By: Ticily Medley
Many articles have been published on the importance of forgiveness and its positive impact on healthy adjustment. Some people believe that forgiveness is imperative in order for one to experience “closure” following a hurtful event. Others believe that forced forgiveness can be more detrimental to one’s mental health and social relationships than helpful. Inherent in the conversation of forgiveness is the related conversation of apologies. How many people would even consider moving towards forgiveness before an apology has been offered by the offender? Probably not many. So, we know that apologies are important, but do we know why?
Many of us most likely learned while growing up how to apologize (e.g., “Say you’re sorry.”) and we were told that we should do it when we wronged another person. To be sure, it is easy to understand the benefits of using an apology to mend a wounded friend or loved one. However, it can be quite difficult to apologize for something when you don’t believe that you’ve done anything wrong or don’t believe that you’ve made a mistake. Is an apology required in such a situation? Society teaches us that inherent in apologies are admission of a mistake. Is this accurate? Perhaps apologies are never required, but they do tend to be helpful. And they don’t necessarily hinge on admission of a mistake or wrong-doing.
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Apologies are important in maintaining most social relationships. Therefore, if you want to maintain or strengthen your relationship with a loved one, learning to apologize for real and imagined wrongs could be required, or at the very least, it could be really important.
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Being wrong is all about perception. Though you may believe that you haven’t done anything wrong or made any mistakes, your loved one may feel offended, disrespected, unheard, unloved, unappreciated, overlooked, or a myriad of other emotions. With an apology you’re addressing the outcome of your actions, not your intent.
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Apologizing isn’t necessarily the same thing as an admission of guilt. An apology is an admission of concern for hurt feelings or misunderstandings, or other similar consequences.
So, apologies are important for maintaining any significant relationship. They are needed regardless of intent, and sometimes, in spite of intent. But there are some people who have a difficult time handing out apologies to the ones they love.
Therefore, here are some tips for offering effective apologies:
- You don’t have to agree to apologize. You don’t have to share your loved one’s perception of guilt, just an understanding of their feelings.
- Don’t personalize the implied wrongdoing. Try not to focus on the sense of guilt and blame you feel. Instead, focus on how you would prefer for your loved one to feel (e.g., heard, understood).
- Focus on validating the feelings and experience of the other person. Thank your loved one for trusting you enough to share that person’s true feelings with you.
- Empathize by putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes. How would you feel if you were in your loved one’s position and wanted/needed an apology to move forward?
- Explain the intent of your behaviors, but apologize for the outcome of your behaviors. E.g., “I was trying to explain my opinion to you. I didn’t mean to offend you, but I apologize for hurting your feelings.”
The good news is, the more you practice giving effective apologies, the better you will become at delivering apologies and the more comfortable you will become with offering apologies when they are needed.
BMWK: Have you ever had to apologize when you felt you were right?
Ticily Medley, PhD, LMFT, LPC is a counseling psychologist and college professor in Fort Worth, TX. Her passion is increasing mental wellness in the African American community. Her mental wellness crusade is carried out through research, advocacy and outreach particularly in the areas of diversity and inclusion, sexual/gender identity development and a variety of life skill areas such as anger management and role overload prevention.
Dr. Medley can be reached for counseling, life coaching and seminars @ www.NewDayLifeSkills.com