When ‘Sorry’ Isn’t Enough – November 2013

Are there friends or family members whom you rarely hear apologize? Their apologies may be long overdue. Here is the problem: we have a natural tendency to gloss over what we have done wrong. Perhaps we hope that if we don’t say how self-centered or thoughtless we have been, others won’t take notice and scold us.  Ironically, the opposite is true. Others are hesitant to forgive us if we really don’t seem to “get it”.  Further, if we don’t seem to recognize all of the pain that we have caused, aren’t we likely to just hurt them again?

What do you need to know in order to apologize well? As we have talked about our own successes and failures in apologizing, my husband and I have realized that we have different “apology languages.”  Those who are familiar with the work of Dr. Gary Chapman in The Five Love Languages will recognize this concept of “languages.”  Dr. Chapman’s premise is that many relationship problems stem from miscommunication. Specifically, he recommends that in order to be heard by others, we need to speak not in our natural language, but in the language of the listener.

How do apology languages work?  Have you ever tried to apologize, only to be rebuffed? It may be that you were offering a partial apology in a “language” that was foreign to your listener. The five languages of apology include:

Apology Language #1 

Expressing Regret:

“I am sorry”

 List the hurtful effects of your action. Show remorse. It doesn’t count if the person is only sorry that they got caught!
Apology Language #2 

Accepting Responsibility:

“I was wrong”

 Name your mistake and accept fault. Note that it is easier to say “You are right” than “I am wrong,” but the latter carries more weight.
Apology Language #3 

Restitution – Making Amends:

“What can I do to make it right?”

 How are they now? Is any debt owed or repayment due? How shall I make amends to you? Do they need help dusting themselves off and getting back up on their feet?
Apology Language #4 


“I’ll try not to do that again”

 Repentance literally means turning around 180 degrees. Engage in problem-solving. Don’t make excuses.
Apology Language #5 

Requesting Forgiveness:

“Will you please forgive me?”

 Be patient in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. They may need some time or greater clarification of your input from Apology Languages 1 – 4.

When you know you’ve offended someone, you should act with urgency to repair the problem. Spell out what you have done wrong, how this has “put out” the other person, show concern for them, and explain what will truly be different next time. In order to give the most successful apologies, you should ask the people close to you what they most appreciate hearing in an apology. (We’ve included an assessment profile in our book to help with this process.) After you learn the apology languages of your friends, family members, and co-workers, you will have the extra benefit of being able to give targeted apologies. These apologies will hit their mark and show your deep sincerity.

Our confessions may not always be to God or to other adults. I’ve had my share of chances to apologize to my own children. For example, my six-year-old daughter loves to make crafts.  She was delighted when she found a sun-catcher kit at a local discount store.  She raced to her room with the kit and re-emerged an hour later with the metal molds filled with carefully-placed colorful bits of plastic.  She was ready for me to bake her creation but I was busy with projects upstairs.  She agreed to lay the pan with her treasure on my bathroom counter until I could get to it.  Much to our dismay, her little brother soon found, and toppled, the pan.  My daughter was heartbroken. She no longer likes for me to scoop her up into my arms, but I wanted to show her my sorrow and my love. So, I put my arm around her and told her how sorry I was that I had not protected and finished her beautiful craft project. It is important to note that even though I had not intended to damage her project, I still needed to take responsibility for the damage. In addition to protecting her little brother from bodily harm, I needed to re-make her craft (and her help was optional).

Sincere apologies are a precious gift. They impart a feeling to the receiver of being deeply valued . Further, they smooth the way to true forgiveness and reconciliation. May you surprise others with the transparency, humility, and boldness of your apologies!

Romans 12:18 (Amplified Bible): “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Jennifer Thomas is an author, speaker, apology critic, and psychologist who helps people know what to say when they face any type of communication challenge. She serves on the counseling team for Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreats®.

Jennifer is the co-author of When Sorry Isn’t Enough (previously published as The Five Languages of Apology with Dr. Gary Chapman). Her books have been translated into sixteen foreign languages. Jennifer has a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Maryland. She earned a BA in Psychology and Religion from the University of Virginia.

Let Jennifer show you what to say when the stakes are high. Take a free apology profile, register for her e-newsletter, and learn more about her life-changing books. Visit her website: www.drjenthomas.com.