How to apologize after saying something terrible.
March 10, 2019 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I said a pretty hurtful thing to someone I truly care about the other night, and I am looking for ways to save this.

The thing is, that I really meant what I said. I had been stacking up this pile of anger at that point and I said a sentence I shouldn't have. I am looking for ways to apologize but also make clear that I wanted to make a point. I know that it was the wrong way, and I didn't want to hurt the person.
He is frustrated and is overthinking the relationship he has to me.
I am really sorry and I feel terrible.
posted by Tiffy119 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like one of those times when you have to choose between making your point and salvaging the relationship. The point might have been very important to you but you screwed up the delivery and maybe your window to make the point has closed. That happens sometimes. Maybe another window will open in the future but now is not that time. Can you wait that long?
posted by bleep at 3:04 PM on March 10 [10 favorites]

Your best bet is to apologize for your insensitive and hurtful delivery of a topic you should have broached a different way.

Next time, broach the topic a different way.
posted by Sublimity at 3:09 PM on March 10 [7 favorites]

You want to have done something hurtful without hurting anyone. You cannot do that, or at least, you cannot do that on someone else's behalf. So ask yourself, do you want to be friends, or do you want to be right?
posted by Etrigan at 3:12 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]

I think you just have to be honest and kind of phrase it similarly to how you did here, emphasizing that what you said was horrible but also making it clear that it happened because you stayed quiet for too long and your anger boiled over. You could say that you were an asshole, but your assholery came from a legit issue you want to work on with him. Think about how you would have wanted to bring up the issue with him, then tell him you did it all wrong and what you should have said was...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:38 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]

Something to consider - is there a way to avoid stacking up a pile of anger in the future here? What is your communication normally like? Because this could very well happen again and you'll find yourself wondering how to apologize to save the friendship but still feeling like you're right. Not something you need to figure out right now but does need real consideration moving forward.
posted by acidnova at 3:43 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

"I'm sorry I was cruel. I do have an issue with X, and I do still feel like we need to talk about it, but I shouldn't have been nasty about it and I'm sorry that I was."
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:45 PM on March 10 [44 favorites]

"I am sorry for what I said and how I said it. Something has been bothering me for a while, and I wasn't able to effectively communicate it to you. That's on me, that is my shortcoming, and I'm working on it. I hurt you, and it wasn't fair."

Then let them ask you for more info if they want to, and you can clarify your point then. Don't force the point on them. It will just make it look like you are excusing your poor communication and want to "be right."
posted by katypickle at 4:29 PM on March 10 [15 favorites]

Don't try to insist on making your point again. Your point was made, quite vigorously. And don't tell him (or even tell us or yourself) that he's overthinking; that's for him to decide, not you.
posted by sheldman at 4:45 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

I have been on the receiving end of "I apologize. I'm sorry. But, I really hate it when you..."

"But" negates the apology. As others said, make your point another way, and let some time go by before you do.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:28 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

You also need to be prepared if the person says "Do you really think that [whatever it is]?" and insists on hashing it out then. It is hard to give advice about how you should respond, knowing nothing about whether this is a mere personality difference between the two of you or something actually bad that he does. But practice how that conversation would go, if it went in that direction, before undertaking the apology.
posted by sheldman at 5:37 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

A good apology acknowledges what happened, takes responsibility for the situation, offers some kind of way to make amends if possible, and ends with a brief description of concrete plans to ensure it won't happen in the future. I might use that as a template for thinking through a good apology in your situation.

It also sounds like you are really beating yourself up. You're human. These things happen. Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself.
posted by sockermom at 8:00 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]

It sounds as if it’s important for you to have made the hurtful point, and that dealing with your feelings about whatever it is has to happen for the relationship to go forward. I would approach this by trying to explicitly set up that conversation: “we need to talk about [how your insistence on repeatedly dyeing my pet canary orange] is making me upset.” Once that is set up you can pivot into apologizing for having called him a [genocidal bird-murderer].

But if you try to go straight into the apology without being clear that you still have the underlying problem, it’s going to look as if you’re apologizing for both what you said and for the feelings that drove it, and bringing those feelings up later is going to be hard and look inconsistent, and will make it look as if your apology was insincere.
posted by LizardBreath at 3:43 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

I'd try something like this:

"I'm sorry I hurt you, but I've been stacking up a pile of anger about this for a while now. We're friends, right? We can be straight with each other. Hopefully, you'll point out things about me you think might be adjusted. I wish I could've found a way to better express my point and had you take it in the constructive way in which I intended it".

If you weren't trying to be constructive, but were being destructive, guess you need to decide if you want a relationship with this person at all. However, being destructive in the moment, especially when drunk, frustrated, hungry, angry, can be a "shock tactic" to a more constructive overall objective.
posted by at at 6:12 AM on March 11

Here are the things I value in an apology, in no particular order:

- Empathize: "I know you are feeling really hurt right now."
- Ask when would be an appropriate time. "I would like to apologize, but I understand you may need space. Could you please let me know when a good time would be, if at all?"
- State what you did wrong. "I expressed my anger carelessly and I said something really hurtful."
- Express that you care about him as a person and value the friendship.
- State what you understand the damage to be. "I have damaged our friendship with this behaviour."
- How you will rectify it, in concrete and measurable terms. "I'm going to work with my therapist on how I express anger and frustration, because I recognize that my careless words have harmed you/us."
- Asking if there is something different he would like you to do to rectify it.

Things to avoid
- requesting a mutual apology
- bringing up his behaviour at all. If you want to apologize for your behaviour, apologize for your behaviour. He may be annoying or infuriating, but he is not responsible for the inappropriate thing you said. I am not assuming that you think he is, either, but I think it is quite a common way that people half-apologize: "I'm sorry I said this thing, it was inappropriate of me, but you also did some bad things which brought that about in me." Don't do this, it won't solve anything. Don't apologize at all if you can't apologize, full stop, with no reference to his behaviour.
- defending
posted by unstrungharp at 6:16 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."

Then stop. Don't go into ".... bbbuuuuutttttttttt also I still agree with what I said and was right to say it and maybe you shouldn't have taken offense and you're overthinking this ..."

Just, "I'm sorry I said that to you the other day, I realize I hurt your feelings." Maybe add "I'll try to do better", "I won't do it again" etc if you feel you can say that honestly and mean it.

I recently was a jerk to some people in a similar context (I think my ultimate position in the situation was correct, but I handled it poorly and hurt people), and I worked really hard not to let any of the "but actually..." feelings seep into the apology.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 10:01 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the other posters here.
It sounds like you communicated in a way that wasn’t safe for this person, and that’s what you want to apologize for. The fact that you think you’re correct regarding an issue is separate, as you’re not apologizing for thinking you’re correct. So keep these two things to two separate discussions.

Also seconding the suggestion that you look for ways in which you can prevent painful feelings from building up over time, and instead address issues when they crop up.

Also, did they tell you with their own words that they think they’re overthinking things? That’s their call to make and not yours.
Now maybe you meant that more in the sense of “they’re thinking about this to a degree that would be too much for myself” or “they’re thinking about things much more than i’m comfortable with.” These are important distinctions to make and good information to have.
posted by peterpete at 12:17 PM on March 12

I don't think it would be a good idea to just apologize without somehow addressing where the outburst came from. To only apologize and not bring up the issue you'd kind of have to talk around the issue, kind of lying by omission. You're basically saying he's fine and you were just a jerk for no reason. Ideally you could use this as a gateway to talk out the larger issue in a healthy, adult way, without turning it into, "I was a jerk... because YOU were a jerk!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:44 PM on March 12

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