The Words of an Authentic Apology

Sometimes simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough.
Studio 5 Family and Relationship Contributor, Dr. Liz Hale says you have to say it like you mean it. She shares the magic words that can help heal your relationships.

The effective apology is a significant behavior that has actually helped us survive. If societies were to go to war at every slight offense, they would cancel each other out. Humans have had to learn how to cooperate and they do this by striking a balance in relationships.

Research shows, however, that apologies full of mitigation, justifications, and finger-pointing are ineffective.

The Wrong Way:

The Political Special ~ “IF I have offended you or others, I apologize.”

The Blame Special ~ “I am truly sorry….but you sort of are to blame, too.”

The Non-Apology Special ~ “I’m sorry YOU took it the wrong way. I’m sorry YOU didn’t understand what I was trying to say.”

Too often we hear an apology simply because someone got caught! An apology will only come off as sincere when one expresses true reflection on their behavior along with a renewed commitment to avoid any future offending.

On the flip-side, too many of us apologize for everything under the sun so our apologies lack meaning because they are so overused.

Neither the apologizer not the apologizee will benefit if the apology is not sincere.

Author Carol Osborne, Ph.D., found a key characteristic among positive, influential female role models: Their ability and willingness to clear up unfinished business.

According to Dr. Osborne, there are 3 stages we go through as women:

Stage One:

Good-Girl Stage. No matter their age, women in this stage apologize for everything, even things they don’t need to. They just ned to please people.

Stage Two:

Rebellious Stage. Women in this stage rebel against the pleasing phase and they refuse to apologize for anything! They are mad about everything!

(Women in stages one and two definitely have more stress-related disorders and anxiety.)

Stage Three:

Wisdom Stage. Women in this particular stage get beyond following the rules and beyond reactivity; they take the best of both stages and reconcile legitimate shortcomings.

A sincere apology can work like magic in restoring and healing relationships, as well as health. A study done is 2002 showed that heart rate, blood pressure, sweat levels, and facial tension decreased in victims of wrongs when they even just imagined an apology.


Align your head and your heart. Intellectually and emotionally accept responsibility for causing another pain even when done unintentionally. Being accountable for your actions is the foundation of an honest and sincere apology.

Use a simply straight-froward statement that uses two magic words: “I’m sorry!” Then address what you did in concise terms:

“I’m sorry I forgot our meeting.”

“I’m sorry I said those things about your sister.”


Share what you see to be the direct repercussions of your actions with as much objectivity as you can muster:

“Im sorry I forgot our meeting; now the entire project is in jeopardy.”

“I’m sorry I said those things about your sister. They were uncalled for and I never should have let my anger get the best of me.”

Objectivity is the key. It demonstrates that you’ve moved past your ego and any defensive posturing to confront your mistake with undeniable honesty.


Often what people want to know is, “now that you’re sorry, what are you going to do to fix the situation?” Offer a solution to fixing the problem you created or offer a offer a change in behavior to prevent the problem for re-occurring.

“I’m sorry I forgot our meeting; now the entire project is in jeopardy. I’ll call the rest of our team to appeal for another meeting time.”

“I’m sorry I said those things about your sister. They were uncalled for and I should never have let my anger get the best of me. I will choose to see the best in your sister because I know how much she means to you.”


This last step can be the most difficult because of the temptation to throw a variety of tags onto our apologies. Continuing to talk, however, only waters down the sincere apology. Typically it sounds like this, “You know, you’re not completely blameless in this whole thing either” or “C’mon, cut me some slack; nobody’s perfect!” Even you have to admit your sister can be a….bear!”

Resist the urge to qualify your sincere apology further – be quiet, don’t say another word, and allow the matter to end, then and there.

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