Saying sorry. It may be a little five-letter word, but it’s one of the most difficult for many of us to say. It’s also one of the most important. A sincere “sorry” can smooth over conflict, heal a relationship, and even make us healthier and happier.

Even when we know we’ve messed up, it’s hard to get those words out. There are a few key reasons for this, and many of them are tied to our beliefs about ourselves and how the world should work.

The good news? With awareness and practice, we can recognize when these beliefs are getting in our way and work around them. Here are four reasons we struggle with “sorry”:

1. You think, “It’s his fault!”:
Our apology psychology can be traced to the explanatory styles we developed as kids, says meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté. Explanatory styles—at meQuilibrium, we call them our “Why Styles”—are the thinking habits we habitually rely on to interpret the world. Someone with a “Not Me” Why Style looks for forces outside of themselves to explain circumstances. When this is your default style, apologies are difficult because you tend to scan for outside violations and perceived threats—making it easy to blame others when things don’t go your way. If you can’t see your own role in a situation, a heartfelt apology is nearly impossible.

What to do: If you’re a “Not Me” type, try to take a mindful pause the next time something goes wrong and ask yourself if there’s anything you did to contribute to the situation at hand. Once you clearly understand your role in the issue, you can make a decision on whether you should apologize or not.

2. You think, “I didn’t do anything wrong!”:
Many of us are stuck in a mentality from childhood where nothing is our fault, just like the four-year-old who spills juice on the carpet then stubbornly claims he didn’t do it. Kids do this because they don’t yet have secure enough egos to admit wrongdoing—confessing a bad deed is earth-shattering. Guess what? Adults can be insecure, too, and do the exact same thing. “We avoid saying ‘sorry’ to protect ourselves. Apologizing and therefore admitting that we aren’t perfect can be a blow to our sense of self,” says Shatté.

What to do: The trick is to get what Shatté calls “more points on the board” as we progress into adulthood. In other words, regularly remind yourself of your strong suits so you’re more comfortable confessing your mistakes.

3. You think, “I can’t lose this fight!”: Many of us see apologies as transactional—I apologized, so I have the lower hand. “Don’t compound the interpersonal problem by protecting yourself at someone else’s expense,” says Shatté. And fostering forgiveness isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s actually good for you! One study found that when we are forgiven (or forgiving), we are more likely to be kind to others.

What to do: “Look at the end goal,” says Shatté. “What’s more important? Protecting myself or preserving the relationship?” Relationships are not a zero sum game; you don’t “win” or “lose” after an apology.

4. You think, “I must always be right!”: Icebergs are the sweeping—and often restrictive—beliefs we have about ourselves and our world. People who have trouble apologizing often have icebergs like, “I should be respected and supported at all times” and “I must always be right.”

What to do: The trick is to come up with an “Ice Breaker”—a mantra you can use to melt them away. Let’s say your teenager disobeys you, and you lash out disproportionately. Try this Ice Breaker: “This is a stage he’s going through. He’s a teenager, and he’s testing my limits. He’s not trying to violate my rights, and he still loves me. I overreacted, and it’s safe to apologize.”

By understanding our apology psychology, we can build stronger and more honest relationships—something we never need to feel sorry about.