If have a reason to apologize to someone, if you need help being brave when the right thing to do is take responsibility for your actions that have hurt others, especially those you care about, try using the restorative communication practice of "gratitude, acknowledgement, remorse."
For example, I am running late to meet a close friend for a lunch date. We both value spending as much time together when we can because we don’t see each other that often. Once I realize I am running late, I take the time to call or text to let them know I am running late and ask if the later time still works for them. If it does, then I continue on my way. Once I arrive I say, “Thank you so much for waiting. I understand this means our time together may be shorter than we anticipated, and I apologize for that.”
Let’s break this down:
Gratitude: “Thank you so much for waiting”- leading with gratitude increases the chances that the communication will be restorative for both parties. When I lead by expressing gratitude to my friend who waited for me, the first sentence from my mouth is one where I put the spotlight on them. I’m recognizing that they extended a kindness towards me by waiting. If I lead with an apology, I actually make it more about me. I’m signaling perhaps they need to make me feel better because I am showing shame, and shame means pain. Friends take responsibility for soothing each other's pain all of the time because we don’t like seeing people we care about in pain, but it’s not my friend’s responsibility to make me feel better about being late. Gratitude sets the tone right away that I’m not expecting my friend to help shoulder my stress.
Acknowledgement: I acknowledge exactly why I’m grateful and remorseful- “I understand this means our time together may be shorter than we anticipated”. I now explicitly take responsibility for my action by stating the consequence of it. This is therapeutic for both parties involved because I’m removing the white elephant in the room about why it’s not ideal that I’m late.
Remorse: “I apologize for that.” It’s particularly restorative for the receiving party to hear an apology connected to the exact reason for the apologizing instead of a nebulous “I’m sorry.”
Because I am expressing gratitude and taking responsibility for my actions, that relieves some of my stress in the moment. Additionally, my friend feels acknowledged for their efforts. There’s a win-win here.
Secret Ingredient: you have to mean it. You have to actually feel grateful that your friend waited and you have to actually feel remorseful that your time together was reduced. If you don’t, that is a whole other situation to tackle perhaps in therapy. Also, if use this tool, but never try changing your hurtful behavior, then this practice will be restorative until it isn’t.
Caveat: Recognize that you cannot force another person to accept your gratitude or your apology. It will not work in every scenario or with every relationship. However, practicing restorative communication, especially with friends, may help you become more comfortable with difficult conversations with anyone.