The Lost Art Of Apologizing (And How To Do It Right Every Time)

My latest blog post was published on MindBodyGree.com!  

Read the full article below to find out more about what gets in the way of offering an apology and what you need to know in order to make an effective one and begin repairing relationships.

We’ve all been hurt by other people. You’ve also hurt people yourself. Whether the transgression was accidental or intentional, it hurts. Sometimes a loss of trust like this is temporary and can be healed. Other times, it leaves long-term scars, discord, and irreparable damage that ultimately ends the relationship.

As a mental health professional, I’ve witnessed all too often the pain and hurt we face due to our own wrongdoing and the wrongdoing of loved ones. As I help my clients repair their relationships, I am constantly reminded that the most damaging part of any wound is a lack of remorse, repentance, understanding, and acknowledgment of the pain they’ve caused.

When you remember being hurt, what hurts you the most? The offense committed or the lack of understanding and genuine apology from the offender?

Most people would answer with the latter.

We have to face it: We are going to hurt people and we are going to be hurt. It’s unavoidable. If we recognize that, why are so many of us unwilling or unable to take responsibility and apologize?

For one thing, apologizing is an art form. It’s not instinctual. We have to learn from others—preferably our parents and caregivers—as we develop. If your parents weren’t very good at apologizing, or just never apologized at all, you may struggle with it, too. No one modeled repentance for you effectively.

For another, we live in a power-driven world. Our society values influence, perfectionism, and ruthless self-improvement. People tend to associate apologizing with emotional vulnerability and emotional vulnerability with weakness.

This could not be further from the truth.

Every one of us is flawed. We all make mistakes. This doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human. The ability to take responsibility and apologize is crucial to happiness, satisfaction, and longevity in relationships.

Effective apologies increase empathy on the part of wronged individual, allowing them to forgive the wrongdoer. Empathy is the crux of forgiveness. A heartfelt apology has the power to heal and ultimately change lives. It’s fundamental to building lasting, meaningful relationships.

Here’s how to give a truly meaningful apology:

1. Be sincere.

When you prepare to make an apology, consider your intentions. The only time to apologize is when you’re genuinely remorseful. Don’t apologize just because you think you should. You may feel pressure from others to apologize, but you should avoid any apology that is forced.

The person you are apologizing to will pick up on your insincerity, causing further feelings of distrust. If you’re not 100 percent sure you’re apologizing because you truly feel remorse, don’t apologize at that point. Wait until you can be sincere, however long that takes.

2. Be honest and vulnerable.

In order to show your sincerity when apologizing, you must be honest and vulnerable. Brené Brown, leading researcher on shame and vulnerability, says that vulnerability is about “showing up and being seen” by others.” That can lead to huge rewards and cultivation of meaningful relationships.

It can also lead to rejection, which is what makes it so scary. When you apologize, be willing to share openly and candidly, allowing emotions to flow freely, so that you can be fully seen.

3. Admit fault.

Take responsibility for your actions and admit your mistakes or transgressions. State them out loud. Yes, it will be scary. It will feel shameful for a time. But it is worth it.

4. Explain why you did what you did and the reasons it was wrong.

This is not to be confused with offering excuses for your actions. Rather, explain the process by which you chose the route you did. State your understanding of the reasons this was not the best choice and how the choice (or series of choices) affected both you and the other person. This is the best and only way to birth compassion and empathy after a breach of trust.

5. Use “I” statements.

When speaking to the person who was negatively affected by your actions, it may be tempting to want to point the finger and place blame on the other person involved—or maybe even a third party.

Take care to avoid blaming others for your mistakes. Use statements that are about you rather than others involved, by starting your sentences with “I.” Try some of these on for size:

“I behaved ______________ because ________________ .”

“I felt/feel _________________ when _______________.”

“What I want/need is ________________.”

“Next time I will ___________________.”

6. Say “I’m sorry.”

Have you ever had someone attempt to apologize to you who never actually said, “I’m sorry”? If so, you know how infuriating that can be. It’s also pointless. An effective apology always includes the verbal acknowledgment that you are sorry.

7. Make amends.

Now that the hard part is over (saying "I'm sorry"), you get to offer a suggestion of how to correct the problem. The person receiving the apology will want to know how you plan to make things right again in order for them to start rebuilding trust and moving forward.

State what you will do differently next time, to avoid repeating this type of transgression. You can get really thoughtful here, but keep it simple. An honest apology should not include fancy gifts, excessive praise, or penance.

8. Avoid pushing the other person toward forgiveness.

Now that your part is done, the only thing left to do is to sit back and wait. This can be very difficult. In this time of waiting, work to release the guilt and let go of the desire to be forgiven. Don’t imagine the ideal response from the other person, or envision how your relationship will unfold moving forward.

The person you apologized to must have time and space to collect their thoughts and decide for themselves what is best. Let them make their own choice about what to do on their time.

Let’s be clear: It’s likely that your relationship will change. You may need to make new rules and set new boundaries. The other person may have additional requests or questions. Take these one step at a time. Don’t rush.

9. Remember that apologizing does not make you weaker. It makes you stronger.

Offering an apology does not make you weak or less than the other person involved. Admitting fault and offering an apology is hard work. The easy way out is to shrug your shoulders, walk away, and do nothing about your transgressions toward others.

By recognizing and acknowledging your faults and attempting to make amends to the injured party, you are taking the high road. This demonstrates your strength, courage, compassion, and wisdom.

I hope these tips help you apologize more effectively next time you accidentally cross a boundary.

 

What Therapy Has Taught Me

Ok Ok, I'll admit it, it has been a long time since I have been in the client's seat.  I'm a Therapist, so of course I believe in the power and the process of therapy, but I've recently also become a client in a whole new way, which has allowed me to rediscovered my love for the therapy process.  

