I’m Sorry: Apology Can Make All the Difference

by | Feb 21, 2018

Sometimes I find that people are unable to apologize. These are often the people that will say, “you can’t just say I’m sorry and everything be okay.” Perhaps to them apologies are empty and meaningless; but for so many, apologies mean everything in the world. I, for one, am a person who can forgive just about anything that a person sincerely acknowledges.

At the core of our psychobeing resides the ego.

Refusing to acknowledge mistakes is a sign of an extremely weak ego. Some people would often rather get a divorce, quit a job, abandon family members, lose out on privileges, or walk away from something amazing just to save a little face.

What I most often see is that people who refuse to apologize are afraid that admitting an error will make them appear as inferior. What I believe is that the opposite is, in fact, true.

It takes a lot of courage to say to oneself or to others, I am wrong. I have made a mistake. I apologize. I’m sorry, I didn’t want things to happen this way. The fear of being inferior seems to be motivated by an effort to maintain a connection. If I don’t admit my weaknesses, perhaps I still have a chance to maintain my favor in the eyes of the other person. But what happens most of the time, I believe, is that we lose favor when we are unable to admit our wrongs.

So here is a simple life hack that will make your life so much more pleasant: just say “I’m sorry.”

These two little words are maybe just as powerful and just as simple as saying the words “thank you.” We try to teach our youngsters to be polite and say please and thank you. Those words don’t really mean anything, and they don’t really have any measurable value . But saying thank you is a matter of improving the connection with the giver. Someone shared something with me or does me a favor of some kind, saying thank you is just an acknowledgement of grace. It just means I appreciate you, this is meaningful. And maybe half of the population is built to thrive on “thank you’s.”

Is it so different to teach our children to also say “I’m sorry”when they have done something wrong? I have a 2 year old and a 1 year old and things are pretty exciting at my house! The other day my two year old accidentally bumped the one-year-old in the head with something and the baby started to cry. Already sensing that he was in trouble, the two-year-old decides to run away. I gently persuade him back into the room, and try to teach him that he needs to acknowledge that he hurt his brother, give him a little hug, and say sorry.

It was so interesting his reaction, immediately, he clammed up. He couldn’t bring himself to say he was sorry. This isn’t a matter of his speech development, he is able to pretty much say any single word that we share with him. He doesn’t mind hugging, in fact he’ll hug just about anyone at the drop of a hat. But sensing that he maybe in a diminished state somehow because of an error, he closed up, put up walls of some kind, and just could not bring himself to say that. But this article isn’t written for toddlers.

One of my assessment questions as I begin working with couples is: who is the least likely to apologize when they have made a mistake or otherwise been hurtful. Almost invariably, there is someone in the relationship who virtually never, ever, apologizes. And maybe my sample is skewed, because the people I’m asking this question of are seeking professional help for their relationship. It seems that that is one very quick indicator of the defensiveness and resistance in the relationship.

Conversely, there is often a person in a relationship who apologizes all too often. They walk around on eggshells, hoping not to upset the other partner and end up taking all the responsibility, even when they have none. This is equally unhealthy. I think this is part of the accidental reinforcement of the unapologizers inability to say they are sorry. They feel that apologies are meaningless and are using the example of their partner always trying to escape tension with an apology as just a super annoying habit.

Another group that I spend a lot of time with are those who are addicted to substances or processes like pornography or gambling what is the most effective means of recovery from these types of addictions is engaging in and participating in the 12-step recovery groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous.

A good portion of these programs have to do with taking account for one’s own mistakes. There are specific steps to acknowledge the exact nature of one’s wrongs, make amends, and promptly admitting when they are wrong as a way of life to sustain recovery.

That fact alone, tells me that at the heart of some of the most troubling issues known to man, like addiction, relational problems and others, is the inability to own one’s mistakes. And perhaps the remedy is just as simple, although not easy to do.

A popular assignment of therapists and self-development coaches around the world is for people to keep a gratitude journal, or a gratitude list.

I wonder what good it would do all of humanity, and even our own little relationship circles, for us to go around and likewise make lists of our own mistakes, and share them with people. Self-disclosure is at the heart of recovery from problematic addictions, for example. That’s why people stand up in meetings and say, “I’m Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” Why the hell is that the first step? Because it’s powerful, and it works.

Whatever the fear, whatever the dark imaginings that follow the notion of the resistant and hard-headed person apologizing, those things almost never really happen. I don’t even know what people picture would go wrong if they were to ever utter the words, “I’m sorry.” Do they think they will look bad? Melt like the Witch of Oz? What? It’s as if we’re on the playground and we’re saying “step on the crack and you break your mother’s back.” It’s not going to break your mother’s back to say you’re sorry and take responsibility for your actions.

What it will do instead, is bring you closer to the people you’re afraid of losing. What it will do instead is make you actually stronger. What it represents is strength in yourself. What it shows people is that you are secure. What it develops in you is deeper self love so that you can feel less threatened by your inferiority or mistakes in the future.

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