The Three Key Ingredients of a Sincere Apology

The Three Key Ingredients of a Sincere Apology

Woman holding up small chalkboard with 'I'm sorry' written on itIn the acts of loving and showing friendship, people will make some mistakes. Sincere apologies acknowledge the pain you caused someone, show you accept responsibility and demonstrate a level of vulnerability. An apology helps restore tranquility, harmony and grace within relationships.

Relationships can get messy by nature because no one is perfect. We all do things intentionally and unintentionally that hurt those we care about. I, for one, love a great apology. It allows a not-so-perfect moment to be covered over by grace and makes room for forgiveness. But what makes for a good apology?

ONE: Acknowledge and own what you did.

  • Clearly label the transgression you committed.
  • Take responsibility by simply using “I” statements.

TWO: Offer empathy not sympathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand another’s feelings and share in the impact of them.

An example of showing empathy would be if a loved one shares they are having a bad day and you say, “I know what that’s like. What could I do to help today go a little better?” Empathy expresses concern and emotion to what is hurting another.

An example of sympathy to the statement would be saying, “Oh wow. That sucks,” Sympathy lacks emotion.

THREE: Offer reparations.

Offering a way to make up for your behavior and or transgression shows an added level of acknowledgment and responsibility. When a transgression happens it can take away from those affected. Offering a change in behavior, working on the offense and making sure it’s not an over-the-top act of kindness is important.

Apologies can come in many forms and be shown through various actions.

Learning how to say sorry can be difficult both for children and adults. It is something that can be done at any time in order to heal wounds and start the process of reconciliation if possible.

Some simple ways of stating feelings of remorse are:

  • I’m sorry.
  • I know I’ve hurt you and it causes me pain to see the consequences of my actions. What can I do to make things better?
  • I’m sorry I used such hurtful words. I’m embarrassed about how inappropriate my words were.
  • I realize I made a big deal about something not important. I wish I could have heard your point of view sooner.
  • Please forgive me. I’ll work on taking time out to cool down before I say or do something I will regret.

Addressing the hurt, taking responsibility and being willing to make a correction in your behavior shows a level of care and respect for the other person.

An apology does not guarantee forgiveness.

An apology is a tool to help in healing, but does not guarantee that the pain will be forgiven or that the behavior will not happen again. If a transgression seems irreconcilable and causes extreme distress, individual and/or relationship counseling can be a tool to address those issues. It serves as a safe space to bring up current and/or past traumas and can provide tools for how to heal deep rooted wounds.


Elizza LeJeune, LMSWElizza LeJeune, LMSW, is a fully licensed clinician social worker at the Pine Rest Northwest Clinic. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Central Michigan University and her Master’s in Social Work with a Certificate in Disaster Mental Health from Tulane University in New Orleans. Her areas of interest include working with children, adolescents and adults struggling with depression, anxiety and spiritual issues as well as family, child and women’s issues

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