Have you ever done or said something that has caused hurt for another person? Have you ever unintentionally or intentionally excluded someone? Or have you ever done something to cause hurt without realizing it until you see the pain, hurt, or questions on the other person’s face? I have. I can admit that. I have intentionally and unintentionally caused harm to others. I am far from perfect. I am, however, capable of change. I can choose to be different.
The truth is this: healthy relationships include healthy apologies. I believe that how people choose to treat others is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves. What we say reflects the person we want to be, but what we do is who we truly are. I cannot control how others treat me, or what they think and do, but I can choose my reaction. How people treat me is an opportunity for me to teach others how I want to be treated.
If I tell you that I am sorry, I am communicating a feeling. To apologize is a verb, it is a multistep process of taking action toward change. When I apologize, I am taking ownership of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I am not blaming, I am not minimizing, and I most certainly am not denying. Very often people try to minimize the damage of their actions. They might deny any wrongdoing and avoid apologies all together. If you want to have a healthy relationship, take the time to apologize as an act to show respect and empathy for you, the person, and the relationship.
I have difficulty apologizing. I can say “I’m sorry” but that is not the same thing as truly apologizing. The relationships I have with the people in my life, however, deserve more than the 2-year-old vocabulary of “I’m sorry.” So, if you are like me and have difficulty apologizing, try following the Rs: regret, responsibility, and remedy.
- Expression of regret: a statement of regret for having caused the hurt or damage.
- Acknowledgment of responsibility: acceptance of responsibility for your actions.
- Offer of repair: a statement of your willingness to remedy the situation.
The most effective method of apologizing is to accept responsibility for your role rather than apologize for another person’s feelings. For example, saying “I apologize that my words have caused you hurt” is a more effective statement than “I am sorry you’re feeling hurt.” The difference between “sorry” and an “apology” is that apologizing is a verb. You take action and communicate a plan of repair. Apologizing shows you respect the person and the relationship enough to prevent the pain from reoccurring.
To apologize is to recognize that you did or didn’t do something that may have caused the other person hurt. “I apologize that my words have caused you hurt. I recognize I was reactive in my response. You are important to me, and I plan on taking more time to think before I react.” We are the only ones responsible for our behaviors and feelings. Apologizing may be uncomfortable. Admitting your mistakes or wrong-doing and taking responsibility requires a lot of courage, but your relationship deserves it. A genuine apology can cause the person apologizing to feel embarrassed, but this acts as a deterrent and a reminder to not repeat the act. Apologies allow for emotional connections; it is a vulnerable and intimate moment that can strengthen a relationship.
Apologies can help relationships recover from anger. It allows the opportunity to focus on the present and not dwell on pain in the past. A genuine apology provides emotional healing for both the giver and receiver. In fact, research shows that receiving an apology has noticeable, positive effects on the body.
When choosing to apologize, it is important to not ask for or demand forgiveness from the other person. Asking the receiver to forgive you can actually cause more damage. There may be instances when you apologize for something and the person does not accept your apology. It will be OK. Even if the apology is rejected or refused the act of a genuine apology still has more benefits than leaving words and feelings unspoken. Apologizing is communicating regret for what YOU have done, it is accepting responsibility for the actions YOU took, and communicating your intent to repair.
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” Benjamin Disraeli
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.