Dr. T Medley
An adapted version of this blog post was published on the website BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com
Many articles have been published on the importance of forgiveness and its impact on healthy adjustment. Some people believe that forgiveness is imperative before one can experience “closure.” Others believe that forced forgiveness can be more detrimental to one’s mental health and social relationships than anything else. Inherent in the conversation of forgiveness is the related conversation of apologies.
Many of us probably learned growing up how to apologize and were told that we should do it when we wronged another person. To be sure, it is easy to understand the benefits of using an apology to mend a wounded friend or loved one. However, it can be quite difficult to apologize for something when you don’t believe that you’ve done anything wrong or don’t believe that you’ve made a mistake.
Is an apology required in such a situation? Society teaches us that inherent in apologies are admission of a mistake. Is this accurate?
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Because apologies are important in maintaining most social relationships. Therefore, if you want to maintain or strengthen your relationship with a loved one, learning to apologize for real and imagined wrongs could be required, or at the very least it could be really important.
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Because wrongness is all about perception. Though you may believe that you haven’t done anything wrong or made any mistakes, your loved one may feel offended, disrespected, unheard, unloved, unappreciated, overlooked, or a myriad of other emotions. With an apology you’re addressing the outcome of your actions, not your intent.
Why apologize if you haven’t done anything wrong? Because apologizing isn’t necessarily the same thing as an admission of guilt. An apology is an admission of concern for hurt feelings or misunderstandings, or other similar consequences.
So, apologies are important for maintaining any significant relationship. They are needed regardless of intent, and sometimes, in spite of intent. But there are some people who have a difficult time handing out apologies to the ones they love.
Here are some keys to effective apologies:
1) You don’t have to agree to apologize.
o You don’t have to share your loved one’s perception of guilt, just an understanding of their feelings.
2) Don’t personalize the implied wrongdoing.
o Try not to focus on the sense of guilt and blame you feel, but how you would prefer for your loved one to feel.
3) Focus on validating the feelings and experience of the other person.
o Thank them for trusting you enough to share their feelings with you.
4) Empathize by putting yourself in their shoes.
o How would you feel if you were in their position and wanted/needed an apology to move forward?
5) Explain the intent of your behaviors, but apologize for the outcome of your behaviors.
The good news is, the more you practice giving effective apologies, the better you will become at delivering apologies!
A lifelong learner who wants to support others through learning.