Has something happened to you where you feel you deserve an apology? Or maybe you’ve done something that was hurtful and requires you to apologize. A good apology is almost an art, which makes it easy to do ineffectively; for example, if it lacks empathy or the apologized-for behavior continues. On the other hand, an apology with the right elements can be healing, and comes with several gifts attached to it.
We’ve all been hurt by someone close to us, maybe even betrayed. And when that person doesn’t apologize, or says “sorry” only to relieve themselves of discomfort or to silence you, it can leave a wound open and unhealed. In a love relationship, this can have a lasting effect on the intimacy of the couple.
“If only our passion to understand others were as great as our passion to be understood. Were this so, all our apologies would be truly meaningful and healing.” -Harriet Lerner
If only we were all skilled in the art of the apology. If this were the case, we could heal our relationships, take responsibility for our wrongdoings and be accountable (being responsible for ourselves and to others). Learning to apologize with thought and empathy is a gift that you can give to another person and to yourself.
Why Apologies Can Be Difficult
The reasons for an apology are usually surrounded by emotional intensity, which is what makes apologizing so difficult. When we are hurt by someone, the emotions that flow can overwhelm the situation if neither are equipped to manage them. When the emotional intensity is high, our stress response is triggered and the fight-flight-freeze reaction kicks in to protect us. This is our survival state. A relationship can’t grow when it’s surviving, so if you attempt to have a conversation (or elicit an apology) while you’re both in this state, it’s sure to go down the wrong path.
The time for growth is when a relationship is thriving, which takes a certain amount of vulnerability. That’s why it’s important to learn how to hold space (or a container) for emotional times. This allows you to move through the emotions, especially hurt or betrayal.
Even though apologizing can make you feel vulnerable, it’s critical to repairing the hurt. If you’re feeling stuck around an issue, consider if you’ve taken accountability for how you may have hurt the other person. An apology can be a healing gift for you both.
The Three Gifts of an Apology
Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of Why Won't You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, talks about three gifts that an apology offers:
Gift #1: Apologizing is a gift to the person that we hurt. It helps them to be seen and heard. It validates their feelings, and helps soothe and calms them so resentment can melt away. An apology can release them from bitterness, anger, and blame that they may hold onto. Finally, an apology helps the hurt person to feel safe and comfortable in the relationship again. They know that their anger and pain affect us and that there’s remorse.
Gift #2: When you apologize, you give a gift to yourself. When you can see yourself objectively, you grow in maturity and self-worth; and you take responsibility for yourself, your self-esteem and self-respect grow.
Gift #3: The relationship will be strengthened by an apology. The vulnerability required to apologize increases the intimacy in the relationship, and creates an opportunity for both partners to grow.
When there’s been a conflict or someone has been hurt, an apology will help you stay connected to your partner. Alternatively, giving a bad apology - or none at all - will create more suffering and weaken the relationship. In order to care for your relationship, and create the opportunity for healing and growth, give the gift of apology.
Next week, I’ll share how to make a heartfelt apology to repair the damage that has been done.