Social psychologists know that an apology leads to forgiveness, can recover a spoiled relationship, and may heal indignity. Saying “sorry” denotes that you have chosen your relationship over your your ego. Yet so many of us can’t find can’t find the strength within us to admit our fault. Let’s see what the main benefits of apologizing are, what the main obstacles are that hold us back from saying “I’m sorry,” and how to make a genuine apology.
The Power of an Apology: Why Love Means Saying “I’m Sorry”
The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.
– Henry Boye
The benefits of apologizing
Apologizing is vital, since it helps to smooth any conflict and re-establish a spiritual connection with the partner. If you master the art of apologizing, it will help you reduce relationship stress and to move on from conflicts and tensions. There are many proven benefits of apologizing.
- When you say that you are sorry, it restores the dignity of the hurt person and makes them feel better. The offended party, who receives the apology, develops empathy towards the offender, which then transforms their feeling of hurt into forgiveness.
- An apology may restore trust and understanding to a relationship, because it contributes to a feeling of safety and makes both the receiver and the giver feel comfortable and respected. Apologizing therefore helps you and your loved one stay emotionally connected, and strengthens the bond between you two.
- When you make a sincere apology, and this trust and understanding gets restored, a person can start to see you in a different light. They will have a greater tendency to overlook your flaws and highlight your virtues.
- As Guy Winch, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid, reckons, “An effective apology doesn’t just heal the wound for the other person, it’ll dissolve your guilt too.” Eventually, you develop a sense of self-respect and the ability to move on quickly. It also serves as a deterrent, so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes again.
Why is it so difficult to say “I’m sorry”?
“I’m sorry” –- this simple phrase is so hard to pronounce sometimes. The underlying reasons for this are varied, but the most common are:
- When you apologize, you admit that you may be wrong, which is a threat to our ego and our pride. You should learn how to be objective and admit your mistakes, and not to allow your egocentrism to blind you.
- Some people see an apology as a confirmation of guilt and, as a result, of responsibility for the conflict. They mistakenly believe that if they apologize, then the other person wouldn’t realize his or her own wrong behavior. This is false. Apologizing in fact opens the lines of communication, and stimulates empathy and understanding on both sides.
- The apology is viewed as a means to draw attention to the mistake. This leads to a misguided implication that it’s better to ignore or deny offenses and hope that nobody will notice. But it doesn’t matter how little the mistake is; if there is hurt involved, you should apologize rather than let it fester.
- The person thinks that he or she is the one who deserve an apology first, so they wait for the partner to apologize. But this can be toxic for the relationship. Don’t wait, make the first step; apologizing will only increase your self-respect, not diminish it.
- The person might see an apology as a way of dwelling on the past, when they just want to move on. But if you move forward without first analyzing and understanding your actions and the hurt they caused, then you are likely to repeat your mistakes in the future.
- Some people assume that apologizing is a sign of weakness, but actually, it is a hallmark of strength. It is an act of generosity, and an expression of hope for a recrudescent relationship. It is in fact an act of bravery, because it subjects people to the risk of humiliation.
- The person believes that he or she is not worthy of forgiveness. They cling to excuses like “he or she will never forgive me, so why I should I even try?”. But thoughts like these can be extremely destructive to a relationship, because the helplessless it breeds stops the offending party from taking the actions required to heal and mend.
Tips for giving a genuine apology
If you want to make a heartfelt apology and make the offended person feel better, then try to stick to these tips.
- When you are sorry, mean it. F.W. de Klerk once said: “Deep regret goes further than just saying you are sorry. Deep regret says that if I could turn the clock back, and if I could do anything about it, I would have liked to have avoided it.” But before apologizing, recognize your fault and make the apology specific. For instance, say “I am sorry I ignored the conversation with you yesterday.” It’ll show that you really understand what you did wrong. So, always speak from the heart and make the apology sincere.
- Choose the timing carefully. A person might need time to heal wounds, but you shouldn’t let grievances take root in the heart. Speak up if you are sorry for something you’ve done, and let them know that you are ready to discuss it when they are.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Don’t be defensive and don’t look for excuses and explanations. The message, “I take responsibility for being angry and hurting you yesterday,” is coherent and direct. Forget about any “buts” in your speech.
- The manner is important. Make sure that your body language expresses what you feel. Always apologize in person, make eye contact, keep arms uncrossed, put away your phone and focus on the person. These clues will help show that you really do want to rebuild trust.
