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How to Write an Apology Letter to Someone

A written apology can mean a lot — and ensure you say what you truly need to say.

An apology, a real apology to someone you hurt, is a difficult thing to get right. You must put time and effort into it, own up to what you did, explain what went wrong, express genuine remorse, and, eventually, ask for forgiveness. This is no easy task and can lead to stumbling over words, missed sentiments, and an angry stare from the person on the receiving end of the apology. That’s why writing an apology letter is often a good idea. 

“Writing out an apology, rather than voicing it, can be immensely helpful because it allows you the opportunity to slow down and reflect,” says Liza Gold, a licensed clinical social worker and the founder and director of Gold Therapy NYC. “When writing an apology, you have the chance to be deliberate with your words, and written language is deeply impactful.”

Now, before we go further. This should be obvious, but just in case: do not text your apology. This is the last tactic you should take and could end up doing more harm than good. “Friends don’t let friends text apologies!” says Jennifer Thomas, a psychologist and the author of The 5 Apology Languages. “It’s just too simple. It doesn’t show your sincerity because it’s too easy.” 

Moving on: A well-worded apology should include words of love and appreciation, as well as contrition. Be sincere and specific in what you say and don’t try and offer explanations or excuses. Take your time and really compose it. Proof it. Keep the words “but” and “if” out of it. “And do not try to share the blame — own it,” says Thomas. 

Here are a few tips to remember when writing an apology letter.   

1. Accept Responsibility 

First and foremost, you need to be willing to own up to what you did. If you can’t accept responsibility for your actions, then the entire apology is destined to fail. Say upfront that you know what you did was wrong and that you are taking full responsibility for your actions.

 “This communicates to the person that you are aware and are taking responsibility for how you responded or behaved,” says Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a psychologist and media advisor for Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “It also shows that you are considering how your actions may have had a negative impact on the person and the relationship.” 

2. Admit Remorse

Be open and vulnerable and express to them your regrets. Be very clear that you are sorry and make sure they know what you are sorry for.

“Don’t use phrases that seem disingenuous such as ‘I am sorry you felt that way,’ says Peer. “Likewise, don’t diminish how that other person is feeling by suggesting they were being over-sensitive or misconstrued what you did or said. Everyone is entitled to a perspective on their feelings.”

3. Acknowledge Harm 

Sometimes it’s hard to admit, or even see, that we have hurt another person. But coming clean and telling the other person that you’re aware of how you hurt them can help make them feel heard.  Says Lira de la Rosa, “This will help the person accept your apology because you are validating their experience of a situation where they felt harmed by you.” 

4. Explain What Went Wrong

How did it get to this place? What were your original intentions? Why did you let your emotions get the better of you? You must explain the internal logic that led you to do wherever it was you’re now apologizing for. This will enable you t explain your actions without offering excuses or defending yourself and can help the other person see where you were coming from without it sounding like you’re making excuses.  “It helps provide them with context,” says Lira de la Rosa.

5. Read it Out Loud

In any kind of writing endeavor, the best editing is to read it out loud to yourself. You can hear how the words sound to your ears and ensure that you are getting across the correct message. “How does it sound to you?” says Gold. “Are you conveying heartfelt sincerity, or are you justifying your actions? Do your words convey remorse, or do they express anger?”

6. Pause Before Sending

Whenever we’re writing anything that is emotionally charged, it’s important to take a breather before we actually send it. Don’t just compose it and fire it off, walk away for a few hours, or even a day and then go back and read it when your emotions have settled down. “You can even pretend the letter was written to you,” says Gold. “How does it feel receiving this apology?”

7. Look Ahead

You should close your letter with an open-ended offer to meet in person to talk and a question as to what you can do to put things right. Don’t delve too deeply into your own issues, keep it short and simple. Then, talk it out. Face to face if possible. 

Says Peer, “At the end of the conversation, make sure you both feel that the issue has been completely and fairly resolved so that it stays in the past.”