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  • Writer's pictureThérapie 63

When "Sorry" is not enough........

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

It's hard to miss Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister of the UK, on the TV today, apologising for breaking lock-down rules during 2020. But however you may feel about his sincerity or lack thereof, there are times when just saying sorry is not enough.

Saying sorry is not a fix-it, cure all for every situation.

Some apologies need more than words, and apologising does not mean automatic forgiveness.

So when is sorry not enough?

1: When it does not involve a behavioural change.

Do you find yourself repeatedly having to apologise for the same behaviour, or are you repeatedly on the receiving end of an apology for behaviours that have caused you harm.

This is a truly negative cycle that without intervention will cause mental and possible physical harm to yourself, to your relationships, and to your loved ones.

There is no denying that some patterns of behaviour are negative but they can be unintentional, defence mechanisms, now ingrained so deeply in someone's psyche that they are automatic, autonomous reactions to a certain situation or trigger.

Without establishing the causes and dealing with the triggers that create these harmful actions, this cycle is self-perpetuating; until finally something gives, either the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of mental health or someone gets hurt.

If you have been on the receiving end of endless apologies from a partner or loved one, but feel at the end of your tether now, try to find a way to discuss with them the need to address the underlying issues to their behaviour, show them that you are aware that this a repeating pattern and that because you care for them and their wellbeing you want them to help themselves, either through counselling for them, or it may be easier to start by suggesting counselling for you as a couple. In some circumstances the fact that you are receiving an apology can mean that the person is self-aware enough to know that they are causing harm, and they want to stop.

If however you are afraid that the pattern of behaviour may eventually or is already causing you mental or physical harm, see your GP, and get advice immediately on how you can leave the situation or contact a support organisation like Samaritans.

Alternatively if you find that you are the one who is constantly being asked to apologise for something - something you did, something you said, something that other people feel was inappropriate in the circumstances that you were in - it may be time to take a closer look at yourself and your patterns of behaviour. Did you drink too much? Did you get angry too quickly? Could you not acknowledge another's point of view?

If you are being asked to apologise, or you yourself feel that you have to say sorry because you have caused harm, mental or physical, to another person, then it is likely that you need support and guidance to find the cause of your negative behaviour and in identifying and suppressing those triggers when they arise. Seeking help is a positive step forward to learning how to react in a more positive, focussed way, rather than overreacting in a negative way.

2: When the words need an action to reinforce them.

Sorry can just be a meaningless word if not used correctly. Flinging a sorry over your shoulder as you barge past someone, does not mean that you are genuinely sorry to have knocked them off their feet. A casual one word sorry after you've broken someone's treasured ornament is not an apology.

Overused, the word "sorry" just becomes meaningless.

Reflect on what you are apologising for. Then consider how you can rectify the damage. Where, and if you can, always tender an offer to help repair, replace, reimburse alongside your genuine apology.

It may not be possible to repair damage done to a china shepherdess, but you can offer to replace it with something that will become equally meaningful to the recipient. Flowers, chocolates, a bottle of wine, hopelessly cliched though it may be, can all be a tangible reinforcement to a verbal apology. But a truly thoughtful apology has something personal about it. Instead of a generic supermarket bouquet, buy their favourite flowers hand tied from a florist, don't buy the cheapest wine on offer, get a bottle from a vineyard that you have visited or read about.

Put thought and effort into your apology in the way that you would when buying a gift for a loved one, because essentially that is what you are doing. You are showing them your love, proving that you care, that you repent and regret what has happened.

A true apology is a thoughtful gift to a loved one.

How to say sorry well.

  • Acknowledge the fault.

  • Take time to formulate your apology, a one word "sorry" is not an apology.

  • Always try to explain what happened without trying to justify yourself.

  • Use words and gestures that demonstrate that you are genuinely emotionally concerned.

  • Show that you have understand the effects of your words and/or actions.

For example;

..." I am very sorry that I forgot to pick up your dry-cleaning on the way home and I realise that it was important for you to have that outfit for your presentation tomorrow. I know that you have been working really hard on it, and that it has been stressful. What can I do now to help you prepare for it? "....

...." I am really sorry that I drank too much at the dinner party, and that I was rude to your cousin. I will apologise to them too, do you think it would be best to do that in person, shall we invite them over for a meal, that will give us a chance to get to know each other a bit better? "...

..." I know that I should not have put your heirloom crystal glasses into the dishwasher, I'm sorry. Would you like me to try to find out if there is a way to get the marks polished out? "...


  • Don't get over effusive. - a million and one apologies are as worthless as none

  • Don't overpromise - some things can never be fixed as good as new.

If any of this resonates with you and you find yourself in a situation where you need additional help and support, do not hesitate to contact me for one to one CBT based counselling therapy, available on line or in person, via the website

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