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How to Apologize for Insensitivity

by Elise Wile

Lynn Johnston, the author of the comic strip "For Better or for Worse," once said, "An apology is the super glue of life. It can repair just about anything.” Thank goodness, because if you've recently made a comment about how big your girlfriend's feet are or noted that a friend's music sounds a bit like a hurt puppy, you'll need to apologize to glue your relationship back together. Doing so well is the key to soothing hurt feelings.

Think about what you're going to say. The insensitive remark you made or action you took was likely a result of not thinking things through, and the last thing you want to do is repeat the mistake by bumbling your apology. Once you have a rough idea of how you're going to apologize, you're ready to proceed.

Acknowledge that your words or actions were insensitive. You might say, "I realize that when I came home and made that comment about the messy house that I was not taking all of the hard work you do raising our children into account." Never say something like, "You can imagine how I'd expect that you'd have cleaned the house, but I didn't need to voice my displeasure."

Take responsibility for your insensitivity, advises Sherry Turner at Mount Holyoak College's ombudsperson office. Avoid making excuses. Rather than saying, "I had a hard day and just couldn't handle seeing a messy house," say, "I was focused on myself and failed to treat you considerately." The person you are apologizing to will appreciate your willingness to accept responsibility and not push the blame onto circumstances or another person.

Let the person know that you are aware he is hurt and that you are sorry that you caused those feelings. You could say, "When I patted your tummy and said that you were getting a different kind of six-pack than you wanted because of your beer consumption, I was trying to be witty. I did so at your expense and hurt you. I'm sorry."

Stop apologizing. Once you have said you are sorry, there is no need to go on to apologize for existing, writes psychologist Tamar Chansky in a July 2012 article in "Psychology Today." Saying, "I'm sorry that I poked fun at your painting. I always say stupid things. I hate myself," is not helpful and can make the other person feel bad hearing your apology. This shifts the attention from the person you've wronged to yourself, a behavior that can be perceived as manipulative.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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