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  • Emily Brown

How You’re Apologising Wrong

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

Rule 1: Ditch the 'Because'...

It's a start. Source: SoundFly.

I recently went out for breakfast with a friend who was grappling with not knowing how to navigate a falling out with a friend that he felt he wasn’t responsible for. A text was orchestrated between the two of us (as you do in this millennia). My thoughts were: keep it short and sweet, and open up the communication lines in a non-confrontational manner in order to tread carefully on the fractured connection. This didn’t exactly sit with him at first. He was more focused on justifying his part of the fracture. More predominantly, he was desperately wanting to feel heard in how the situation made him feel. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to squirt people with a water gun like an untrained kitten.


Reach out to them first.

Then you can have the floor.

Wait your turn.

And it dawned on me. We really don’t know how to deal with confrontation the vast majority of the time. Let alone enact a genuine apology in the right way for the person it’s given to. We forget that an apology is tangibly given to someone and is not given in order to meet our own needs.

It’s always perplexed me, the way we enact confrontation. I’ve always wondered whether my way of addressing such a confrontation is maybe a little bit manipulative. The reason I’ve wondered this is that I tend to initiate a conversation on the basis of being gentle and approachable at first, and catering to the conversation style of the other person, which can sound somewhat snakey and pointed. But it’s not.

Some may throw themselves into an apology, laying all thoughts and feelings on the table for the other to see them gasping for air within their circumstances.

What to do when your apology sucks. Source: HBO

But the kind of apology I actively despise is the kind that is riddled with ‘Because’. This is the kind of confrontation that leaves the other either taking respite by crawling back into their shell or explosively justifying themselves in return. This is the sort of apology that exacerbates confrontation and more often than not, leads us into an argument, riddled with feeling unheard, unmet and eventually unsatisfied. This is the kind of confrontation that simply never ends. Cue the water gun.


A few months ago, I approached my psychologist about a confrontational conversation. It was a long-winded break-up. I was initially ashamed to ask for help, but now I see how beneficial it was to have an objective platform.

We discussed the possible outcomes of different approaches. Deep apology, self-blame, taking the responsibility for the sake of avoiding an argument, avoiding blaming the other individual involved and making sure everything I needed to say would be covered. Most importantly, we covered how they would react to certain things, what would be the best mode of being heard. How to make sure I hear them out. We even discussed a compliment sandwich, which isn’t as ridiculous as you might think in this sort of setting. Explaining what you may love about an individual amidst what may upset you is actually a really healthy way to communicate what you need while making your counterpart feel seen, understood and not attacked. Therefore, alleviating the tension and helping the conversation to flow, rather than peter out into the unknown land of, “But you aren’t seeing what I have been feeling” and so forth.

We’re broken up now. But I never received closure. I never truly knew what was going on for the other person to lead them down the trail of eventual tension, complicated, never-ending discussions, mismatched expectations and inevitable detachment. As hard as I tried to make the conversation clean and smooth and apologise where necessary, feelings and the discrepancies between them are never tidy. Lesson learned. Is it possible that they simply did not want to share that part of themselves with me? Yes. Is it any of my business in the long run? No. I said I was sorry to the best of my ability, which is sometimes not saying sorry, but it removing yourself where necessary.

Millenial apology vibes. Also not okay. Source: GiPHY

What sparked my interest in these conversations was my curiosity around what is left unsaid. What is left unknown. How we navigate other’s emotions in order to meet them halfway. How we ask others to meet our needs. When to step away and how the hell to do that in an unharmful way. Confrontation is an innate part of our every day. It’s difficult as hell. Is it manipulative to diffuse a situation by saying what you think they might need to hear, in order to help them feel heard? If it’s a lie, then yes. So how do you enact a confrontation when you’re terrified of confrontation without squishing yourself, lying, aggressively justifying yourself or attacking your reflection with a children’s water pistol?

Write down what you like about the person. Write down what you need to say to communicate what you need (even if the person finds it hard to hear). Write down what you need the conclusion of the confrontation to be, in my case, it was no longer seeing this person on an intimate level. Talk slowly. Cover everything you’ve written down and take the time to hear them too. Say sorry for what you are apologetic for, which in some cases, is walking away if the conversation falls off the tracks. Forgive yourself and offer yourself closure where they may have been unable to.

**Also, don’t use sexist kids toys to enact wrongdoings. No cats were harmed in writing this article.


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