The Art of a Good Apology

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make big ones; sometimes we make not so big ones. Making mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them seems to be as much a part of the human condition as breathing.

But it isn’t the mistakes we make that define us. It’s what we do after we make them that really matters.

I have always found admitting when I have done something regrettable to be difficult. As I am sure most people do. It takes courage and humility to own up to a mistake, particularly if that mistake hurt someone you love.

Dealing daily with fluctuating moods means that sometimes my interactions with others miss the mark. My overreactions have been known to hurt feelings or leave loved ones baffled.

And believe me; I am often left baffled too.

When I am really ill, my thinking is often caught in a nasty insular trap. I am stuck analyzing and overanalyzing my feelings on the matter and it becomes difficult to extend myself graciously to someone else. It will often take me some time to realize the mistake was mine.

Now there are different arguments to be made about how to handle regretful behaviours caused or at least fed by the imbalances of mental illness. Some people will argue that because physiological problems in our brain have caused us to behave in abnormal ways, that we then have nothing to feel regret about. Why should we apologize for things we can’t control?

I can appreciate this argument and where it comes from. But as much as I feel downright indignant that my brain doesn’t work the way it used to, I still feel responsible for the ways in which my illness affects others. And so in my trusty toolbox of coping mechanisms, one thing I find myself using regularly is a good old fashioned apology.

Just to be clear, I don’t apologize for having Bipolar Disorder. I accept that it’s my lot in life. It is a challenge I live with and to which I continually try to rise to.

However, I do try to apologize to the people my illness has affected – in a collateral damage sort of way – always unintentionally and regrettably.

I am not an expert at making a good apology. In fact, I am still perfecting the art. But it is my fundamental belief that there is no more important skill that I will teach my children about relationships than the technique of a genuine apology.

And so it is to my children that I apologize the most.

Some people have different views on the idea of apologizing regularly to children. I guess they view it as a threat to the control or delicate balance of power they feel they need to have in relationships with children. I look at it differently.

The more often my children see me accepting responsibility for a mistake I’ve made, the more often they see me modeling how to make reparation in a relationship. I want my children to know instinctively what to do to repair and maintain the relationships that are important to them.


A few things to chew on where apologies are concerned:

  • Make it genuine. Apologies can sometimes be offered as knee-jerk reactions used to diffuse a tricky situation. We often demand them from children on the spot – “Apologize to your brother, he’s crying. Say you’re sorry, right now!” A ‘sorry’ under duress isn’t genuine at all. Nor is a sorry genuine when it’s offered out of a sense of obligation. The best apologies come from a place of real recognition of a mistake and desire to make amends. Try not to dilute the power of a genuine apology with a cursory ‘sorry’ – be heartfelt.
  • Avoid justifying and transferring blame. Sometimes a short explanation of what went wrong is helpful to bring perspective, but avoid spending too much time justifying your actions. This takes away from the sincerity of your apology and may result in more harm than good.
  • Be specific with your acknowledgment. Taking responsibility for what went wrong is important. Be sure to describe what you are remorseful for and how you plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Try to avoid vague or conditional statements like “mistakes were made” or “I apologize if you were upset”.
  • Try not to delay. Take the time you need to process what happened, but don’t delay with your apology. Find the courage and humility required to apologize as soon as possible.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness provides a release and closure for both parties. You will find most people will want to give it, but it needs to be done on their own time. Ask for and accept it humbly.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”   
~ Mark Twain

Liked this?
Try reading It’s Okay, We Can’t All Be Super Moms

Read More – The Power of Amends (BP Magazine)


2 responses to “The Art of a Good Apology

  1. “Dealing daily with fluctuating moods means that sometimes my interactions with others miss the mark. My overreactions have been known to hurt feelings or leave loved ones baffled.”

    You hit the nail right on the head here. Despite my attempts to mend relationships that were damaged during my “rampage”, there are some that are still broken 6 years later.
    Bipolar disorder can be scary to the bystander. It’s already freaky enough for those of us experiencing it. My husband learned a lot for the link below. This site gives good information for families to help them cope when a loved one is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

    And believe me; I am often left baffled too.”

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