The holidays are upon us which means you will probably attend family gatherings which means you may have to apologize to someone, sometime. Or maybe you will be on the receiving end of an apology.

Let’s hope it isn’t a non-apology apology. You know. The kind where your sister says, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This puts the onus on you instead of on your sister who is really the one who ought to apologize. She’s basically telling you that your feelings are wrong and she’s sorry you can’t get it together enough to feel the right way.

Or how about this non-apology apology? “I’m sorry but you made me so mad.” This is not an apology. It’s an accusation. This person is telling you that it’s your fault he did the terrible thing he did to you because you made him so mad he couldn’t help himself. So you’re to blame!

Apologies should never have the word “but” in them. Wait and cool down to give yourself time to get over the impulse to defend yourself. You were a jerk and you know it. Now how do you make a good, sincere apology that will soothe the heart instead of fan the flames?

  1. Take ownership. When you realize you did or said something that hurts someone else, say you’re sorry for what you did. If you’ve really inflicted a deep wound, this may not be enough. But it’s a start.
  2. Express regret. Tell them you value their feelings and you realize what you did was wrong. You wish you hadn’t done what you did because you don’t want to hurt them.
  3. Make it right. Tell them the steps you are taking to rectify the situation. If you don’t know what you can do, ask the hurt person. Maybe there’s nothing you can do to make things right, and you’ll have to live with that.
  4. Don’t do it again. Assure the injured person that you won’t do it again, and then don’t. An apology is no good at all if you find yourself saying you’re sorry for the same thing over and over.
  5. Ask for forgiveness. Tone is important here. You have to be sincerely sorry and truly wish for the other person’s forgiveness. Say please. And give them some time to think about it. Yes, you need their forgiveness right now, but it has to be on their timeline, not yours.
  6. Write a note. A note of remorse with an expression of thanks for forgiveness bestowed—so gracious. And it is never wrong to be gracious.
  7. Go forth in renewed friendship. Let no grudges be held. Let no one revisit this wrong that has now been righted. It may take some time to restore your relationship, so give it time. It may never go back to where it was, but with a good apology, your relationship may even reach a deeper, more satisfying level.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: