The Apology Languages

Humantold May 10, 2022

You’ve heard of love languages. But do you know which of the five apology languages you’re fluent in?

You’ve almost certainly heard about the five love languages by now. But did you know there are also five distinct apology languages? Just as we express love in various ways, we also express apologies in different ways. It’s not just the difference between, “I’m sorry” and “please forgive me.” Well, actually, those are two different apology languages, but we’ll get into that in a moment.

Gary Chapman, the author and radio host who coined the five love languages in 1992, also coined the five apology languages in 2006 with the help of psychologist Jennifer Thomas. While they’re not quite as popular as the love languages, knowing the apology languages of others (and yourself) can help with navigating delicate and/or emotionally fraught situations. And just like a person can have multiple love languages, a person can also have overlapping apology languages.

So, what are the five apology languages? Read on to learn more and discover your own.

Expressing regret

The first apology language is the simplest. Expressing regret often sounds like saying, “I’m sorry” or acknowledging that there was some kind of wrongdoing or mistake. Seems obvious, right? Not exactly. Pride and guilt often stand in the way of apologizing or expressing regret. 

As Thomas writes on her blog, expressing regret involves listing the hurtful effects of your actions and showing remorse. Or, in other words, it’s not as easy as saying, “I’m sorry I got caught,” or, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Expressing regret—like all good apologies—involves owning up to a mistake or error, acknowledging that it had an effect on other(s), and communicating remorse. 

Expressing regret could be your apology language if you need acknowledgment that someone hurt you. 

Accepting responsibility

Similar to expressing regret, accepting responsibility—the second apology language—involves accepting fault. What distinguishes accepting responsibility from other apology languages, however, is that it also entails naming your mistake, according to Thomas.

Thomas also makes a distinction between saying, “You’re right” versus “I was wrong.” The latter is harder to say and carries a bigger impact. Someone whose apology language is accepting responsibility might apologize by saying, “It was wrong of me to assume/do/say something.”

Accepting responsibility might be your apology language if you want someone to state what they did wrong without any excuses.

Restitution 

The third apology language, restitution, involves finding a way to correct a mistake or situation. This comes up often if something is broken, lost, or damaged, and the person apologizing has a physical loss to make up for. Or, on a deeper level, this is a common apology language in situations where someone was significantly betrayed or lied to, and the apologizer feels a need to correct the situation or make up for their wrongdoing. 

Restitution can sound like someone saying, “How can I make this right?” There’s a distinct urge to make up for what went wrong. 

Restitution may be your apology language if you seek correction when someone messes up or creates a problem, and you want the apologizer to take the lead. 

Repentance

Repentance and restitution are similar, but repentance involves making a specific plan for change. This is a common apology style for when someone is apologizing for an ongoing or chronic issue—say they’ve been lying repeatedly about something, or are continuously late to meetings. 

As Thomas writes, repentance entails a 180-degree turn, or saying, “I’m going to change, and here’s how I’ll do it.” There’s no making excuses or qualifications.

Repentance may be your apology language if you want someone to acknowledge what they’ve been doing wrong and tell you exactly how they plan to improve their behavior. 

Requesting forgiveness

The fifth and final apology language, requesting forgiveness, may sound simple but involves patience and understanding. Requesting forgiveness allows the other person or group of people ample time to process their hurt before everyone assumes things are back to normal. This apology language could sound like saying, “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” The key, then, is allowing the hurt person/people to take their time, process their feelings, and choose to forgive you when they feel ready. 

This could be your apology language if you’re not ready to make up right away and need time to process your feelings before accepting someone’s apology or admission of guilt. 

Keep in mind: just like the love languages, the apology languages have overlap, and your own apology language may change depending on the situation you find yourself in. There’s no best way to apologize, and you might even find yourself blending several languages at once. In any case, knowing the five apology languages and being able to recognize yourself within them can help you become a more thoughtful and efficient communicator—and will help you understand your partners, friends, and family much better.

Related Blogs

The Importance of Being Seen 

Kirk Pineda, MHC-LP May 17, 2022 Read More

Thinking About Drinking

Paige Monborne, LMHC May 5, 2022 Read More

Little “t”  Traumas

Karen Veintimilla, LMHC April 25, 2022 Read More

Making the Case for “Bad” Feelings

Talia Akerman April 18, 2022 Read More

Join Our Community: