What’s wrong with just saying “I’m sorry”? I mean, if you didn’t mean to hurt the person (or if you think you didn’t hurt them anyway) why can’t you just say I’m sorry and be done with it?
The above thinking is all self-centered. It is about the person who is accused of doing the hurting, not about the one who is hurting! You may have been apologizing for selfish reasons, and not even know it!
A humble apology is going to have several components:
See we’ve done something wrong. No one likes to admit that they did something that hurt someone else. But think of this. . . we tend to judge other people based on their behavior, but we judge ourselves based upon our intentions. That lightens the impact of our behavior, doesn’t it? It isn’t nearly as bad if I didn’t intend to do it – but I still did it and it still hurt someone! Why is it so hard to admit to ourselves that what we did was wrong? Usually because too much is at stake. Our toxic shame translates any bad behavior into “YOU are bad”. If that’s the price of self-examination, no wonder we choose to look the other way! To deal with our shame, we must be brave enough to pull it out and look at it from a neutral, non-biased standpoint, but also have enough grace with ourselves to know we are not horrible people just because we did it.
Admit To The Other Person We Were Wrong. This step may be excruciating for some! In a healthy atmosphere, admitting you were wrong is a vulnerable
behavior which leads to self-improvement as well as connection with others. If you grew up in an unsafe environment, admitting you were wrong was incredibly risky and potentially very painful. Excessive anger, harsh criticism, volatile reactions, lack of boundaries all contribute to an unsafe environment. If admitting you were wrong is hard for you, remember – you are not a helpless child anymore. If you want loving, connected relationships, you will need to push through this hard step and allow yourself to be vulnerable. It is hard but very worth the effort.
Empathy. This particular component of an apology is essential. Without it, an apology is hollow. Without it, the chance of repeat behavior is more probable than possible.
Empathy says, I not only see the pain I caused you, but I feel your pain and my heart breaks for you. Empathy takes us out of our own self-centered worlds and takes a good look at things from the other person’s perspective. True empathy is more concerned with the other person than ourselves and when we truly see the impact our behavior has had on the other person, we are motivated not to hurt them in the same way again.
With only one or two of those components, the apology is more about the one who needs to apologize and less about the one who is hurting! When all three components are present, it creates a connection with the other person and builds trust. By learning to incorporate all three elements into your apologies, you will be giving a true gift to your partner and yourself!
(Note: If you are reading this and thinking only of how poorly your partner apologizes, I encourage you to give have them read this article and humbly ask your partner how well YOU apologize instead. You might be surprised at the answer!)