Saying Sorry 101

We’re all called to forgive people, regardless of whether or not they’ve apologized sincerely, or even at all. When someone hurts me, a sincere apology goes a long way. It tends to melt my heart quickly, expeditating my ability to forgive that person. And yet *sigh,* when it comes time for me to apologize to someone, I am, embarrassingly, stubborn. More than once I’ve been known to get in the pitfalls of a “bad” apology — apologies I might quickly challenge someone else on as inauthentic were roles reverse.

1. I’m Sorry, But . . .

Before writing this article, I polled my Instagram followers for what they considered to be a bad apology and SO many people wrote this, so I’m putting it first. It’s also the “cardinal sins of apologies” I tend to commit the most.

I’m sorry, but you started it.
I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t spoken to me like that, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.
I’m sorry, but I had a really bad day.

Anytime you add “but” to the end of “I’m sorry,” you’re creating an excuse for the reason you acted that way, and inadvertently putting the blame on someone else, perhaps the very person you’re apologizing to. Ownership of actions is an important step in offering an apology and asking for forgiveness.

2. Obviously, I didn’t mean it.

Welllll, not so obvious if the person is asking for an apology. I remember as a little kid when I would accidentally hurt my sister if we were rough housing, or having a snowball fight, or anything else that might involve physical contact. My mom would always make me apologize. On the one hand, yes, we were playing and it was obvious I didn’t mean it. But I still hurt her and my mom emphasized the importance of acknowledging that hurt and taking ownership of it from a young age.

As I’ve gotten older, “roughhousing” has been replaced with sarcasm. I can be a very sarcastic person, usually I mean it to be humorous, but sometimes my sarcasm goes to far and it’s bitter. Other times I’m sarcastic towards someone who doesn’t interpret sarcasm well and is hurt by my words. “Obviously I was being sarcastic,” doesn’t fix a relationship and acknowledge how my tone and words impacted someone. “I’m sorry my words and tone were hurtful, I was trying to be sarcastic but I realize that it went too far,” is a much more sincere apology.

3. The Passive-Aggressive Apology

Ok, jeez, I’m sorry, *avoids eye contact, shrugs shoulders.” Another bad apology, I’ve been guilty of. Sure, I said the words the person wanted to hear. But everything else has communicated that I don’t really care and that I’m not actually sorry.

4. I’m Sorry You Feel That Way/I’m Sorry Your Feelings Got Hurt

This is my least favorite apology, one I try to be cognitive of, perhaps because I tend to be a sensitive feeling and have been told this so many times. Do not apologize for someone’s feelings. Feelings are subjective. Even if you think they’re overreacting or being overly sensitive, everyone experiences things differently. What should matter is that you hurt this person. You could say “I’m sorry that what I said caused you to feel that way,” or “I wasn’t trying to hurt you feelings, I’m sorry.” But both of those phrases include a keyword: “you.” You’re apologizing to a person, not a feeling.

Reconciliation and forgiveness are important parts of any relationship, even our relationship with God. Being able to admit your shortcomings, or acknowledge that your actions and words hurt someone (even if you didn’t mean to), isn’t always easy and might take an act of courage. Likewise, offering forgiveness can sometimes be painful and challenging. Yet, this is what our God does for us and what He calls us to do for others.