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 here to disrespecting someone, emotionally wounding another, or crossing over a personal boundary boundary. I’ve done my fair share. For example, I have:
- Acted disrespectfully. Years ago, I invited a friend to travel 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 a fainting spell.
- Crossed a boundary: One morning at a conference I moved a gentleman’s briefcase to another friend. He was off getting a coffee but 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 livid 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.
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.
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.
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 not cluing into another’s sensitivities and tenderness, and apologizing can be healing. 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 not clued in nor initially made the responsibilities of a situation clear.
- You have avoided acknowledging someone’s distress or pain rather than addressing it.
Five 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.
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).
Eg: That must have been so hard for you to feel left alone with all that responsibility.
- Use empathy to express appreciation for what it must have been like (guess at the feeling).
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 that I did not clue into what was going on for you.
- State what you could have done instead.
Eg: I could have found a way to stay better plugged into what was happening to 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.
Don’t stay in a state of denial or guilt. Take a breath, make a call and follow the above steps or write a letter. Make yourself your own hero.
Lastly, no one has the responsibility to forgive you. That is their decision. You can only do the best you can and let go the rest.
What are your apology experiences–giving and receiving? Let me know. OK?
Note: be prepared for either a BLAST (feelings of repressed anger bubbling up), DENIAL (denying that your part was not problematic), or ACCEPTANCE (sweet resolution). If needed, repeat steps one to five.