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Have you ever used this phrase in response to realizing you’ve made a mistake? If not, you’ve likely heard it from someone who’s just upset you.

The phrase “But I didn’t mean to” is often used to defend oneself, release feelings of guilt after making a mistake, and to communicate that you had different and/or good intentions for your actions.

One problem is that this statement keeps an offender from owning their behavior. It lacks genuine apology and focuses more on the offender than the one who was hurt. It’s the opposite of having empathy.

Instead of going down the “But I didn’t mean to” path, you can use these alternatives for a healthier way to communicate your amends:

“I’m sorry.”

When you say a simple “I’m sorry”, you recognize there are no excuses. You own your part and have empathy that your actions had a negative impact on someone else. In our house we say, ‘I’m sorry’ means I won’t do it again.

“I was wrong.”

This one is hard for many people, but it is an important one. This style of ownership for your actions helps the wounded person to not feel crazy for being hurt and upset. Saying something like “I was wrong to say that to you,” can help someone feel like they are understood and safe. It builds trust and connection instead of a blame shifting response like “But I didn’t mean to”.

“Will you forgive me?”

Apologizing in this way puts the ball in the court of the wounded. You are inviting them to connect again rather than hold a grudge. This makes a huge impact for both sides to move on in a healthy way.

“Regardless of my intentions, it wasn’t ok for me to do that.”

We can all have the greatest of intentions that end up being painful for others. Even when we “didn’t mean to”, we will likely hurt someone’s feelings, break down trust, or put our foot in our mouth. Don’t get focused on explaining your intentions. Instead, own your part and correct yourself.

Anytime you hear the words “But I didn’t mean to” in your head, try re-placing them with one of these phrases. This will help you move through and rebound quicker from a difficult time.

Have you ever said “But I didn’t mean to” in response to upsetting someone?