I have a hard time apologizing. Especially for things I didn’t do. I also get triggered by those who apologize for everything and by those who apologize and it’s really just pushing off blame. But, what is an apology if it’s not a manipulation? I see this is what it has become for many people. I see the proper use of apologies as conveying one of two messages, sympathy or taking responsibility for an action that has hurt another person in some way. In the next few paragraphs I will try to elaborate more.
DO express sympathy when you feel it for someone. This is probably one of the easiest way to use those two little words, I’m Sorry. Someone has just mentioned that a relative or friend has passed away, the common courtesy is to say I’m sorry and move on with the conversation. This has become a social norm. I also use it when someone tells me something tragic that has happened to them. A simple, “I am so sorry that has happened to you,” can convey an open heart and connection to that person who may be in need of some healing. I caution that you use this type of apology only when you feel it for the person. No one likes to hear a hollow, routine apology. My father passed away last year and, to be honest, I didn’t really want to hear “I am sorry for your loss.” His passing was a tragic and beautiful and natural process. I appreciated those who really were conveying sympathy, and I could feel the difference when it was routine courtesy.
DO apologize for accidental mistakes that cause others time or pain. We all do it. You leave a dish out. You elbow somebody in the face. You bump into someone at the grocery store. None of these things are really that bad, but they can affect others. It is never from a malicious intention, but maybe absent mindedness or being lost in our own world. I recently dumped a package of raspberries on the floor at the grocery store in front the of the gentleman stocking the raspberries. They went everywhere. It was great. I am pretty sure I turned as red as the raspberries. I quickly apologized for the mistake and cleaned up what I could while he helped.
DON’T be self deprecating with your apology. In the case with the raspberries, I could have easily said something like “I’m so sorry, I am so clumsy sometimes.” This makes an excuse that you are the less than or have something wrong with you. We are all human and make mistakes. Instead, I stuck with “Oh man, I am so sorry, let me pick these up.” This acknowledges the mistake, takes responsibility and moves forward without harm to your own ego. We like to explain ourselves, apologies are not the time for that.
DO apologize when you are hurtful toward another person; whether intentional or not. This is where it gets tricky. These are usually the actions that we justify because of our own hurt inside. Remember, hurt people hurt people. We are all guilty of it. This apology is for saying the mean thing to your spouse or child. Or losing your temper at work. This apology comes after the heat of the moment and should be heartfelt and stick to taking responsibility only. If you are holding on to justifications of what you said or did, that is even more reason to apologize. Those justifications are your ego knowing it did something hurtful. Whether it is calling a name, yelling, being forceful, or worse, take responsibility and apologize for your action: “I am sorry that I reacted so poorly to you and called you ____.” “I apologize for yelling this morning about the dishes not being done.” “I am sorry I got so angry and yelled at you while trying to help with your homework.” I think you get the idea.
DON’T justify your actions in your apology. We have all had this one said to us, “I’m sorry I did that thing, but you make me so mad.” This is not an apology. This is a manipulation and argument tactic. Apologies are about you taking responsibility, not the other person and what they did. This is a hard one to swallow. It is easy to justify our actions when others are being mean or hurtful also. Eye for and eye, right? Wrong! If we really want to start seeing change for the better in our lives, pushing off blame is not the way to go. Others will do it to us. I still do it to others. Some awareness can go a long way.
DON’T apologize for setting boundaries. We all have them. We should not apologize for them. “I’m sorry, but, can you not do that, it makes me uncomfortable.” This comes from fear. It also takes away from who you are. We should never apologize for who we are. I do think it is important to understand where our boundaries come from. Sometimes they can come from trauma or fear. If you notice that a certain boundary is causing you distress, that is something to look at within yourself, but don’t apologize for it. Many books have been written about setting healthy boundaries, this is not that. I just don’t want you to be apologetic about them.
DO accept apologies. Especially when they are true and heartfelt. It takes a lot to muster up the courage to truly apologize for something you have done. If someone comes to you and apologizes without blame or excuses, accept it. Say thank you. Accepting an apology does not make the action okay, it does not take away accountability. It does give that person the opportunity to take responsibility, be accountable and to do better. We all need some grace from time to time. We are all the monster in someone’s story. Practice apologizing better and we start to see that those monsters are not monsters at all. They are hurt people that usually want to do better and they are all of us.
I'm sorry if I bothered you with this blog post, I like to ramble sometimes, but, you decided to keep reading to the end.
Nate Ewert, RMT. Owner of SS Performance Massage and Intentional Path Wellness; Founder of Denver Hiking Club.