"Now, say you're sorry and hug it out."
Apologies are often overlooked as a vital part of relating. If we do apologize, we often do as we were taught as children; a quick "Sorry" and shrug. Then, we're good, right?
These kind of apologies do not provide the relational depth and empathy required to not only repair what was damaged, but to heal and enhance our trust and understanding of one another. Yes, a good apology can actually build trust!
As I write this, I am painfully aware of my difficulty apologizing. Perhaps it is because I simply do not practice this art form enough and therefore it can seem pretty clumsy. Even more, I understand that a good apology requires me to completely humble myself, and choose to vulnerably put myself in the shoes of the person I hurt. This, in turn, hurts me! And then acknowledging out loud that I have done wrong hurts my ego!
Brene Brown says in her animated short on empathy, that in order to be empathetic, you must connect with something within yourself that knows that same feeling you are trying to understand. Empathy, she says, fuels connection. This is because everyone wants to be known and understood. A truly intimate relationship (friendship, marriage, sibling, parent, partner) is built on the foundation of fully knowing and accepting another while also being fully known and accepted by that same person.
Therefore, when we harm another person, either intentionally or not, we are left with the opportunity to connect with them more deeply by coming to them and apologizing sincerely and empathically.
"Apology - an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret"
So, what makes a good apology?
A great, empathic apology will start with a concession of responsibility or fault. I will acknowledge that this is almost always challenging because most, if not all, situations involve more than one guilty party. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine your part in the problem. But try you must! Take responsibility for harsh words spoken or actions taken, showing your desire to understand by recounting all offenses you have committed. (When key details are overlooked, the offended party may not feel entirely understood.)
Then demonstrate that you have taken the time to consider how your actions have impacted them by using emotion-words. This is hard for many people since most of us don't have a large vocabulary of feelings. The more specific you can be, the more comforted the offended will feel. They will feel most understood and cared for if you are able to connect exactly how the event left them feeling about themselves, you, or the relationship.
Next is the "sorry" part. Here's where you communicate your regret for your actions, letting the person know that you do not wish to repeat said offense. This is a big part of rebuilding trust because it offers a stated desire to learn from the experience and grow from it, rather than committing repeated offenses in the future. This needs to communicate that you are not just sorry for getting caught and feeling guilty, but rather, you are grieved by that person's experience.
Finally, request forgiveness. That's right, an apology does not end at "sorry". A deep, empathic apology that is created in vulnerability also requires the most humble posture: a request to be absolved from the offense. Forgiveness is a monster of a topic in and of its own. I suggest referring back to my post, Clarifying Forgiveness, for more information. For the sake of this post, however, if you are requesting forgiveness, you must understand that the choice to grant it belongs to the offended party ONLY. This is not something that you can beg or plead for and definitely not something to require or guilt someone into. Allow that person time to take in what you have said and determine if and when they are ready to forgive.
Simple, right?! This is not an easy process. Conflicts are normally swept under the rug or put away perhaps mainly because it is takes so much courage to be vulnerable and humble. In contrast to avoiding reconciliation which leads to disconnection and resentment, a good apology will create and grow a deeper, more intimate, and satisfying relationship. I challenge you to give it a try.
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