The Three Types of Sorry (and Which One You Should Use)


Sometimes it’s hard to know when to say “sorry”. There are some who never say it because they feel it makes them weak. There are those who always say it and they often feel powerless.

Sorry is an important word to put in your vocabulary to make you a whole, healthy person. Knowing when to say it is key. It becomes even more challenging, because there are three types of sorry, and only one is the right one to use.

The Sorry of Existence
Some people say sorry for simply existing or taking up space. For whatever reason – an abusive relationship or a lack of self esteem – they feel they are always an inconvenience. This sorry says “I’m not worth your time and here you are taking it up on me. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.”

You do not have to apologize for existing. You do not have to apologize for being human with all that entails. If you catch yourself apologizing for simply taking up space, stop and tell yourself that you have as much right to participate in the world as everyone else does.

The Sorry of Inconvenience
Sometime we inconvenience other people. We might be five minutes late due to unforeseen circumstances. We might have forgotten our wallet and asked someone else to pay. We might have interrupted them without realizing it. These are slight transgressions and typically done by accident.

Now, in this case, a sorry may make sense: you have done something wrong to someone, so you want to demonstrate your remorse. But there may be a better road.

When we apologize, the spotlight is on us. We are showing our humility and understanding by making things right. But in these small transgression of inconvenience, you may do more good by highlighting the grace of the one you transgressed instead. In these instances, “thank you” may have more value to the wronged than “sorry”.

“Traffic caught me off guard. Thank you so much for your patience!” may do more to bolster your friend’s self worth than, “sorry I made you wait.” “I appreciate you picking up the tab! You’re a good friend,” carries a lot more weight than, “Sorry I forgot my wallet.”

If the goal is to show the people we care about how important they are, the sorry of inconvenience might just be better served with a “thank you” instead.

The Sorry of Transgression
Although we shouldn’t apologize for existing and we can do more good with a “thank you” instead of apologizing for inconvenience, there are times a “sorry” is in order. This is the sorry of transgression.

Whenever we have wronged someone else, whenever we have hurt someone, whenever we selfishly put our own concerns over theirs, it’s time to repent. Those who feel apologies make them weak are those who step on others without concern. The more often they do, the more callous they become. They will continue to hurt the lives of others because they have stopped looking at them as equals, and look at them as obstacles on the path to their own goals.

But “sorry” means that I see you have value. I see you as an equal. If I were in your shoes, I would have been hurt. Saying “I’m sorry” is meant to show that you acknowledge that your actions would make you feel “less than” if you were in their shoes, and you don’t truly feel that way. You messed up. You want to make it right. It’s not about getting forgiveness; it’s about undoing the damage.

The Right Sorry
If you want to make the biggest impact on those in your life you care about, choose the right sorry. If you take up space on this planet, don’t apologize; you have value. If you inconvenience someone, find a way to make it about their magnanimousness and not your error by thanking them for their patience, understanding, kindness, etc.

However, if you truly wrong someone, make it right. Apologize. Mean it. Then take the steps to avoid ever doing it again. Because the people you wrong matter. They deserve the same courtesies you do. Some may not see that, but those are the people I feel most sorry for.

David Bishop

David is CEO of Cedowin Productions, dedicated to helping you live your best life through positive habits. He has inspired tens of thousands to improve habits and communication through books, articles, workshops, and apps. He is the creator of AweVenture, helping families enjoy fantastic, active experiences and Zombie Goals, literally making building healthy habits a game. He’s authored several books including How to Create Amazing Presentations, 7 Steps to Better Relationships, and The Man in the Pit, which helps people who have loved ones struggling with depression.

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