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How-To Make Amends: The Art of the Apology

Mistakes happen. That is just part of life, but when you make a mistake it is very important to be honest with yourself, and others. And that means taking full responsibility for whatever mistake you made by showing that you care about what happened as a result of your actions. While making an apology can seem like a tall challenge, it is possible to make things right when you fall short of perfection. While no human is perfect, making an honest apology is the best way to start the recovery process from any mistakes you have made.

It may seem difficult to admit your wrongs to another person, especially if you have hurt them with your behavior. However, this is common for people recovering from an addiction because after all substances can have a powerful negative effect on the way we act. But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn to make a true apology, and leave what happened in the past, where it belongs!

The Fastest Way to Healing, and Recovery: An Apology

On the road to a full recovery, you may have to confront some things that you did to others while you were struggling with an addiction. In traditional 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), making amends is the 9th step in the program. During this time, participants of this type of recovery program often find it difficult to confront their past behaviors while they were influenced by their addiction. However, taking this step is vital to lasting recovery because it allows you to sincerely approach your healing process, not just for you, but also for anyone attached to you as you suffered with addiction.

The problem is, most people in recovery do not know how to go about creating an apology that actually heals. So, if you are ready to make amends, and move on with your future, start with the art of crafting a true apology.

How to Make a True Apology

It may seem like an apology would come easy, but sometimes, it is anything BUT easy. So, here are 4 tips on how to make an effective apology from Dr. Meredith Sagan, a professional with the Prominence Treatment Center.

  1. Make it Clear Why You Are Apologizing. When you make a mistake, it is easy to see the damage you have caused … if you look closely. So, before you make an apology, consider any effects that your decisions may have had on someone else’s life. Then, make it clear to them that you see the damage, and that it is the reason you are apologizing. “Doing this is a way of ‘owning’ or taking responsibility for your actions,” Dr. Sagan says.
  2. Express Feelings. If you make a mistake, and your behavior is offensive to someone, it’s best to just say, “I’m sorry.” But sometimes, that’s not enough. A simple apology like, “I’m sorry,” may work for something like forgetting to hold the door for someone, but if your behavior caused someone pain, or damaged a part of their life, you may need to express how you feel to them. This way, they can more clearly see that you care about hurting them, and then they may be able to forgive you more easily.
  3. Make a Commitment to Change. After you have made effective apologies to people that your behavior may have harmed, it is time to move forward. So, start by making a commitment to change by simply being willing to work on yourself, and improving your ability to effectively apologize. It is enough to move forward in recovery.
  4. Ask How You Can Help. When you have made an apology to someone, you not only want them to know that you are sorry for what you did, but you may also want to ask if you can help to repair the damage you caused by your behavior. Dr. Meredith Sagan suggests saying something like, “Is there anything I can do right now to make things better between us?”

This opens up the dialogue, and allows the person you are apologizing to, to actually give you their forgiveness. And that’s the key to a true apology.

Do Apologies Really Work?

Dr. Meredith Sagan knows that in order to repair damaged relationships, you must make a true apology. So, feel free to make your apologies more meaningful by adding personal components.

They may include these points:

  • An expression of regret
  • An explanation for why the offense occurred
  • An acknowledgement of responsibility
  • A declaration of repentance
  • An offer to repair the damage
  • A request for forgiveness1

When is The Best Time to Make an Apology?

When you make a mistake, and it harms the feelings, or the life of someone you know it is always best to make an apology immediately. However, that is not always possible especially if you are struggling with an addiction. But if you are on the road to recovery, you can still make a sincere apology any time you are ready, or when you reach the 8th step of your 12-step program.

“There may be occasions when a cooling off period is needed,” Dr. Sagan points out, “but the more time goes by between the offending behavior and the apology, the more opportunity there is for hurt feelings to grow and fester.”

How Can I Start Crafting a True Apology?

Sometimes, taking the first step towards an apology is the hardest part. So, to keep it simple, start by just asking the person you want to apologize to if it’s ok. Something like, “Is this a good time to talk?” is enough to test the waters, and see if the person you harmed with your actions is ready to hear what you have to say. And brace yourself, because they may NOT. And that’s ok too! The point of making an apology is to sincerely express that you take responsibility for what happened to someone else as a result of your actions. And really, that is all you have to do. The rest is in their court however, if they are ready to hear what you have to say you may be caught off guard if you don’t prepare. Dr. Sagan says, “It is best to know what you are going to say before you say it,” Dr. Sagan continues “Apologies don’t have to be long and involved. An effective apology can be brief.”

A Final Note on The Art of Apologies

An apology is something that is simple, yet powerful, and the art of crafting an effective apology is priceless. So, if you feel like you are ready to take responsibility for something in your past, don’t rush it. “An insincere apology can often be counter-productive and turn a small issue into a bigger one,” Dr. Sagan cautions. Take the time to gather all of your thoughts about what happened, and prepare yourself for what the person may say back to you. And remember, saying “I’m sorry,” is easy, but demonstrating that you value the art of an apology shows that you truly care. Let’s face it, it’s human to make mistakes, but the question is: how, when, and where are you going to try to make things right?

If you’re ready to make amends, follow these 4 tips to crafting a true, sincere apology. It’s a great step towards lasting recovery!


  1. Roy J. Lewicki, Beth Polin. An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies. Volume 9, Issue 2, May 2016 Pages 177–196.

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