People recovering from substance use disorders often feel like they have much to apologize for. Addiction can distort your priorities and make you do things you would otherwise never do. They may do things that leave their loved ones feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry. Apologizing and making amends are well-known parts of the 12 steps and for good reason. Apologizing and making amends helps to repair the important relationships in your life. It heals wounds and soothes resentments. While others won’t always accept your apology, you can at least feel a little better that you made a good faith effort to set things right. You don’t have to be working the steps to make apologies part of your recovery process, but your apology does have to have certain elements to be effective. Here’s how make a good apology.
Perhaps the most important part of an apology is that it’s sincere. Everyone remembers what it was like as a child when your parents made you apologize for something you weren’t really sorry for. You end up resenting your parents for forcing you to apologize and it only hurts your relationship with the person you were forced to apologize to. There may be some people in your life that you feel like you should apologize to, or even people who demand an apology, but you shouldn’t offer an apology unless you mean it, else it defeats the entire purpose.
Make a clear “I’m sorry” statement.
It’s hard to say “I’m sorry” because it’s essentially the same as saying “I was wrong.” No one likes to admit she made a mistake or even intentionally did something hurtful. It’s a blow to the ego. “I’m sorry” often sticks in the throat and your apology might come out as rather oblique and meandering. However, saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” is crucial to an effective apology. The difficulty of saying it is what makes it mean something.
Express regret for what happened.
It’s important to actually acknowledge what happened that you’re apologizing for. Again, this may be very difficult to say. If you feel remorse, it was because you did something bad and you probably don’t want to revisit whatever it was. However, like actually saying, “I’m sorry,” saying exactly what you’re sorry for is an essential element of an apology. It shows you’re on the same page and that you acknowledge specifically what you did wrong. For people recovering from addiction, this point is especially important. You’re not apologizing for your addiction or for depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue. You’re apologizing for specific things you did as a result of addiction or mental health issues.
Once you’ve said “I’m sorry” and said specifically what you’re sorry for, let the person know you understand why what you did was hurtful. This may seem self-explanatory in some cases, but don’t neglect it. For example, if you stole 100 dollars from someone, it may seem obvious she would be angry about being deprived of 100 dollars, but put yourself in her place and try to understand what it really meant. Was she more hurt that you betrayed her trust? Was she unable to pay the rent because you stole her money? Demonstrating some empathy shows that your remorse is sincere and that you care about the other person’s feelings.
It’s not always possible to make amends, but when you can, it shows you really care about putting things right. If you borrowed or stole money or property, pay it back or replace it. You might have to get creative with how you make amends. If you betrayed someone’s trust for example, it’s not obvious how you put it right, but there may be something you can do for that person as a gesture of your sincerity. Some people may not want anything to do with you, even if you’re trying to do the right thing. In that case, you might consider paying it forward. Donate to a charity that person supports, for example. It’s also important to make you amends commensurate with whatever you did wrong. If you stole 100 dollars, there’s no need to pay back 1000.
Give some assurance it won’t happen again.
It’s hard to guarantee we won’t repeat our mistakes, even if we really, really don’t want to, but it’s good to give the other person some assurance that you will do your best not to behave the same way again. Expressing empathy and making amends help with this because they show that you understand why the other person was hurt and you were willing to sacrifice something to make that person whole. Having to spend time, money, and effort every time you do something that requires an apology is a pretty good incentive to be on your best behavior.
Don’t expect magic.
When you’ve wronged someone you care about, an apology is necessary but not always sufficient. You really have no control over how the other person reacts; all you can do is your own part. Once you’ve apologized, you can’t expect the slate to be wiped clean. You can’t be angry if the other person doesn’t forgive you or trust you right away. It’s normal to be cautious after we’ve been hurt. All you can do is try to make a consistent effort to show you are trustworthy and try not to be too preoccupied with things you can’t control.
What not to do
There are two things that will ruin any apology. The first is the fake apology. We see celebrities do this all the time. This is the apology that includes the phrase “I’m sorry if you were offended.” This kind of “apology” does not admit doing anything wrong, does not express empathy–and in fact does the opposite–and certainly doesn’t try to make things right. Second, don’t make excuses. Your apology should never include the word “but.” Take responsibility for what you did wrong. If the other person was partly to blame, there’s no need to point that out in your apology. Just take responsibility for your part and let the other person decide whether to take responsibility for her part.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.