An apology cannot change what has been done, but it can help to ease the tension and relieve stress. Apologizing gives hope for rebuilding. If you value the relationship, then an honest apology can make the relationship go a long way.
If you’ve made it this far and you’re craving a transformation of your own, we can help you get there.
Jumpstart your personal transformation and get on track to build your best life with Goalcast’s new inspirational ebook, Explore Your Potential: Start the Journey to Your Dream Life.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan and a support system. This how-to guide is full of the top wisdom, tips, exercises, and success stories to inspire an old dream or create a new one.
Check out a teaser of what’s inside.
Andrew Guerra is the founder of Sweety Text Messages. He likes to share his thoughts on love and motivation with people in the hopes of improving their lives. Andrew believes in fairness and human wisdom.
Expecting nothing in return, I was greatly relieved when my doorbell rang and the neighbor thanked me warmly for what I had said and done. My relief was palpable. I felt as if I’d not only discarded an enemy but made a new friend, which is indeed how it played out in the days that followed.
About a week later I learned that, according to the psychologist and author Harriet Lerner, the wording of my apology was just what the “doctor” would have ordered. In the very first chapter of her new book, “Why Won’t You Apologize?,” Dr. Lerner points out that apologies followed by rationalizations are “never satisfying” and can even be harmful.
“When ‘but’ is tagged on to an apology,” she wrote, it’s an excuse that counters the sincerity of the original message. The best apologies are short and don’t include explanations that can undo them.
Nor should a request for forgiveness be part of an apology. The offended party may accept a sincere apology but still be unready to forgive the transgression. Forgiveness, should it come, may depend on a demonstration going forward that the offense will not be repeated.
“It’s not our place to tell anyone to forgive or not to forgive,” Dr. Lerner said in an interview. She disputes popular thinking that failing to forgive is bad for one’s health and can lead to a life mired in bitterness and hate.
“There is no one path to healing,” she said. “There are many roads to letting go of corrosive emotions without forgiving, like therapy, meditation, medication, even swimming.”
Hardest of all, Dr. Lerner said, is to forgive a nonapologetic offender, like my aunt whom I had loved dearly and who served as my second mother after mine died. But when I, raised Jewish, married a Christian, she refused to come to the wedding and never apologized for the intense hurt her absence had caused. Although I made several attempts to restore the relationship, she always managed to deflect them, and to this day, more than half a century later, I cannot forgive her.
The focus of an apology should be on what the offender has said or done, not on the person’s reaction to it. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” shifts the focus away from the person who is supposedly apologizing and turns “I’m sorry” into “I’m not really sorry at all,” the psychologist wrote.
As to why many people find it hard to offer a sincere, unfettered apology, Dr. Lerner pointed out that “humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It’s very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right.”
Offering an apology is an admission of guilt that admittedly leaves people vulnerable. There’s no guarantee as to how it will be received. It is the prerogative of the injured party to reject an apology, even when sincerely offered. The person may feel the offense was so enormous — for example, having been sexually abused by a parent — that it is impossible to accept a mea culpa offered by the abusive parent years later.
Righting a perceived wrong can be especially challenging when it involves family members, who may be inclined to cite history — he was abused by his father, or she was raised by a distant mother — as an excuse for hurtful behavior. “History can be used as an explanation, not an excuse,” the psychologist said. “It should involve a conversation that allows the hurt party to express anger and pain if an apology, however sincere, is to heal a broken connection.”
As she wrote: “Nondefensive listening [to the hurt party] is at the heart of offering a sincere apology.” She urges the listener not to “interrupt, argue, refute, or correct facts, or bring up your own criticisms and complaints.” Even when the offended party is largely at fault, she suggests apologizing for one’s own part in the incident, however small it may be.
Dr. Lerner views apology as “central to health, both physical and emotional. ‘I’m sorry’ are the two most healing words in the English language,” she said. “The courage to apologize wisely and well is not just a gift to the injured person, who can then feel soothed and released from obsessive recriminations, bitterness and corrosive anger. It’s also a gift to one’s own health, bestowing self-respect, integrity and maturity — an ability to take a cleareyed look at how our behavior affects others and to assume responsibility for acting at another person’s expense.”
Beverly Engel, the author of “The Power of Apology,” relates how her life was changed by a sincere, effective apology from her mother for years of emotional abuse. “Almost like magic,” she wrote, “apology has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds and heal broken hearts. An apology actually affects the bodily functions of the person receiving it — blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows and breathing becomes steadier.”Continue reading the main story