Teen Breathe

What should you do when your apology is rejected?

If you’ve ever hurt a friend or family member’s feelings or done something you regret, you’ll be familiar with that heavy feeling of knowing an apology is owed. Usually, once you’ve sincerely expressed your remorse, the hard part is over. But what happens when an apology isn’t accepted and how should you move forward?
WORDS: Lizzie Bestow

Why it’s important to accept that other people’s responses are outside of our control

If you’ve done all you can to express your regret and there’s still no change, accepting there are some things you can make happen and others you can’t is helpful.

‘Admitting we’re in the wrong for our actions takes courage and honesty,’ says Joanne Keenan, a counsellor based in Darlington, north-east England. ‘But we can only control our own actions and reactions in life. If the other person rejects our apology, then we need to respect their choice and learn to accept their decision. Letting go of what we can’t control is powerful.’

Just because someone hasn’t responded well to your attempts to rectify things, it doesn’t change the reason you tried. If you feel you did wrong by them, then rest assured that whether your apology is accepted or not, offering it up is still the right thing to do.

Some more tips for moving forward if your apology is rejected

Be patient: If a friend seems unwilling or unable to let you make amends, it’s best to wait a few days before reaching out again. Give them space to think through what’s happened and how they feel about it. They need time to let things settle before deciding what to do next.

Dig deeper: Try to work out whether your apology missed the mark. Perhaps, for example, you felt that arriving late for a cinema trip wasn’t a big deal. But if your friend often misses the start of a film because you have different views on timekeeping or they made a sacrifice to be on schedule for you, they may feel that you don’t value their time, which is a bigger thing to get over. Acknowledging this and expressing regret for the deeper cause of their upset might hold more weight than a simple ‘Sorry, I’m late’.

Find a friendly spot: If they do agree to meet and talk things through, pick a place where you both feel comfortable. Keeping things on neutral ground calms tensions. Somewhere like a café or park you both like might be good options.

Plan what to say: To prepare yourself, perhaps think through how to phrase your words in advance. You might say something like: ‘I know you weren’t able to accept my apology, but I just want to say again that I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings and hope we can try to get back to normal when you’re ready.’

Seek support: If you find yourself feeling awkward and uncomfortable around your friend, there are people you can go to for support. Talking to a school counsellor, parent or guardian can help you deal with difficult emotions.

Keep it kind: It could be tempting to discuss what happened with mutual friends, but this may lead to more conflict. Instead, keep in mind that your apology was heartfelt and try to stay open to the possibility that, given enough time, things might improve.

Read more about friendship in Teen Breathe issue 42.