Some people accidently walk on your feet and apologize, while others walk all over your heart and don’t even realize. Author Unknown
Do you find that saying, “I’m sorry”, is really hard for you, even when you are sorry? Or do you find yourself saying, “I’m sorry” often, even if there isn’t anything to apologize for? Apologizing to others for something we have said, or not said, or something we perceive we have done, may significantly affect our relationships.
When Saying I’m Sorry Isn’t an Apology
How we apologize to someone is critical. If our apology comes with an explanation, or an excuse, it’s really not an apology. For example, if you phrase your apology such as, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you, but I didn’t like what you said.” This justification for your action is no apology.
A True Apology Comes from the Heart
An appropriate, heartfelt apology instead may sound something like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. The way I treated you was not okay.” This manner of apologizing demonstrates that we are owning our behavior instead of making excuses for it.
The Ineffective Apology
Another dynamic we may encounter in dealing with someone we really care for is when their apology is akin to the expression of crying wolf. The person apologizes, and may even mean it when they express regret, however, there isn’t any follow through to work on the issue prompting the apology.
It’s not an uncommon complaint in psychotherapy, or in couple therapy, that one partner may say they’re sorry, however they continue to do the same thing repeatedly.
A pattern forms around the same issues, and after a while the partner, no longer feels that the apology matters. The ineffective apology is delivered repeatedly, but the person isn’t working on the issue to resolve it. Thus, instead of the apology feeling good, it triggers frustration, anger or resentment because it doesn’t feel like it means anything anymore.
The Excessive Apologizer
The other factor we may encounter is someone we care about who consistently apologizes or constantly says, I’m sorry.
“We shouldn’t apologize for our own needs, but we should apologize for being thoughtless or careless.” ~ Dr. Guy Grenier, Psychologist and Marital Therapist
What are some of the reasons that we may over apologize?
- For some it’s a sense of not feeling good enough, or lacking a good sense of self-esteem. The belief that everything they do is wrong, or not okay.
- Sometimes as children, or adolescents, apologizing for something, even if we didn’t do it, is a way of protecting ourselves. If a child apologizes then they may ward off a punishment, criticism, or judgement. If that behavior is not worked through as an adult, that pattern continues.
- After a while saying I’m sorry may have become such a habit that we don’t even realize we’re saying it. It becomes so natural that it’s like breathing.
- Saying I’m sorry may come from a place of tentativeness, or a lack of assuredness around what is happening and what is okay, and what isn’t. This might be a conscious, or unconscious, way of warding off perceived criticism. If I say I’m sorry first, perhaps he/she won’t ridicule or criticize me.
For more tips on the art of apologizing, please click on the link below for my complete article.
My wish for you today is that you are able to express your feelings in a heartfelt way that helps you to enhance your emotional growth and wellbeing.
-Kathleen Dwyer Blair, LCSW, BCD
Director Nassau Guidance and Counseling