Do you need to read this right now because something went terribly wrong yesterday? Whether it’s your parent, coworker, child, lover, or friend, we all sometimes say and do things we regret.
We fret, get defensive, make excuses, and rationalize that what we did wasn’t so bad. Or we simply put the blunder out of our mind hoping it went unnoticed. “It’s no big deal.” “Anybody could make that mistake.” “Who would remember?” These are all stall tactics we resort to because we don’t want to experience the discomfort associated with an apology.
Why? Pride. Self-righteousness. Embarrassment. It is hard to admit that we’re human and fallible. Owning up to the fact that we said or did something we know was hurtful can put a dent in our self-esteem.
What Is The Price We Pay?
Why else are we reluctant to apologize? We avoid experiencing uncomfortable emotions. Maybe we will squirm, afraid that others will see we’re not perfect. Maybe we adapt an attitude of righteous anger, and blame the other person or situation. Perhaps we are mortified at our own behavior and feel ashamed, turning that sadness inward, and becoming preoccupied with reconfirming our inadequacy or unworthiness.
Time passes, the remorse drops off, the nagging regret subsides, and it feels too hard to go back and revisit our blunder. We just hope it will fade away.
The bottom line is, we are not taking personal responsibility for ourselves – for our words and actions.
What’s the upside of an apology? We let go and move on without baggage. It fosters closeness, understanding, honest communication and good feelings as well as strengthens our relationships. We join the human race as fallible beings. We release any feelings of guilt or shame.
And what’s the downside to not apologizing? Little by little, not fixing our wrongs becomes a pattern. In our relationships it destroys trust, openness, and true closeness. We carry this secret burden and it nags at us.
How To Make An Apology
You are speaking up so you feel better, not to elicit a response in kind from the wronged party.
There are two parts to a successful apology. One is to speak up sincerely about your mistake. The second is to listen with empathy and compassion to hear the effect it had on the other person or persons.
In terms of speaking up, it’s best to take a few minutes to think through and get clear on what you want to say. Pinpoint the thing you are addressing; a specific event or comment. For example - it’s not “I was a jerk last night.” But, “I feel awful about a comment I made to you last night.”
Stick with your own part. Search for what is true for you about the situation. Don’t finger point and talk about what they did.
It helps to write down what you want to say to get clear on your communication. Determine your part and focus exclusively on that, even if you feel like they did something wrong. Own your own 50%.
You can make a guess and voice what you think the effect your word or deed had on the other person. Talk about what you learned. For example,
“I’m sorry I didn’t call you beforehand to let you know I wasn’t going to make it to meet you at the movies. I wouldn’t have liked it if you had done that to me.” Or, “I’m sorry I raised my voice when we were discussing paying the bills this afternoon. I regret I let my frustration get the best of me.”
After you have shared about yourself, ask if there is something you can do to remedy the situation.
Pick a moment where you can get their undivided attention. I usually start with a preface to set the stage. “This is hard for me. I’m try to learn something new and it’s not easy, but there is something I need to say about our conversation yesterday.”
Don’t allow the recipient to brush off your apology or downplay it. You must repeat it two or three times until you feel like it is genuinely received.
After you’ve finished and expressed your regret, your job becomes to listen to the other person talk about how your actions affected them. Say something along the lines of “I want to understand.”
Just listen to the repercussions your words or actions had on them. Don’t interrupt, justify or minimize your actions, or try to correct their perceptions. This is the time to walk in their shoes. You can ask them something like “What did you feel about what happened?” And after you listen well, acknowledge the other person. “I hear what you’re saying and I’m truly sorry.”
It's Never Too Late To Offer An Apology
It’s never to late to offer an apology when you know you were not acting in line with your best self. If apologizing is difficult for you, before you make your communication, support yourself by repeating such statements as “I did the best I could at the time.” “We all make mistakes. Life is for learning.” Or, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently."
Your willingness to apologize shows your strength and desire to stay connected and to clear the air so you aren’t carrying around unfinished business. Once the interaction is complete be sure to lavishly appreciate yourself for taking personal responsibility for your words and actions. And feel the love!
©2011, 2016 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by the Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace
* Click here for a video demonstration of the Shiver and Shake Process.