It's Okay If You're Not Ready For An Apology Yet. Here's How To Make That Clear.

Our society loves to preach forgiveness, so even when someone has seriously wronged you, you may feel pressured to be the bigger person and accept their apology right off the bat. But as much as we'd sometimes like to think otherwise, "I'm sorry" aren't magic words, and apologizing isn't always enough to smooth over a mistake.

As Psychology Today points out, there are many valid reasons not to accept an apology immediately. Forgiving someone prematurely may prevent you from fully processing your emotions and be dismissive of your own suffering — not to mention, it can let the offender off the hook before they've truly sat with the weight of their transgressions.

But whether you've received an apology from a friend, family member, romantic partner, or coworker, it can be tough to hold someone at arm's length and take the space you need to resolve the issue internally. So how can you take steps to communicate your feelings and ensure that your acceptance is heartfelt when (if ever) you decide to grant it?

If you struggle to hold your ground when someone grovels for your forgiveness, take these steps to make it clear that you're not ready to accept their apology just yet. It may be difficult and even make you feel like the bad guy, but time and sincerity are crucial to truly repairing your relationship after trust has been broken.

Don't pretend to accept their apology

First things first: Do not act like their apology is accepted, all is forgiven, and everything is returning to normal. Yes, it can be almost a knee-jerk reaction to grant someone forgiveness as payment for an apology. But your goodwill is not transactional, and you don't owe the wrongdoer anything. Forgiving and forgetting can be a toxic way to handle conflict if you don't really mean it, and pretending you've forgiven a still-hurtful infraction has the potential to do more harm than good.

Accepting an apology before your heart is ready won't put an end to the pain on your end, so you may instinctually remain defensive. But if the person who wronged you walks away thinking that their apology was a success and everything is copacetic, they're not going to understand why you're still acting upset afterward.

Acting like all is forgiven may also make things uncomfortable on your end, as the person who hurt you won't understand that they're still in your bad books and you need a little distance. This is just setting yourself up for frustration. Maybe the only thing worse than being angry at someone is being angry at someone who is always in your space, acting like you're best buds again.

Even though social pressure or the idea of good manners may make you feel obligated to accept an apology on the first go, it's better to stand your ground and wait until you're genuinely able to forgive someone before giving them the all-clear.

Be civil but honest

If you're trying not to lie about instant forgiveness, how should you respond to someone apologizing to you? As with most situations that require clear communication, the key is to remain polite but honest. Say a friend or loved one has lied to you and gotten caught. It will probably take some time and good behavior on their end before you'll be able to trust them again — and there's nothing wrong with saying so.

If you're not sure how to refuse an apology without being mean, consider tempering your rejection with some gratitude. Try saying something like, "I appreciate your apology, but I need some time to forgive you." You're also within your rights to add some stipulations. For instance, if someone has repeatedly hurt you with their toxic or inconsiderate behavior, make it clear that you need the pattern to change. Again, this doesn't have to come across like an attack. You can be respectful yet firm by saying something like, "Thank you for apologizing. That means a lot to me. But if we're going to repair our relationship, these are the changes I expect from you."

Set boundaries

If you're not ready to accept an apology from someone, you'd probably appreciate some space while you come to terms with everything that's happened. So in addition to acknowledging their remorse — and possibly laying out your terms for reconciliation — you should set some boundaries on your interactions for the near future.

If the disagreement is with a friend or family member who doesn't live with you, let them know that you won't be answering calls, texts, or invitations to meet up until you've finished processing your feelings. If you're fighting with a colleague, continue to communicate as needed to work together smoothly, but draw a line at letting them hang out in your workspace or engage in non-work-related conversation.

Similarly, if you're beefing with someone in your own household, you'll have to peacefully coexist. But that doesn't mean you can't carve out space to do some much-needed thinking and healing. If you need a little physical distance, ask a romantic partner to sleep in another room, or move to another room yourself. Eat your meals separately for a while. Spend your downtime somewhere private rather than lingering in communal areas where you'll be forced to interact. While this may seem like a cold or aloof approach, it can give you the room you need to reach forgiveness on your own terms without feeling pressured by the offender's constant presence.

Take all the time you need

Finally, take all the time and space you need to work through your emotions. There is no set schedule for making up with someone, and you deserve to prioritize your well-being for a while. Let yourself enjoy a break from all the drama and focus on the people and activities that make you feel good.

Every journey to forgiveness will be different, so listen to your heart to know when the time is right to extend an olive branch. Not only will the timeline vary depending on what, exactly, they're apologizing for, but your healing process is unique to you. Don't rush it. If you put too much pressure on yourself to reach forgiveness, you may invite the perpetrator back into your life before you're actually ready, leaving a spider web of unaddressed cracks and weak points in your relationship. Instead, be patient and wait until you can genuinely accept their apology without any doubts or reservations.

Finally, don't force it. In some cases, forgiveness may never come — and that's okay. You're allowed to cut your losses and do whatever is right for your health and sanity, even if that means burning a bridge or two. Forgiveness is certainly a noble goal, and it can even be better for your health than holding grudges (per John Hopkins Medicine). But it's up to you to decide whether it's the right course of action. If someone has done something truly unforgivable, you aren't obligated to forgive them anyway. And who knows — maybe being held permanently accountable for their actions will be just what the culprit needs to make some much-needed changes in their own life.