Episode 33-Saying “I’m Sorry”

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How do you offer an effective apology when you’ve hurt someone? What do you say when someone has hurt you and doesn’t know it? How can you more productively deal with conflict together in a way that actually brings resolution and repair?

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In this episode, Nathan and Aaron answer all these questions and more as they share their observations and experiences as therapists.

In This Episode


  • How to apologize when the damage is obvious
  • How to tell someone they’ve hurt you (when they don’t realize it)
  • Elements of an effective apology
  • Why it matters

How to apologize when the damage is obvious

  • When it’s obvious you’ve hurt someone, it’s important to offer an apology to repair the relationship
  • Agree that you did the action (or said the words) that caused the hurt
  • Acknowledge the impact your behavior had on the other person without giving excuses (see our previous episode about this)
  • Offer to help or ask if they would like (or need) anything from you to make things better

How to tell someone they’ve hurt you (when they don’t realize it)

  • When you’ve been hurt by someone but they might not know they’ve hurt you, the situation gets more complicated and requires you to bring it up to them.
  • Find a good time, ask if you can talk (get permission), start by assuming the best about the other person.
  • Let the other person know what it is they did (their action/behavior) and how it impacted you.
    • “When you (did this behavior or said these words)…”
    • “I felt (this emotion or these emotions)…”
    • Optional request: “Next time, I would prefer if you (replacement action).”
  • Focus on the most important thing: the relationship. Acknowledge the impact and work on repairing the relationship before moving on.
  • Avoid getting defensive or giving excuses for your behavior.
  • Try and use the emotion words the hurt person has used to describe the impact of your actions on them.
    • For example, if they said they felt “unimportant” then make sure you use the same word when acknowledging your actions made them feel this way.

Elements of an effective apology

  • Own the behavior you did
    • “I did (do that behavior or say those words)…”
  • Acknowledge the impact on them emotionally
    • “I can see how it made you feel (the emotions they expressed)…”
  • Empathize to show your understanding and sincerity
    • Ask for clarification if you don’t fully understand how it impacted them
    • “You must’ve felt (additional emotions), and I can see now why you reacted the way you did. I’m sorry I did that to you.”
  • Say what you will do differently next time
    • If it’s a specific situation: “Next time I will (do this instead).”
    • If it’s an ongoing issue: “I will work on (improved actions that demonstrate change or growth).”

Why it matters

  • Apologizing agrees with reality and validates the hurt person’s experience
  • Taking responsibility for your actions makes it safe for the hurt person to be hurt
  • Dealing with the impact insures you resolve the issue effectively
  • Empathizing and making a new plan together repairs the relationship
  • Changing the behavior that negatively impacted someone demonstrates your acceptance of responsibility and willingness to be safe or repair trust that was broken

Useful Links

  • Sign up for our free email course, 9 Ways To Overcome Fear & Self-Doubt, that will guide you through our process of facing fears and insecurities so that you can feel more comfortable in your own skin

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Meet Nathan & Aaron

Nathan Hawkins and Aaron Potratz are both licensed therapists and clinical supervisors in the state of Oregon. They each own their own private group counseling practices and co-own a third group practice together. Nathan and Aaron have been in the field since 2004 and 2007, respectively, and have over 100,000 hours of therapy experience each. On their show, they discuss facing fears and common challenges from a therapist’s point of view, imparting wisdom and humanity to their viewers. Along the way, they hope to not only share their insights but bring some light-hearted entertainment to make the journey easier.

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