And FYI, if you didn't already know, being a client is hard work!

Many people are afraid of therapy, and I can understand why.  However, most people who are not open to therapy act as if they don't need therapy because they are self-aware enough to handle things on their own.  That may be true, but there is so much to be learned about yourself in therapy and so much more to be gained with a fresh perspective.  As a therapist, who has recently taken to the client's couch, rather than my usual comfy therapist's chair, I know this all to well.

Just like you, sometimes I don't want to go to therapy, because it's just really hard.  I have had moments of feeling defensive towards the therapist when they offer a new perspective on my life, which is particularly difficult to hear.  I've also felt at times that I wanted to run out of the therapy room, because difficult feelings were being triggered.  

As I always say to my client, and now to myself as a client, "you must respect the process."  The difficult feelings, the defensiveness, the denial, all of it is a part of the process.  These are the qualities that help you to grow in therapy.  

And, It's so worth it!

Here are some things that I have learned in therapy as a client, which I believe are to be gained in the therapy process, that makes it all worth it.........

1. No matter how much awareness, intelligence, or lived experience you have, the insight and perspective of a third party person (the therapist) is invaluable to your growth and development.

When you enter into therapy you are relying on the therapist to give you insight and knowledge into your presenting problems to increase awareness and perspective.  

Well, ask and you shall receive!  This will definitely happen in therapy.  It should be noted that it's not all roses either. This is a very difficult process.  But you know what they say, "Nothing worth having comes easy."  

The therapist's input is utterly priceless.  Also, it is undoubtedly very different from your friend's or family member's input, likely more well-thought-out and balanced, but most importantly unbiased.

Even as a therapist myself, when I have been sitting on the client's couch, the insight and perspective offered by the therapist has been extremely helpful, leaving me at many times saying "I never thought about it like that before."

The truth is that when you are involved in your problems, as you always are, your mind becomes cluttered and you cannot see things clearly.  That's true for everyone, even for those who are extremely wise and self-aware. 

2. It's OK to let go of control and perfectionism.

As a client, one of the most helpful things that can happen in the therapy process, is when  your therapist offers alternatives to your preferred or regular way of being.  

Therapists do this in a very simple way, by holding the space for you as the client.  They hold the space by allowing you to be who you are, accepting you as you are, and also offering thoughts on how you can also hold space for yourself and learn to love yourself, flaws and all.

In the therapy process, when you let go of control and perfectionism and just allow yourself to be who you really are, and even make mistakes from time to time, you begin to feels safe in the therapy process.  More than that, you begin to feel safe in life because the therapist offers a corrective experience in which you begin to understand that you are always whole and complete, no matter what.

3. Acceptance.

Isn't this the thing we all want?  To just be accepted?  

One of the best parts of the therapy relationship is when you come to realize that your therapist accepts you for who you are.  No judgment.  Just pure acceptance, warmth, and regard.  When the therapist accepts you for who you are, while at the same time offering suggestions and alternatives ways of looking at the problem, you are able to work through some serious issues, some of which may have been plaguing you for years.  

It is here in acceptance, where you allow things to be as they are, without attempt to change them, that a paradox of change happens.  This is the kind of change that is cathartic and utterly transformative.  

4. Mental health is equally important as physical health.

Enough with the stigma already!  

When you are sick due to an illness or disease, you likely go to the doctor and start the recommended treatment for your physical health (i.e. medication, exercises, diet, etc).  So why is this process any different from your mental health when you are suffering from depression, anxiety, change of life issues, or a broken heart??

When you neglect your emotions, affect, mood, and psychological ailments, they only serve to manifest in other ways, often physical ones.  Maybe these will show up as nightmares, panic for no apparent reason, a feeling of dread, unhappiness, reoccurring stomach aches or other body aches, being 'stuck' in your professional or personal life, tearfulness, etc.

Therapy attends to somatic, bodily issues, that are being affected by psychological problems, as well as helps you to take care of your figurate heart.

You must take into consideration your mental health and emotions in order to be the best version of yourself!

5. Forgiveness.

This is a hard lesson to learn. Anytime.  Anywhere.

Choosing to forgive is a choice that you need to make for yourself.  No one, not even the therapist, can push you to do this.

However, as a client, my therapists have been able to point out to me areas where forgiveness may be helped.  Sometimes this means forgiving others, but usually this means forgiving myself.  Either way, the experience and process of learning to forgive is paramount to your wellbeing.  

I remember being a very young person, who believed that forgiveness was a waste of time and never imagined it as a possibility in my life, because I wanted to be sure to always make those who wronged my pay for their transgressions.  With time, maturity, and with therapy, I have learned otherwise.  

Forgiveness doesn't mean that you condone the wrongs that people have done to you.  It also doesn't mean that you forget such wrong doing.

Forgiveness is simply a willingness to no longer hold onto contempt and anger, or any other negative emotions associated with wrong doing.  

Really, forgiveness is about freedom.

6. Emotions are tricky little suckers.

Some of us are able to control our emotions beautifully.  More power to ya!  

Others of us feel emotions strongly, these emotions change often, and we have a hard time understanding how these suckers work.

I put my self in the latter description.

You are not alone. 

Although my training as a therapist has allowed me to have a great understanding of emotions and skills to use to manage these, this process does not come easy to me, especially when I am acting as the client, rather than the therapist.  Sitting on the client's couch I have felt such complicated emotions, which have been very difficult to understand, even with much awareness and understanding.  I am humbled by the fact that no matter what position you are in, emotions demand to be felt.  You must experience these at their fullest in order to move through them.

 

Consider therapy as a treatment to help you gain insight, awareness, and manage difficult feelings. There is so much to be gained in the process.