With such an edgy title, this post could be about so many things. Yet it is simply about how to say, “I’m sorry” and really mean it. It is about why a pure apology can be so healing and why it is vital these words be spoken from the heart.
The concept, it seems, that people have trouble with is, “I didn’t do it on purpose so why then should I have to apologize for my behavior?” Yes, often slights do happen by accident but that doesn’t mean an apology isn’t appropriate, or needed, as these accidental actions have consequences and often hurt others, or do damage to our relationships.
Others have the philosophy that if you have to ask for an apology, it doesn’t really count. That’s a tough stance, as well. So wait a minute, you want an apology, but because you had to ask for it, you’re not going to accept it?
And then there is the dynamic whereby not only is an apology not offered but in its place comes a counter attack, redirecting the attention back to what is wrong with the person who is genuinely due the apology.
Finally, some apologies are so riddled with excuses for why someone did what they did you can’t find an actual apology in the words. All you are left with is an empty feeling, almost worse than no apology at all.
So why is it so hard to offer a crisp, pure, “I’m sorry” to the deserving person?
Is it a fear of appearing weak? Is it an inability to self-observe? Is it emotional overwhelm, which leaves no reserves to draw from? To be sure, offering and/or requesting an apology can feel quite vulnerable.
However, in my experience, apologies can be healing for the one receiving it AS WELL AS FOR the one apologizing. Both roles require self-observation and honesty. Both require humility and surrender, acceptance and understanding. Both require presence and caring. And, both require a commitment to be better and to do better the next time.
Who doesn’t want this? Most of us could use more moments like these every single day.
Unfortunately, the words, “I’m sorry…” have too often been used in ways that cheapen their value. Anyone can say an empty “I’m sorry…” It takes something extra to deliver an apology that touches the heart and turns an unfortunate mistake into an authentic, inspiring moment; one that brings two well-meaning, imperfect humans closer together.
Effectively giving or asking for an apology starts with the willingness to be honest in the moment.
Being honest in the moment takes practice and skill; add in the vulnerability factor, and the potential for over-reaction, and it can be quite challenging.
A pure apology happens when we lay down our defenses, we open our hearts, and we become willing to take a risk. It can be as simple as, “I am sorry. I see that my words or actions caused harm. Here is what I learned from my behavior and here is what I intend to do better the next time. I hope you will accept my apology.”
The magic in asking for an apology is in offering a pure and simple statement that shares how you have been impacted using “I”, not “You” language. For example, “Right now, in response to that, I feel _________ (sad, annoyed, angry, guilty, afraid, frustrated, confused).”
In the moments I have used this, it is both elegant and effective. As simple as it sounds, it is not easy. It requires presence and non-reaction. It requires slowing down and identifying your feelings.
I have had the experience of asking for an apology, receiving it, and then witnessing both of us take a long, deep breath of relief after we debriefed the encounter. All because of the pure and simple words, “I’m sorry…”
Moments like these allow us to forgive others and ourselves. They remind us that it is okay that none of us are perfect. Whether we are the giver or the receiver of an apology, or if we are the one asking for an apology, in this act we give all involved a chance to feel better and to be better.
A person who can offer a pure apology without defense, and from the heart, is also likely someone who has the ability to heal themselves deeply. Humility, presence, willingness, open-heartedness – these are the building blocks of awakening.
Whether or not, your behavior was intended to harm is not the point. The point is, what will you do now, and how purely will you do it? Instead of saying, “I’m sorry already!” you might find yourself saying, “Hey, that thing that happened between us, I can’t believe I haven’t said this already. I want you to know, I’m truly sorry.”