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How to Apologize for Treating Someone Meanly

Updated on November 30, 2012

Learn how to master the art of saying "sorry."


Although we rarely mean to hurt someone with our words, sometimes it comes out they way. Whether you said it on accident or on purpose, learn how to fess up and push past the discomfort to remedy the situation.

Below are the questions you must answer before finding the appropriate way to apologize for treating someone meanly.

1. When was it?

That old adage of "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me," is one of the biggest lies I've ever heard.

Nasty words stick with us for years and creep up at the worst moments. If you have the guts or ability to undo some of your past hurts, do it! You never know how much those insults stuck with the other person.

But, let's talk about when it happened. Without understanding and appreciating the context, you won't necessarily know the best way to build your apology.

Years ago

Maybe you were a young, foolish kid who didn't know any better. Either way, you were mean and might have caused harm. If this is the case, focus on expressing change and maturation when you apologize.

Within a few months or weeks

Perhaps you were in a tricky spot recently and took it out on someone who didn't deserve it. Heck, they might have deserved it, but you still feel bad or guilty about slinging harsh words. Accept the consequences and use your apology to frame a new way of interacting. For example, you could say, "I'm sorry I called you those things. I really didn't mean it, but was mad. I'd really like to push past this, if you can, and focus on rebuilding our friendship with honesty and open communication so this never happens again."

A few days or hours ago

These are the easiest insults to undo (usually). You can often call, apologize, say you were stupid, hasty, upset, and/or dumb, and ask the other person to forgive you. Perhaps the weight of your words or actions finally hit you and you now get how mean you really were. Say so!

A Note on Physical Abuse

If the meanness you're looking for a way to apologize for is physical in nature, you might have a more difficult time. Unless it was accidental or minimal and in the heat of the moment, you might not find your apology received. If you cause real physical damage and pain, you need to apologize, but then also leave the other person's life entirely (if the pain was intentional).

2. How mean was it?

There are different levels of meanness, and each requires a different approach.

Slight Offense

This is something you said with no intention to cause actual harm. But, it did, and you know you should apologize. These usually aren't a big deal; just say you never meant to cause harm, and hope the person understands that.

Intentional Slings

You said or did something rash to get your point across or lash out. Explain how you felt, why you acted as you did, and express how the guilt's weighed upon you ever since.

Cruel and Unusual Meanness

These might not be forgiven at all as humans are not often accepting of people who put them in especially painful situations. But, the closeness of the relationship can sometimes overlook such a past. Just realize that people don't often look past these things, and you need to be especially revealing and sincere to really apologize effectively.

A Funny "Woman's Perspective" on Apologies

3. Was it true?

If your meanness was verbal, your apology will differ depending on whether or not the words were truthful.

Answer these questions:

  • Did you really mean it?
  • Was it an accurate portrayal of the situation?
  • Was this knowledge shared for the benefit of the other person?

If so, stick to your guns. Still apologize, but share the fact that you wanted to help by sharing this information. Be tactful, but honest.

4. How did they respond?

Sometimes, we feel more guilty about what we did than the other person. In other situations, that can be the opposite.

If they...


You clearly hurt this person emotionally (or physically). They took your harsh actions or thoughts to heart, and deserve an apology.

Lashed out verbally

If they lashed out, you hit a button and sparked an emotional fire. You might want to allow the situation to cool down before entering into the apology zone.

Got physical

If the other person provoked a physical fight or threw/hit/broke items, let the relationship cool down. You might want to wait a month or more before getting back in touch.

Kicked you out of their life

In these situations, you really want to let the person cool down first. This could take a year or more, and often requires you to change unhealthy behaviors or ways of thinking before the other person will accept any apologies.

Called the police

If this is the case, stay away as long as possible. When both parties have calmed down, consider apologizing, but do not break any restraining orders or other legal clauses whatsoever.This situation could easily escalate again, even after years.


5. Why did you say it?

Before you can apologize effectively, you need to understand why the situation happened. Look within yourself and ask the tough questions, especially if you would like to repair the relationship. Here are a few likely situations.

You lashed out unintentionally (interrupted while doing something or you snapped after having a bad day).

These are minor slights and can be overcome pretty easily and quickly. Don't worry too much about these, but apologize sincerely.

You lashed out intentionally because of external and internal reasons.

Perhaps your relationship is starting to grate on you and you can't stand dealing with all of these other irritants in your life. Of course, your loved ones got the brunt of it. Apologize for being frustrated, exhausted, and on edge. Discuss ways to avoid similar reactions in the future ("I would appreciate about 15 minutes of quiet time right after I get home" or "I will take out the trash as I leave for work on Tuesday mornings").

You lashed out intentionally because you felt cornered or offended.

Whether or not the other person really intended to put you in a tight spot, you reacted to defend yourself (or whatever else). In these cases, you followed a very base, animal instinct. If you can express that you were (mis)reading the situation or felt under attack, you might be able to pull out of the situation with a strong apology. At the same point, you must be very careful so as to not add new fuel to an old fire. If the person will not accept your defensiveness, walk away and disarm the bomb.

If you acted in a way that is greater or more hurtful than those listed above, you really need to sit with your behaviors and focus. Perhaps you are acting out of a place of chemical or emotional dependency or deep-seated fear. Before you can fess up to what's going on, you must know the issue at least enough to describe it.

For those in unhealthy relationships who might have said or done hurtful things out of jealousy, rage, or other serious feelings, recognize you might need to end that relationship entirely. Remember: good people can be in bad relationships. For more advice on how to set healthy boundaries in relationships, read my hub.

Tips to Apologize Well

To really apologize as well as possible, you should strive to do three things:

Be open.

You can't apologize defensively. Those terse, short "sorries" show you might not really feel that way. To apologize well, you need to be able to open up and receive the response, whether negative or positive.

Fess up.

In addition to being open, you must share what's inside of the problem. Do you feel insecure at the thought of someone else spending so much time with your significant other? Do you have an issue with being called "hasty?" Whatever it is, tell it honestly.

Offer change.

Apologies are promises for the future. You can't step forward without redrawing relationship parameters. Be ready to offer a concession, make compromise, and go out of your element. If you really care about your relationship, this won't be an issue (although it might hurt).

Of course, good luck! Apologizing is a wonderful skill to have, and it will give you more insight into who you really are so as to prevent tough situations in the future.


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    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 5 years ago from India

      Good hub, useful information.

    • rmcleve profile image

      Rachael Cleveland 5 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

      teaches12345, thank you, and I agree! Although I wish we could live without stepping on any toes, it just doesn't happen that way. It's incredibly helpful to know how to blend those lines of friendship back together, though. Being mature enough to apologize and move on is quite a blessing!

      carol7777 (4 sevens? My eyes are being weird!), thank you for reading and sharing. Hopefully your friend didn't mean any harm! In those cases, it tends to help if you have a little distance and reflect. I get too riled up if I stay close to the situation. Instead, I walk away, think about what really matters (having that person in my life vs being respected, etc), and then come back with a clear head. If she's worth keeping around, I hope you both can push through!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Since I am overly sensitive I do think before I matter what I feel inside. You brought up some good points here. When you say something cruel you can never erase the words and even with great apology it takes a while to get over it. It just happened to me and I was horrified. I am still trying to work out my feelings as this person is a good friend and she blurted before thinking.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Interesting insight on why some people just snap and treat someone mean. Having to apologize later is like pulling teeth -- but it helps tremendously for both parties.