Why Do We Struggle to Apologize Authentically?

Mike Robbins
4 min readFeb 29, 2024

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When you apologize, do you apologize authentically?

Apologizing can be a tricky thing. As essential and important as I know apologizing is to creating peace, reconciliation, trust, and connection in my relationships, sometimes I don’t want to do it or I do so in a completely inauthentic and manipulative way.

Recently, this has been in my face even more than normal. I’ve noticed my tendency at times to over apologize, to do so with ulterior motives, or, even worse, I find myself apologizing for who I am in a way that is disrespectful and unkind to myself. None of these really serve me or my relationships, nor are they very authentic apologies.

Why is it Difficult to Apologize Authentically?

An authentic apology can be challenging because of our ego, fear of vulnerability, or even lack of empathy. Taking ownership requires humility and introspection, which can be uncomfortable. An authentic apology also demands emotional intelligence and genuine remorse, which can be a bit of a bruise to our ego or pride. It can also cause a shame response.

For many of us, apologizing can seem scary and even weak. We worry that if we apologize somehow we’ll be admitting we’re wrong (and therefore the other person is right), that it might be used against us in some negative way, or that we’re giving up our power by apologizing.

All of these things make sense — based on our ego-based culture and our obsession with blaming others. While understandable and normal, our inability or unwillingness to apologize authentically causes a great deal of pain and conflict in our relationships.

Shame vs. Remorse

The main reason that we aren’t often all that comfortable with authentic apologies is that we operate from a paradigm of shame instead of remorse. Shame, which is a very powerful and oftentimes debilitating emotion (mostly because we don’t like to admit it, own it, or feel it), is based on the notion that we are fundamentally flawed. When we view ourselves, others, and life through a lens of shame, it invariably becomes a matter of assigning blame and fault. Consequently, we strive to shield ourselves from criticism while seeking opportunities to assign blame elsewhere, avoiding accountability in the process. Does this pattern sound familiar?

Remorse, on the other hand, is about us realizing that we’ve done or said something we wish we hadn’t. This is not about beating ourselves up, making ourselves wrong, or even blaming ourselves…it’s about taking responsibility in an adult way. When we have a sense of remorse, we can make amends with people genuinely, own our impact on others, and apologize without shame or guilt.

No matter how mindful or purposeful we are, we’re bound to act and speak in ways we later regret, occasionally causing hurt or offense to those around us. These moments offer valuable chances for personal growth, as well as deeper self-awareness and empathy. An authentic apology plays a crucial role in resolving conflicts and strengthening bonds, which in turn fosters authentic relationships.

How to Expand Your Capacity to Apologize Authentically

Here are a few things to think about and do to expand your capacity for authentic apologies:

Tell the truth about how you relate to apologizing.

Ask yourself how you feel about apologizing and assess how authentic you are when apologizing to people. Do you over apologize? Do you refuse to apologize? Do you do it just so people won’t be angry with you?

What is your relationship to apologizing and how free and genuine are you about it? Answering these questions honestly will give you important insights into this.

Look at your life and relationships and see where you can apologize.

Reflect on your life and relationships, particularly where conflict exists. Identify areas where you’ve hesitated to take ownership or offer genuine apologies. Are you open to doing so, not just for the sake of the relationship, but also for your inner tranquility?

As you think about doing this, ask yourself how you can apologize in a genuine way (not simply to get what you want).

Alter your relationship to apologizing.

As you honestly assess your approach to apologizing and identify areas in your life and relationships where apologies are lacking, consider how you can reframe your perspective to feel empowered and motivated, rather than avoidant or manipulative. Shifting your mindset towards apologies can offer greater freedom, comfort, and ease in your interactions.

This is something that may seem somewhat simple or not all that important on the surface, but it is fundamental to our fulfillment in life and is quite big as we take a deeper look at it. The more conscious and aware we are about apologizing, the more growth and transformation can take place in our relationships.

Be kind to yourself — this is not something that comes easy to most of us. But, when we’re willing to really take this on and alter our relationship to apologizing, our relationships and our lives can transform in a profound and positive way.

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Mike Robbins

Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together, which released April 2020. He’s an expert in teamwork and leadership.