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“I’m Sorry You Feel That Way”

sister and brother problemsIf your mail carrier complains to you about your mailbox being so far from the curb, it’s perfectly appropriate to respond by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

Here’s what that statement really means:

  • “Your feelings are your problem.”
  • “How you feel has nothing to do with me.”
  • “I don’t care.”
  • “You’re on your own.”

If these are what you mean to convey — and really, what more does the mail carrier have any right to expect from you, unless she’s your sister? — , then by all means tell people who have a complaint against you that you’re “sorry they feel that way.”

But if you want to keep your loved ones well-loved, please don’t ever use this line with them, especially when they tell you that you hurt their feelings.

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology.

When you say this to someone, you don’t get to check the “I apologized” box. Instead, you’ve got to check the box that says, “I gave them a shove toward the door and told them to keep walking.”

If you accidentally said this to someone you truly care about, you might want to call them right now and offer a real apology for shutting them down instead of hearing them out. Tell them you regret the way you handled it when they approached you about that thing…

And hope they don’t respond by telling you they’re “sorry you feel that way.”

If you’ve been on the receiving end of these words, how did it feel?

Have you ever used these words to set a necessary boundary with someone? Like the mail carrier?

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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One Response to "“I’m Sorry You Feel That Way”"

  • Amy
    December 8, 2018 - 9:46 am Reply

    I really appreciate this article, except that I disagree that it is okay to say this to anyone unless your intent is to be mean and snarky and you can admit that to yourself and others. The assessment of the true meaning of this expression is spot on. In my opinion, It’s better to say, “I see that my mailbox is an inconvenience for you, but I’m not willing to move it because it is too much work for me.” But that’s because I feel no need to be nasty to my mail carrier. Telling me that my mailbox is too far away from the curb is not expressing a feeling, it is an observation. If my mail carrier says she is frustrated having to reach so far I would validate her feelings by saying “I can see why that is frustrating, and I am sorry it’s frustrating, but I am not willing to move it.” If I don’t like my mail carrier because she frequently messes up my mail deliveries in spite of me asking her to please be more careful, I might say, “Yeah, that must be frustrating, but Im glad it is, because I don’t care about your feelings since you don’t care about mine.” Because that’s being honest, instead of snarky. Personally, I just really hate that expression. I find it to be just plain mean.

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