Do's and Don'ts of Saying I'm Sorry


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It might seem at a glance that it’s a great thing to say “I’m sorry” in your relationship. But as with most things in life, there are helpful and not so helpful ways to go about it.  See more in a prior post on the topic of apologizing

Here are a few suggestions to follow the next time you feel you were in the wrong.

DO’s

  • Own up to your own behavior
  • Keep it simple and short (KISS)
  • Explain what you will do to make amends, if there was damage done
  • Declare your intention to behave differently in future situations that are similar to the one where you erred

DONT’s

  • Avoid the codependent trap of saying you’re sorry with the goal of controlling the other person’s anger
  • Watch out if you have a pattern of apologizing constantly and automatically – that’s a sign you are behaving in a codependent way, trying to offset the other person’s reaction by taking blame for things they do
  • Don’t get into long explanations and excuses for what you did wrong. Short and to the point is always the best approach, and you thus avoid digging a deeper hole for yourself where you invite criticism and blame
  • Accept responsibility
  • Be accountable without taking on a burden of shame

The healthy habit of apologizing for your mistakes can help you to grow emotionally and be more comfortable in your own life. The point is not to get the other person’s approval, but rather to behave in a mature and responsible way in every area of your life. The person you apologize to might actually get angry about it and mock you for apologizing, or try to make you feel guilty for a whole list of other things they want to dump on you.

Stick to your simple script and repeat what you apologized for. You can state the same phrase or sentence again, word for word, or give a minor variation of it, but don’t get suckered into apologizing for being alive.

Go ahead and be a broken record: “I’m sorry for what I did earlier (name it specifically) – that’s not how I want to behave and I intend to do better from now on.” This technique works whether you are apologizing to your boss, a coworker, your child, your spouse, your in-laws… you name it! It’s like an all-purpose remedy for smoothing troubled waters. Go ahead and try it, I think you’ll enjoy the relief it brings when you say with honesty: I messed up and I’m sorry about that.

Learn more about how to be a broken record (and why that’s a good thing).

your happiness guru,

Evelyn Brooks

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