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Apologizing

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
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Just about everyone has said or done something that hurts another person’s feelings. Sometimes you might hurt someone without meaning to. Or you say or do something unkind and regret it later.

When you realize you’ve broken someone’s trust in you or hurt them with your words or actions, it’s a good idea to apologize.

When to Apologize

Here are examples of when to apologize:

  • If you hurt, tease, insult, yell at, or disrespect someone.
  • If you lose or break something of theirs, even if you didn't mean to.
  • If you were unfair or harsh.
  • If you did something you knew was wrong, like telling a lie, posting hurtful comments, spreading a rumor, or breaking a rule on purpose.
  • If you didn't do something you were supposed to do, like keeping a promise or a curfew.

Do I Have to Apologize?

It can be hard to admit when you’ve done something you’re not proud of — even if you didn’t mean to do it. It can seem easier to act like it didn’t happen, say it wasn’t your fault, or hope the other person didn't notice or forgot about it. But it’s better to offer an apology. 

How Apologizing Can Help

Apologies can help you build and keep good friendships. When you say, "I'm sorry" (and really mean it), you can repair trust. Saying you're sorry is more than just words. You're showing that you respect the other person’s feelings. You value their friendship.

Apologizing is a chance for you to be honest, humble, and act with integrity. It lets you find out that your words and actions can also have a positive effect on others — and on you.

How to Apologize

A good apology focuses on what you did, not on the other person’s reaction. When you apologize, it’s not a rehash of what happened. You can keep it simple. For example, you can:

  • Tell the person you're sorry for what you did, even if it wasn’t on purpose.
  • Own what you did without trying to explain it away. It takes away from an apology if you follow up with an excuse or explanation for why you did what you did.
  • Let them know you regret it. Say you know it affected them and you'll try to do better in future.

Does Apologizing Fix Everything?

It depends on what happened and on your relationship with the person. Sometimes saying "I'm sorry" fixes things right away. Other times, it might take a while for someone to get past feeling upset. You may need to give them some time. But when you apologize in a heartfelt way, you can feel good about trying to make things right again.

When Someone Apologizes to You

When someone apologizes to you, you may be ready to forgive what happened and move on. Or you might not feel like being friendly again right away. If someone keeps hurting you and apologizing without trying to change, you might not want to spend time with them anymore. That’s OK.

When you forgive someone or accept their apology, it doesn’t mean you’re OK with what they did. And just because someone apologizes doesn't mean you have to be friends. You can still accept their apology. But anything more is up to you.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2022