How To Say Sorry—And Mean It

There's been a time where we've all hurt people who we love. We can't go back in time to fix it, but we can say sorry.


We’ve all messed up. We have all had moments in our lives where we wish we could turn back the clock and right our wrongs. Humankind is yet to invent time travel, so we can’t get too caught up with what could have been. That being said, if we hurt someone, we have to see where we went wrong, make sure who we hurt knows that they are loved, and commit to making things right in the future.


Last semester, I was a freshman in college. When you’re a freshman it is all too easy to get swept away in a world of parties, crushes, and an overwhelming new independence. In the flurry of excitement, I had moments where I neglected my closest friends. One friend in particular I had, for two nights in a row, thrown away plans because I thought I could have more fun without her on those nights. I didn’t show love for her in the way that I should have, and the way she deserved. I took advantage of the fact that I knew she would always be there for me, and carelessly tossed her aside.


She was hurt by my actions, and I was hurt that I had caused her harm. An apology was necessary, and I followed these four steps to make sure I did it right.


1. Explanation of what happened in the past

Clarity is key. You never want to be a gaslighter. After some reflection of the harm caused, identify why you did what you did and why it was hurtful. For me, I was careless with a person I care for and made them feel like my love was ingenuine. Also, starting this conversation was important because they made me realize that I had made this error more times than I had thought. The damage was deeper than I imagined and I needed to understand exactly what I had done.


2. Commitment to do better in the future

Now that you know what went wrong, you can identify how you can do things differently in the future. Verbally express this to the person you are apologizing to with clear and simple ways you are going to improve your behavior. With my friend we made a plan to be transparent with our expectations of the night when we go out, and I also made a commitment to make her feelings and well-being a priority.


3. Don’t make them accept it

An apology can very easily be a way for the person who did the harmful act to alleviate themselves of feelings of guilt. Make sure that it is not about you. This is not a time to be selfish. Make sure the other party knows that this is an expression of your feelings of remorse, and they do not need to forgive you if they’re not ready. Things take time to get better, and people need time to heal. Don’t expect that one conversation is going to fix everything.


4. Following through

Now this apologetic conversation is a great step in the right direction, but it means nothing if you don’t follow through. It’s a cliché that actions speak louder than words, but clichés are just truths. Commit to not just saying you will do better, but actually do better. Prove that you mean what you said, and make the person you love feel loved.