How to Approach Someone When You Have Hurt Their Feelings

Hurt feelings can create a barrier even between close friends.
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If you're afraid you might have hurt someone's feelings and you really want to make it right, the only thing you can do is to apologize and mean it. However, even if you make the most sincere apology you can, the other person might not choose to forgive you. Nonetheless, apologizing might help undo some of the hurt, even if it doesn't repair the relationship completely.

1 Own It

If you're going to apologize, you must be willing to take on the responsibility for what happened. If you try to deflect some of the blame by describing unkind words as honesty or saying that the other person provoked you, then the lack of personal responsibility will undercut your apology. Your friend wants to know that you're not going to do the same thing again in the future. That can only happen if you fully accept that your actions were hurtful. Wait a day or two after the incident to let your friend cool down before you approach him to apologize, advises psychologist John M. Grohol, writing for PsychCentral.

2 Atone For It

When you apologize, ask your friend what you can do to make up for whatever you did. For instance, if your friend feels hurt because you haven't been calling her you could take her out to dinner so the two of you can catch up. If you repeated a piece of hurtful gossip, your friend might ask you to tell people the story wasn't true. Your friend may or may not want you to do anything, but offering to do so attests to the sincerity of the apology.

3 Explain, Don't Excuse

The difference between an explanation and an excuse is that an explanation provides context while an excuse deflects some of the responsibility. For example, "I guess I shouldn't have snapped at you, but I'm really stressed out right now," is just an excuse. "I've been under a lot of stress lately, but that's no excuse for yelling at you that way" is an explanation, because it provides some context so your friend can feel reassured that you won't start acting that way all the time.

4 Leave It Up To Them

You can't force another person to accept your apology and you shouldn't try. If you act like you're entitled to forgiveness, your friend might feel that the apology was insincere and self-serving. Make your apology, offer to do whatever it takes to make things right and then leave the ball in your friend's court. Your friend might forgive you right away, after a little time has passed, a long time in the future or not at all. Make it clear that your friend will be welcomed back with open arms no matter how much time has passed.

Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.