Let’s say you’ve messed up– you spilled a secret you swore to protect, forgot an anniversary, or broke your mum’s priceless family heirloom. I am, sadly, guilty of all three. In either scenario, you’ve upset one party by breaking an element of trust and you’re now faced with trying to ameliorate the situation with an apology. How do you go about it? Are you on your knees, strings of “I’m sorry” leaving your mouth at an accelerated pace, hoping your overwhelming sincerity (or excessiveness) will be enough to earn their forgiveness? What will you do if it isn’t?
I think it’s incredibly important to recognise that apologies constitute more than expressing regretful words. It involves reflection, empathy, patience, and a commitment to mending or preserving a relationship with the offended. The goal of an “I’m sorry” is often done with the intention of absolving one through forgiveness: that is, to relieve the offender of guilt. While I do believe forgiveness is powerful and a vital part of conflict resolution, a good apology will prioritise the feelings of the victim. In order to do that, you’ll need to take the first step: acknowledgement.
How many times have we heard people try to make amends with statements like “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry, but…”? These types of insincere apologies don’t address the issue or validate the distress caused by it. If your actions have hurt someone, it will be enough to state so with no ‘if, ands or buts’. Taking responsibility for any wrongdoing takes courage and accomplishing it without feeling the need to provide an excuse or explanation is a sign of emotional competency.
The next part of the process involves expressing remorse over your actions, and proving you are ready and willing to prevent them from reoccurring. Saying “I promise not to do it again” won’t always be enough to earn back trust. Hopefully, whoever you’re apologising to will give you the space to try and make amends practically. In the event they don’t, it’s essential you respect their decision- that in itself will be a display of genuine consideration. This step lets them know you care about how your actions have affected them and your commitment to fixing the things.
I know how overwhelming the pit of dread in your stomach can be once you realise you’ve done something wrong. Owning up to when you’ve made a mistake is daunting but comfortability in admitting wrongdoings is a process supported best by practice.