How to Apologize to People You Hurt Many Years Ago

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Apologizing to someone for many years of repeated hurts -- or hurt that occurred years ago -- can be a challenging task, which many people try to avoid. Some may be deterred by negative thoughts telling them that those affected by their hurt will never forgive them, while others may have too great an ego to utter the words "I'm sorry." Despite a little reluctance, having the courage to apologize for your wrongdoing can often be a personally liberating experience.


Guilt can sometimes be so debilitating that it keeps you from apologizing to people you've hurt many years ago. With this guilt often comes shame, which can further convince your ego that it's best to resist the embarrassment of admitting your mistakes and opt out. Neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson, Ph.D., writing in "Psychology Today," suggests that the human mind has many sub-personalities, two of which are the inner critic and the inner protector. Hanson states that while it's important to take responsibility for your mistakes, you don't have to beat yourself up for simply being human. When your inner critic wants to make you feel worthless for making the mistake of hurting others, it's time to call on your inner protector. Forgiving yourself allows you to gain a healthy perspective on the hurt you've caused others and enables you to have the courage to offer an apology.

Humble Yourself

Humbling yourself means letting go of the pride that's kept you from offering a sincere apology. In an attempt to save face and avoid embarrassment from admitting your mistakes to others, you may have missed out on many years of enjoying worthwhile relationships. If your pride has led you to feeling guilt ridden, and keeps you from enjoying healthy relationships with those you've hurt, it's time to ask yourself whether or not such pride is of any use to you anymore. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and think about how you'd want to be treated if someone hurt you. Getting a handle on excessive pride can help you see the situation clearer -- particularly from the perspectives of the people you've hurt.

Be Sincere and Effective

Author Beverly Engel, also writing in "Psychology Today," states that "while an apology cannot undo harmful past actions, if done sincerely and effectively, it can undo the negative effects of those actions." Engel suggests that you use the three "Rs" of offering an apology: regret, responsibility and remedy. When apologizing to others you've hurt, showing regret communicates to the receiver that you acknowledge the hurt you've caused, even if it wasn't your intention to be hurtful. Taking responsibility means you resist placing blame and choose to focus solely on your part in the matter. And a way to promote reconciliation and remedy the situation is to state that you will not commit the same hurtful act in the future -- and mean what you say.

Align Your Words and Deeds

The best way to show that you're really sincere in your apology is to align your words and your deeds. Everyone makes mistakes; however, repeatedly making the same mistake -- especially after giving an apology -- shows insincerity and encourages others to mistrust you. If you are apologizing to someone for saying mean or hurtful things when you were angry, be sure to learn some healthy anger- management techniques so that you don't resort to such name calling the next time you're angered. If you lied to someone or cheated in a relationship -- and you want to resume a relationship with that person -- be sure that you've incorporated a solid set of principles by which you live that prevent you from making these types of mistakes in the future.