to be patient and calm with yourself and others.
It may be difficult to deal with situations that call your character into question. However, how you deal with them going forward makes all the difference. For more resources on difficult conversations and end-of-life planning, check out the rest of Cake.