Sorry, Not Sorry
We Canadians are known for being a nation of apologizers – but that doesn’t mean we are doing it to the best of our ability!
Universally, we tend to expect more from those closest to us, and yet we also tend to treat them more harshly than we would anyone else. When you’ve been short with a partner or family member, do you apologize? And if you do, do you mean it? The way in which we apologize can actually make things worse.
Let’s face it: we all mess up. We can get caught up in our own stuff, and neglect to consider a loved one’s feelings, or their current vulnerabilities (e.g: are they feeling unusually sensitive at this current time?).
So, what makes an apology, a true apology?
- Don’t apologize for someone else’s feelings. “I’m sorry you’re upset” is NOT an apology. It is condescending. We’ve all felt worse when someone has uttered those very words to us.
- Do apologize for your own actions and attitudes. Be specific about what you did wrong. “I’m sorry that I did something to hurt you” is not the same as “I am sorry I blew up at you when I spilled my coffee. I was thinking about a situation at work that is troubling me. My harsh reaction had nothing to do with you” has a much better chance of restoring connection.
- Don’t add an excuse to your apology. “I’m sorry I blew up at you, but, my boss is just such a jerk!”, means you are not really sorry – you are trying to justify your actions and expect to be excused. A true apology does not use “buts”. “Buts” in an apology makes you a butt.
- Do ask for forgiveness when you apologize. “I’m sorry” on its own has a hollow ring, and does not do much to foster relational repair. Stating “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” is better. Better yet: “Is there a way I can make this right?” allows for the other person to voice what it is they are needing from you.
- Be prepared that the wounded party may request a little space, or might not even apologize for their wrong-doing in an adverse interaction. We only have control over our own actions. Our humanness means that we will invariably make mistakes that hurt others. When that happens, we can attempt to repair the damage to the best of our ability. We may not always get the preferred response from the other person, but we can find comfort in knowing that we tried to repair our wrongdoing. This role-modeling of communication integrity can be one of the most valuable assets you can bestow on your children.