A Tale of Two Wrongs – Understanding The Power of “I’m Sorry” – Part 2


If you are just joining this party, please read part 1 first.

Apologizing can be important to one’s health, and the statement I’m Sorry can have unbelievable healing power.

But when “I’m sorry” are the words needed to right truly hurtful words, acts or inaction, they can be the hardest ones to utter. And even when an apology is offered with the best of intentions, it can be seriously undermined by the way in which it is worded. Instead of eradicating the emotional pain the affront caused, a poorly worded apology can result in lasting anger and antagonism.

I also learned that a sincere apology can be powerful medicine with surprising value for the giver as well as the recipient.

According to the psychologist and author Harriet Lerner, on “The Emotional Power of saying am sorry”

“When ‘but’ is tagged on to an apology,” she wrote, it’s an excuse that counters the sincerity of the original message. The best apologies are short and don’t include explanations that can undo them.

“It’s not our place to tell anyone to forgive or not to forgive,” nor should a request for forgiveness be part of an apology. The offended party may accept a sincere apology but still be unready to forgive the transgression. Forgiveness, should it come, may depend on a demonstration going forward that the offense will not be repeated.

“There is no one path to healing,” she said. “There are many roads to letting go of corrosive emotions without forgiving, like therapy, meditation, medication, even swimming.”

Hardest of all, Dr. Lerner said, is to forgive a nonapologetic offender – most dangerous of the lot, someone aware they hurt you and will refuse to apologize no matter the cajoling, more like unrepentant sinners.

The focus of an apology should be on what the offender has said or done, not on the person’s reaction to it. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” shifts the focus away from the person who is supposedly apologizing and turns “I’m sorry” into “I’m not really sorry at all,” the psychologist wrote.

As to why many people find it hard to offer a sincere, unfettered apology, Dr. Lerner pointed out that “humans are hard-wired for defensiveness. It’s very difficult to take direct, unequivocal responsibility for our hurtful actions. It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right.”

Offering an apology is an admission of guilt that admittedly leaves people vulnerable. There’s no guarantee as to how it will be received. It is the prerogative of the injured party to reject an apology, even when sincerely offered. The person may feel the offense was so enormous.

As she wrote: “Nondefensive listening [to the hurt party] is at the heart of offering a sincere apology.” She urges the listener not to “interrupt, argue, refute, or correct facts, or bring up your own criticisms and complaints.” Even when the offended party is largely at fault, she suggests apologizing for one’s own part in the incident, however small it may be.

Dr. Lerner views an apology as “central to health, both physical and emotional. ‘I’m sorry’ are the two most healing words in the English language,” she said. “The courage to apologize wisely and well is not just a gift to the injured person, who can then feel soothed and released from obsessive recriminations, bitterness, and corrosive anger. It’s also a gift to one’s own health, bestowing self-respect, integrity, and maturity — an ability to take a clear-eyed look at how our behavior affects others and to assume responsibility for acting at another person’s expense.”

So next time our friends at CMA, don’t be afraid to offer a sincere heartfelt apology when wrong – and if you are the offended party, hopefully, you get some I’m sorry before your blood-pressure goes up. Till later, we like to read from you – please drop your feedbacks below.

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