Let’s be honest, sometimes the words ‘I’m sorry’ just aren’t going to cut it. For some of us or in certain situations those words roll off the tongue but are they really backed up by the feelings? For others or in different circumstances, thinking about uttering them seems to destroy a piece of our own identity (or more accurately, ‘ego’). That’s a whole other blog post, but for today let’s focus on the 4 parts to a meaningful apology.
1 – ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
If you say “I’m sorry, but you…”, you have basically just erased the first two words with the latter. Apologising is not about external justice, it’s about internal peace of mind. You don’t need to justify your mistake with the other person’s. Simply look for your part and take responsibility for it. It is not a competition about who has been hurt the most, this is about being a strong and emotionally intelligent person who is able to accept their own short-comings. To recognise the effect they’ve had on others without letting it affect their self-esteem or identity.
2 – RIGHT THE WRONG
After accepting responsibility, an apology becomes much more effective when you offer to do what you can to make it right. This is especially powerful if the other person is still in ‘victim mode’, meaning they are still wallowing in the pain you caused them or repeating the same details over and over again. The question “what can I do now to make this better?” forces them out of the past and into the present to help find a solution which would be meaningful to them.
3 – LEARN FROM IT
I’ve realised through life that apologising doesn’t mean the same to everyone. I think most people would include part 1&2 but including part 3 will make your apology so much more powerful for both of you. I was always taught that when you say sorry it also means that you won’t do it again. It’s very different to recognise you hurt someone and want to make it better but it’s a whole different thing when you take a look at WHY you did it and how to avoid doing it again in the future. Learn from your mistakes and also let the other person know that you intend to grow from the experience and will do your best not to repeat it.
4 REQUEST (BUT DON’T EXPECT) FORGIVENESS
“How can I help you forgive me?” is an optional final step in apologising. I don’t think it’s necessary but it may be helpful if you think there is more to be said than what you heard in part 2. Most importantly, you must not apologise in order to get forgiveness. That is not a genuine apology. A genuine apology is offered as a gift. It is not a contract whereby the other person is obligated to forgive you. That being said, if you’ve included all these parts, chances are you will be forgiven. One other thing to mention (and it’s not something we get taught) – you are allowed to forgive yourself before the other person does. Yes, that’s right, you can let go of the guilt and the negative self-talk, even if the other person needs more time.
I would like to finish by saying that not all apologies are created equal. Sometimes the pain that has been caused it too great to even allow the space for a meaningful apology at the beginning. That doesn’t mean you should give up. On the contrary, you should keep trying and each time you might get one step further in the apology until you are finally able to express your full feelings of remorse and willingness to grow and improve. Patience is one of the most important skills in any relationship.