Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Apologize

I am going to give some unsolicited advice.

And here is my disclaimer. I have the education of a psychologist, but not the licensure since I work in marketing. So I believe my advice is founded and good (although who doesn't think their own advice is good?). I am also married to a therapist and I gather lots of counseling wisdom through osmosis.

 I think the lamest apology ever is I am sorry you're upset.

It's something I hear a lot, especially from men. (Sorry guys, if I even have any male readers, but it's true.)

I think men have it programmed that whenever a woman is upset to just apologize. And that's a pretty general apology that should magically fix the raging woman, right?

A slightly better variation of this apology is I am sorry I upset you. At least there's a bit of responsibility in that one.

There's a whole quagmire of reasons why people fight. But whatever the reason, it usually boils down to not feeling understood and not feeling validated.

So when someone recites the ol' I am sorry you're upset apology, I don't buy it. Why? Because they show absolutely no recognition of what made me upset. They are basically saying "I am sorry you're feeling an emotion." It's never wrong to feel an emotion, but when I get this "apology" I suddenly feel like I am being blamed again. It's my fault I am having an argument with this person because I am having an emotion. And that's just not true.

A real, heart-felt, legit apology will show that the other person understand why I feel wounded or wronged and apologizes for specific behaviors that contributed to those feelings. If a person doesn't know why I am upset, they better kindly dig through the situation until it's clear. Do I feel embarrassed? Do I feel violated? Do I feel neglected? There's always something more going on than simply being "upset."

And since an apology is about making amends, an offer for an improved behavior isn't a bad idea.

And if a person doesn't know why I feel wronged and upset, they better kindly dig through the situation until it's clear. People generally disguise their feelings, especially when they are feeling vulnerable. So in an argument when a person is trying to "fix" the situation, I totally welcome comments like I can see you're really bothered about something, but I don't know what or Can you help me understand why you're upset?

A better apology would be "I am sorry I haven't helped more around the house. You do so much around here and it runs so smoothly that I take it for granted. I know I need to be more grateful for all you do and help you out. I'm going to do the dishes right now."

FYI, apologies don't have an expiration date. A person is apologizing because they've done something "wrong" (I use the term loosely). The wronged person has a right to work through the feelings he or she is having and doesn't need to accept an apology immediately.

I've experienced that. If I am not ready to accept an "I'm sorry you're upset" apology on the spot, but a few hours later I approach the person to accept the apology and patch things up and that person is now bitter at me because I needed to take my time, then I know their apology was a sham in the first place.

And one last most cases, both parties usually should apologize. Even if someone did something "wrong" to me, I probably wronged them back. Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I got spiteful. Maybe I was immature and gave that person the silent treatment. Whatever it is, I need to show my sincere willingness to patch the friendship/relationship by acknowledging my fault too. And offer a good apology.

Throughout any arguments, hopefully two people can remember one thing: we want to preserve the friendship/relationship. It should never be about hurting the other person worse or "winning" a fight. If that becomes the primary aim during an argument, there are some major problems and a whole lotta immaturity.

I would be lying if I said Justin and I never argue. We do. But whenever I have an argument with someone else, I see how productive and respectful our arguments actually are.

Anyway, today I just felt like the world really needed to know this. Any other ideas on proper apologies?


Frederick Family said...

It sounds like there is a deeper story that goes with this post. I'll have to call you and find out :)
At my home I am always encouraging/ hearing apologies between my children. They usually sound something like this: Sorrrry, (with that snotty undertone) or Sorry, but you made me so mad that's why I hit you. That one bugs me the most. It is not a sincere apology if there is a "but" attached. It's just trying to justify their actions. We are still working on sincere apologies at our house.

Liz Smith said...

haha! SO TRUE!


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