Every one of us will hurt someone; and, we will be hurt by someone. We are human. So, it follows that we will need to apologize and we will yearn for apologizes. In order to have deep connections with others, we need to learn the art of saying “I’m sorry.”
Thankfully, there is a wonderful book that can teach us how. Why Won’t You Aplologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by psychologist Harriet Lerner has not only helped me realize the mistakes I’ve been making when I apologize, but has also helped me cope a bit better when I don’t hear “I’m sorry” when I feel I deserve it.
I don’t always recommend the books for which I write Book Notes, but I do recommend this one. But, in case you don’t have the time to read the book, here are key takeaways using helpful quotes from the book:
How not to apologize
Dr. Lerner says, “The purpose of an apology is to calm and soothe the hurt party, not to agitate or pursue her because you have the impulse to connect, explain yourself, lower your guilt quotient or foster your recovery.” Here are common ways we can ruin even a well-intentioned sorry:
- Adding a “but”: “The best apologies are short and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them. An apology isn’t the only chance you get to address the underlying issue. The apology is the chance you get to establish the ground for future communication.”
- Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”: “A true apology keeps the focus on your actions–and not on the other person’s response…. Similarly, ‘I’m sorry if’ can also come across as condescending.”
- Expecting automatic forgiveness
- Apologizing to someone who “truly does not want to hear another word from you”
- Apologizing too much: Over apologizing or apologizing for things you don’t need to take responsibility “creates distance…and make it harder for them to hear you when you offer an apology you really need to give.”
- Failing to make restitution
- Forgetting to promise not to do it again
Suggestions for those harmed by non-apologizers
Before you open up a conversation with a person who has harmed you, keep in mind that protecting yourself comes first. Reduce your expectations to zero for getting the response you want and deserve…. The other person’s willingness to own up to harmful deeds has nothing to do with how much she or he does or doesn’t love you. Rather, the capacity to take responsibility, feel empathy and remorse, and offer a meaningful apology rests on how much self-love and self-respect that person has available. We don’t have the power to bestow these traits on anyone but ourselves.
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