Dear Rachel,

My close friend recently accused me of doing something very hurtful to her and she will not speak with me until I apologize. In general, I have no problem saying I am sorry when I feel I have done something wrong. But in this case, I did not. She is totally overreacting and blaming me for her hurt feelings when in truth, it is her misperception that is the problem, not what I said… How can I say sorry for something I never did?


Dear Unapologetic,

There is no question that there are two sides to every story, and clearly, in your case, your sides are very different. Your friend feels that you did something wrong, that you hurt her, and that you are to blame. Furthermore, because she feels this way, she is waiting for you to apologize for your behavior. As you state, you clearly do not feel that you did anything wrong.

And you know what? It really doesn't matter if you did or didn't do what you have been accused of. It doesn't matter, because either way, she is hurt.

Now, I know that is a hard pill to swallow, but let me finish. That does not mean that you need to apologize for something that you didn't do. That would be dishonest and might appease her but would not change the situation. So where does that leave you?

There is a world of difference between feeling sorry for the fact that someone you care about is hurt and taking responsibility for having hurt that person.

What does this mean? She is your friend. No doubt you care about her. No doubt you don't want to see her in pain. Yet she is. And she feels you are responsible for that. Because you are defending your actions, you are not allowing yourself to feel her pain and to feel badly that she is in pain.

Try to separate your responsibility and only focus on what she is going through. I am sure that when you see your friend is so upset, you will want to comfort her. Tell her that you feel terrible that she is so hurt. And tell her you are sorry if she feels that you did something to hurt her. But more than that, explain that you did not intend to hurt her and in no way felt that your actions were hurtful. Nonetheless, if she is hurt, for that you apologize.

It may very well be the case that you did nothing wrong. Yet that is really not the issue here. Your friend is hurt, and her feelings are valid, and they are true, regardless of whether or not you are responsible for causing them.

Being able to apologize for someone's pain allows them to feel that you care and allows you to recognize that sometimes our actions are painful, whether or not we intend them to be.

I hope you and your friend are able to grow through this situation and that it will only serve to enhance and strengthen your friendship.