How to Say “I’m Sorry” – by Kind Communication

KindCommunication.orgRe-posted From:

We all make mistakes.  We all do things to intentionally hurt others.  We all need to be forgiven.

Asking for forgiveness is hard.  It requires us to admit that we’ve done something we’re not proud of.  It may require us to admit to ourselves that we’ve done something against our own moral values.  Asking for forgiveness requires humility.

I don’t know about you, but I have a very hard time with this.  I’m usually too focused on how the other person wronged me, or how it was a simple mistake.  I don’t want to admit that I’m flawed, or that I occasionally act on impulses and desires that violate my moral compass.  I often don’t want to face up to whatever pain and suffering I’ve caused in others.

But I also know from experience how vital it is to say “I’m sorry”.  I have friendships that would have been permanently gone if I hadn’t asked for forgiveness.  I wouldn’t have grown and become more mature, responsible, loving, patient, and compassionate if I hadn’t admitted to my mistakes.  So I know that asking for forgiveness, saying “I’m sorry”, is necessary to personal growth.  So I want to lay out some helpful pointers in saying “I’m sorry.”

First let me cover the basics:  get specific, mean it, and say it.  I need to be aware of what exactly I did, or didn’t do, which caused harm to someone else.  It doesn’t really matter why I did what I did, but I do need to be aware that whatever I did hurt someone else.  So I need to get specific.  “I am sorry that I yelled at you this morning”:  good and specific.  “I am sorry that I get grumpy sometimes”:  vague and needs work.

After I get specific about whatever it is I did or didn’t do, I need to mean it.  You’ve seen this happen when a kid is forced to say “I’m sorry” and they don’t really mean it.  It falls flat, and the person who is hurt doesn’t actually feel any better or want to forgive.  Saying “I’m sorry” when you don’t mean it only reduces the chances you’ll be forgiven in the future.  You gotta mean it and say it.

Second, be patient.  Just because I’ve said “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean the other person has to forgive me.  It doesn’t mean we can now drop it and move on.  To really receive forgiveness from this other person, I may need to wait for the other person to process and resolve their own emotions about the experience.  I may need to demonstrate through my actions that I am really committed to change.  I may need to give this person space.

Third, don’t assume things are going to go “back to normal”.  When I’ve done something that’s really hurt someone else the relationship has changed.  My saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t erase what has been done or said.  My saying “I’m sorry” only communicates “I regret what happened and my part in it, and I hope you can forgive me.”  Ultimately the other person has to make the decision to forgive, my words aren’t magic wands.  And even if they do forgive there may need to be new boundaries set.  I may have to adjust to new expectations or more distance and less intimacy.  Remember, asking for forgiveness requires humility, and when we expect other people to just forget and move on that is the height of pridefulness.

So go ask for forgiveness.  If you’ve done something you regret, that you know was wrong, and you want to try and restore a broken relationship, go say “I’m sorry”.  Get specific about what you did, or didn’t do.  Be patient, forgiveness takes time.  And don’t assume everything is going to be “okay”, forgiveness is not forgetting, and there may need to be some changes in order for the other person to forgive. is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.