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8 Tips for Making a Good Apology

If you struggle with substance use issues, you may find yourself having to make more apologies than the average person. Not only do drugs and alcohol impair your judgment, making you more prone to reckless behavior and accidents, but addiction can undermine your personal values and harm your relationships in a thousand different ways. When you do decide to get sober, part of that process will include patching up relationships, making apologies, and making amends. If you have some apologies to make, here are some tips for doing it right.

Apologize for the Right Reason

The right intention can make all the difference in an apology. There is really only one correct reason for apologizing to someone, which is that you feel genuine remorse for hurting them in some way. Don’t apologize because you need money or a place to stay or whatever else. That’s the most transparent sort of fake apology. It’s not even a good idea to ask for a favor after an apology. Even if you do feel genuine remorse, asking a favor right away undermines the sincerity of your apology. If you do apologize from a place of genuine remorse, it will show and your apology will be more effective.

Describe What You’re Apologizing For

What people typically want from an apology is validation and recognition. When you victimize someone, you’re implying that their needs don’t matter. One way you can make up for that is to demonstrate some understanding of why your actions hurt them. Briefly describe what you did and why it hurt them. For example, you might say something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t pick you up at the airport as I had promised. I realize it must have been a huge inconvenience and you may have felt like I forgot about you or that I just didn’t care.” Your description should demonstrate both awareness and empathy. Being able to accurately identify what you did wrong and why makes the other person feel like you might at least be capable of avoiding similar behavior in the future.

Explicitly Apologize

It’s important to actually say the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” We often cave under the pressure of sincere communication. Sometimes the person who deserves an apology and really wants to hear it will even let you off the hook without an explicit apology if you make your intention clear. However, apologies aren’t supposed to be easy so make sure you say the actual words.

Make Amends If Possible

Apologies are good but making amends is better. That’s one reason one of the 12 steps is making amends and not just apologizing. While an apology is the decent thing to do, and sometimes the best thing you can do, it’s still just words. Making amends actually requires some kind of sacrifice on your part in order to make things right. It might be a sacrifice in terms of money, effort, or time.

Not only does this mitigate some of the damage you’ve done, but it also demonstrates your sincerity, and sharing in the consequences indicates that you are less likely to repeat your behavior. If making amends to the person you harmed is not possible or not advisable, think of ways you can make amends more broadly, perhaps by donating time or money to a worthy cause.

Give Assurance It Won’t Happen Again

When it comes to moving forward in a relationship, the other person mainly wants to know if you are going to hurt them again. Trust takes a while to repair. Some of the tips above, like stating exactly what you did and why it was wrong, and making amends go some way toward reassuring the person you won’t repeat your behavior. Promising that it won’t happen again is also nice. You may want to give some more concrete assurances as well, such as telling them you’ve entered addiction treatment, started attending 12-Step meetings, starting seeing a therapist, and so on. Depending on the situation, you might propose specific consequences for repeating your behavior.

Ask Forgiveness

When you’ve apologized and given your assurances, ask forgiveness. Explicitly say, “Will you forgive me?” When you victimize someone, you take away their agency and asking forgiveness is a way of giving a little bit back. You’re letting them know that you need something from them and they can decide to give it to you or not. In other words, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable as a way of evening the score.

The catch is that you can’t make them forgive you. You have to live with whatever they decide to do. They may also not be able to forgive you right away. Be patient, they may change their mind if you show genuine signs of change.

Don’t Ruin It With Explanations

It’s hard to admit you were wrong and leave it at that. Whatever it was that you did, you know there were specific circumstances, that you’re not really such a bad person, and so on. You want to defend your actions in such a way that you don’t feel terrible about yourself. However, an apology isn’t about you; it’s about them. We all know that nothing happens in a vacuum and there were extenuating circumstances and everything else but all they care about is that you hurt them. So make your apology and resist the urge to add a “but” or “it’s just that” to the end.

Don’t Force an Apology on Someone

Finally, don’t force an apology on someone who doesn’t want it. An apology is for making the other person feel better, not for making you feel better. If someone doesn’t want to hear from you, respect that.

Apologies are never easy but they’re often the right thing to do. The key is to express genuine remorse while being specific about your offense and how it affected the other person. Taking responsibility for your actions shows a fundamental change in attitude from addictive behavior and making some assurance it won’t happen again sets the groundwork for rebuilding trust.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that recovery from addiction is about far more than quitting drugs and alcohol; it’s about living a life of connection, integrity, and joy. We treat the whole person, mind, body, and spirit, and we emphasize the importance of community in recovery. To learn more, call us today at 833-801-5483.

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