01 Mar I’m Sorry
These two words and others that are expressions of apology are some of the most powerful words in our language. Said in one way, they convey the essence of true regret and care for the other. Said in another way, though equally powerful, they convey a lack of care and personal responsibility and are otherwise dismissive, perfunctory, and worst of all, blaming of the other. The harmed person has some responsibility, too. The worst case is to be offered a genuine apology but to take that moment of the other being vulnerable to gut punch them again for what they did to you.
You’ve been on both ends of this. You have been deeply hurt by someone who matters a lot to you and you need them to look you in the eye and apologize. You need them to demonstrate that they care that you are hurt and that they take responsibility for their part in the sequence of events that ended with you feeling hurt. You are wary when they do and are looking for the signs that they are doing this just as a necessary step in the social dance and really just hoping that you will let it go and go back to normal. You fear that deep inside they will either blame you for what happened or are actually accusing you of being too sensitive and overreacting. In fact, you are so wary; you are almost surprised when you hear actual caring and assumption of responsibility coming from them. Since they gave you nothing more to push against, you have to look seriously at the possibility of accepting their apology and continuing the process of forgiveness and healing.
You’ve been on the other side, too. Someone you care for has been really hurt by some words or deeds of yours. You may struggle with figuring out why they are so upset but feel the intensity of it when you are in their presence. The looks are as cold as the silences. You know that you need to apologize but in some ways, you also feel a little justified in what it is that you did. You battle the urge to just let them stew in their juices, head out the door for a while, or otherwise counterattack. But this is someone you love and what they go through matters to you. So you take a deep breath and sit down across from them at the table. You square your shoulders up with theirs and look them in the eye. You convey in your words, tone, and body language that what they are going through matters to you and that you regret your part in the exchange that ended in their being so hurt. You let them know that as much as you are able to do so, you will take the necessary steps to never do this in this way to them ever again. You are patient with their response and patient as they are deciding how and when to accept your apology.
Both of these are written from the perspective of a good apology. Sadly, many of the ones we have and will be involved in aren’t all that good. Sometimes the apologies are just as damaging as the thing itself. All I can tell you for sure is this. If you really love them and deep down know they really love you, do better. Try again. Say it better. Hear it better.