Have you ever said or done anything you regret? I am not talking about a fumble mumble or tripping over the front hall rug. Rather, I am referring to disrespecting someone, emotionally wounding another, or crossing over a personal boundary. I’ve done my fair share. For example, I have:
- Acted disrespectfully. Years ago, I invited a friend, from a distance, to come and stay with us for the weekend. I was so excited to see her I talked about MY LIFE the whole 48 plus hours minus sleep time. To her credit, she wrote me a letter telling me how she felt unheard, unseen, and unacknowledged.
- Said emotionally wounding words. When raising children I had moments of losing my top and using rude language that, had my mother been in ear-shot, would have caused her to faint!
- Crossed a boundary: One morning at a conference I saw my friend at a table. When I went to sit in the chair next to her, there was a briefcase on it. I moved the briefcase to the next chair. Apparently, the owner of the briefcase was off getting a coffee. I had no idea where he was. All I knew was, I wanted to sit next to my friend and a briefcase was in the way. Upon his return, the man felt angry and he let me know. “Who do you think you are?” I thought, “Horrors! A seat stealer!” He had saved that chair hours earlier to have a first rate view.
Seven Reasons Why People Do Not Apologize
- They have a habit of justifying their poor behavior. That is, they make up excuses.
- They let embarrassment get in the way.
- They fear taking a one-down position, by admitting they made an error.
- They have a fear of being perceived as wrong and making the other person right.
- They have a childhood wound of either being forced to make an apology when they felt no regret or were abused or neglected and never received an apology for the resulting pain. They resist apologizing because even the thought of doing so brings up their suffering.
- They do not realize what making an apology really means. They imagine that if they say the two words, “I’m sorry,” the issue is over and the other person should miraculously let go their pain.
- They have never been taught how to honour their own feelings and the feelings of others. They don’t have the capacity to clue into the psychology of emotional wounding and how to do relationship repair.
Be resilient. Be brave. When you have acted with disrespect, wounding language or deeds, or crossed another person’s boundaries, muster the courage to apologize. Do that even if the other person also behaved poorly.
Included in the Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) training, presented by Canadian psychologists, Dr. Adele Lafrance and Dr. Joanne Dolhanty, is a research-based apology. I have used their apology template several times including with one of our adult children, a colleague, and a dear friend.
The power of humbling yourself, taking responsibility for your part of relationship tension, and apologizing can be healing. Doing so can be referred to as relationship repair. When possible, apologize quickly.
- Your action or lack of action triggered someone’s painful feelings.
- You have clued into some old resentment towards an action or lack of action that someone is carrying.
- Someone is holding onto unrealistic levels of self-blame and you had no clue they had taken it all on.
- You have avoided acknowledging someone’s distress or pain rather than addressing it.
- You are haunted by a cloud of guilt. It keeps visiting you in your dreams or in a recurring memory. Do yourself a favour and clean it up.
Seven Reasons to Apologize
- Most relationships have moments of dysfunction. When you apologize, you model taking responsibility for your part.
- When people hear an apology, their self-blame typically softens and they feel less broken or crazy.
- It can improve your connection.
- It can increase trust.
- You are freed from wondering what you could have done to help repair your relationship.
- You just might see yourself as the hero of the relationship or situation.
- You will feel lighter and maybe even proud of yourself.
Five Steps to an Authentic Apology
- Acknowledge the unique impact of what you did or did not do — being absent, not listening, making a rash comment, suppressing your own feelings, not noticing a problem nor attending to it, saying mean spirited or hurtful words.
Eg: That must have been so hard for you to feel left alone with dreadful news and all that responsibility.
- Use empathy to express appreciation for what it must have been like — guess at you imagine they felt,
Eg: I can only imagine that you must have felt neglected and powerless.
- Apologize and communicate authentic regret for your part.
Eg: I am so sorry that I did not clue into what was going on for you. I regret answering the phone instead of staying with you.
- State what you could have done instead.
Eg: I could have found a way to stay better plugged into what was happening for you.
- State what you will do differently.
Eg: From now on I will better plug into what is happening for you and not assume you do well without my support and love.
Of course these steps can be fleshed out in more detail.
You may be interested to know that the above examples are from a letter of apology I wrote to our youngest daughter. She made an online call from Europe, where she lives, to tell her Dad and me, that she had breast cancer. She had a lot on her plate, including making some major decisions. About 2o minutes into the conversation, the phone rang. It was someone, for several days, I had been trying to reach. I exercised poor judgment and took the call.
I didn’t think much about it. She’s always been an independent, feisty, Daddy’s girl. Several months later, with tears streaming down her face, she told me that in that moment, she needed me, her mother, and my undivided attention. She told me how hurt, disregarded, and neglected she felt. It only took a moment!
It was a blessing when she graciously and gratefully, with soft tears, read my letter and forgave me. Since then I have felt even a deeper connection to her.
Don’t stay in a state of denial or guilt. Take a breath, make a call, or even better have a face-to-face conversation. Consider following the above steps and write a letter of apology. Some people find it effective to write an apology letter and then call or visit to read the letter to the person they hurt. In the best case scenario a reparative conversation follows.
Make yourself your own hero. If you imagine it will help mend a relationship, take the steps to make an authentic apology.
Lastly, no one has the responsibility to forgive you. That is their decision. You can only do your best and let go the rest.
PS: be prepared for either a BLAST (feelings of repressed anger), DENIAL (denying that your part was not problematic), or ACCEPTANCE (sweet resolution). If needed, repeat steps one to five.
What are your apology experiences–giving and receiving? Let me know. OK?
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.