The Anatomy of an Authentic Apology

By Terri Cole

Guest writer for Wake Up World

“Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Being in love can stir up feelings of vulnerability for many people. When we let our guard down and show our authentic selves, there is always the possibility that we will be rejected or, worse, humiliated. This possibility activates fear. I have counseled couples for many years and dysfunctional communication is one of the top reasons relationships fail. Fear is an underlying driving force for defensive, reactionary behavior and fuels the need to be right or to “win.” A fear response is the same as an ego response. You have to actively choose love over fear/ego and, in the heat of the moment, this can be challenging.

I have been happily married for fifteen years. One of the most important aspects to keeping our relationship healthy and strong is our conscious effort to promptly admit when we are wrong and to apologize authentically. Having this give and take of good faith builds a strong foundation of trust and keeps fear to a minimum.

This week I want to talk about the anatomy of an authentic apology. Do you know how to say you’re sorry and mean it?

Let’s look at a couple common ways people think they’re apologizing but they’re actually not.

1. Do you say things like

“I am sorry, but _____________” (fill in the excuse for your bad behavior here)
e.g. “I’m sorry, but I was tired”

“I am sorry, but YOU _____________” (fill in justification for retaliatory bad behavior here)
e.g. “I’m sorry, but you were annoying me.”

“I’m sorry, OK?” (Add frustrated not at all sorry sounding tone here)

“I’m sorry you think that I did something that I need to be sorry for.”

2. Do you act out your feeling of remorse rather than putting words on it?

A friend of mine told me that in 13 years of marriage her husband has never said, “I’m sorry,” but she knows he is because he acts nicer than usual.

An authentic apology does not include any qualifier after the words “I’m sorry.”

An authentic apology looks something like this:

“I’m really sorry, I was wrong.” (Stop talking)

“I am sorry. I should not have _____________. It will not happen again.” (Stop talking)

The key to an authentic apology includes saying you are sorry and allowing the other person to tell you what they experienced or why they are upset.

I want you to think about how you apologize and what you need to do to actually BE sorry and communicate it in an authentic and effective way.

If this resonates with you, please share your comments. I know this can be a hot-button issue, so I’m sure you have something to say!

I hope you have an amazing week, and, as always, take care of you.

Updated August 2014

About the Author – Terri Cole – Psychotherapist & Transformation Coach

Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered celebrities, professional athletes, and individuals alike through television, radio, and other media appearances, speaking engagements, workshops, and a thriving private practice to redesign limiting mental blueprints. Her holistic approach to transformation recognizes the interdependency between a healthy mind and body. Terri’s strategies combine practical psychology, thought innovation, and harnessing the power of intention, to create sustainable change. She has a unique ability to take complex theories and translate them into actionable steps you can implement into your daily life. A cornerstone of Terri’s practice, meditation, was the impetus for her recently released guided mediation CD “Meditation Transformation”. After contributing to Kris Carr’s best-selling Crazy Sexy Cancer book series, Terri is now working on her first solo project, Flip Over and Float, documenting her proven 6-step formula for turning fear into freedom and pain into purpose. In Fall 2012, she will begin hosting a Hay House radio show, giving listeners who are swimming upstream easy tools to flip over and float.

This article was republished with permission from Live in the Now, one of the fastest growing natural health newsletters. Visit to browse their complete library of articles, or join the nearly 60,000 readers subscribed to their Newsletter.

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  • wendyp

    Right on! I really hate it when someone apologises – and then they take back some of the apology with an excuse. ‘Stop talking’ is great advice! Fortunately my husband doesn’t do this, and neither do I, which may be why we have been happily married for 16 years

  • Debbie

    This was spot on. Most people don’t know how to apologize. They think they can “explain away” their bad behavior instead of just saying I’m sorry (stop talking). Thank you…

  • Gwen

    Too true. I’ve recently been fighting with myself to stop speaking after “I’m sorry”, but I was raised to be very stubborn. I’m getting better, but with anyone who isn’t my partner, I still have a hard time seeing past anger.