Sorry, Not Sorry.

Wait, yes, “I am sorry.” 

For many, those three words are almost impossible to say. I have always wondered why we’re socialized to feel like apologizing for a mistake (especially when it is unintentional) is weak, embarrassing, shameful, or insert-similar-adjective-here. Why is it so hard for us to own our mistakes? 

The answer, if you really think about it, circles back to the concept of feeling bad about ourselves. Mistakes are bad and something to be avoided, right? So, it follows that, when we make a mistake, we internalize that negativity and consider ourselves failures. Never mind that we are all human and are therefore bound to trip up sometimes. 

I have learned that the fastest and clearest path to freedom from the bad feelings around mistakes is to own them. And sometimes owning them has nothing to do with anyone else except ourselves. 


There are lots of times when we don’t have the ability to apologize to others for a mistake. Maybe they are not open to speaking. Maybe we are not ready to have that conversation. Maybe we just don’t have their most recent contact information. But we can always make it right within ourselves. And when we do that, we erase the prison bars of shame, remorse, and embarrassment that can close us off to authentic and meaningful relationships. 

Apologizing offers so many benefits. Lots of times, people assume the benefits are only for the wronged party. But really the benefits are just as much for the person doing the apologizing. When we commit to taking full responsibility for our actions and admit our wrongdoing, we become willing to learn from our mistakes. We also learn to tell the truth. As we strengthen this muscle, we grow internally and build a foundation that not only values relationships and people but also ourselves. We build our sense of self-worth and self-respect.

Or, think of it this way: Apologizing and showing remorse is another way of showing compassion to ourselves. Rather than hiding behind our ego, we are saying, “It’s okay to admit this mistake. I am strong enough to admit it. I understand it doesn’t devalue me.” 

In essence, apologizing creates the groundwork for honesty, accountability, integrity and growth both for ourselves and for our relationships.


For me, learning to apologize is something I have been working for a long time. Before I reached my mid-twenties, my apologies were rare. When they did finally materialize, they came begrudgingly or with an edge. It was never from the heart. 

Truth be told, how you apologize is just as important as the act of apologizing. If you aren’t really feeling it or if you are being forced to apologize, that’s going to carry a very different energy than if you mean it and it comes from the heart.  

Think about the way you apologize. Do you do it sincerely, by looking the person in the eye and acknowledging how your error made the other person feel? Or do you issue the apology with as few words as possible and maybe even couched in an excuse? 

To put it another way: Would you rather hear, “I’m so sorry I embarrassed you when I told that story to our friends. I really should’ve been more considerate of how you might want to keep that private. I will make a point to be more considerate in the future.” Or, “Sorry I spilled the beans, but it was such a funny story! No one else thinks it’s embarrassing, so stop worrying.”

See the difference?


In my case, I messed up a lot when I was younger. I was in pain and did not have appropriate coping skills for that pain. On some unconscious level, I wanted everyone to feel my wounds, and I was passing them out like candy! What was I thinking though? How did I not see the damage this caused not only to myself but to everyone around me? 

It took a long time to develop the skills I needed to apologize well. Looking back, I realize that my ego played a significant role in my reluctance to apologize. It caused me fear and embarrassment to admit my part in a situation. And even when I could acknowledge my wrongdoing (whether intentional or not), I seemed to just shut down when I finally got to the place where I was ready to apologize. I wanted to speak, but nothing would come out. 

While I didn’t understand what was happening or why I was so blocked, I did know I no longer wanted to feel that way. Being aware of that desire for change spurred me on to find a new path. I started working to understand why I struggled to apologize as well as how to strengthen myself so that I could start taking baby steps toward owning my stuff and taking responsibility

Gradually, it felt as if a weight were lifted off of me. I felt lighter, more authentic, and actually happier. I didn’t always get the response I wanted, and I wasn’t always forgiven, but that’s how I learned that apologizing isn’t always about the other person, either. If the other person isn’t ready to forgive, there’s absolutely nothing I or anyone else can do. I just need to stay in my lane, be true to myself and do what is right.

Apologizing isn’t always easy. But it’s always worth it.

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