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Sorry, Not Sorry? Rules for a True Apology

One of the things I've been talking a lot with clients about through this shelter in place period, is the need for us to recover more quickly when we are struggling, impatient or completely lose our marbles. With all the together time families have right now, there are bound to be moments when we are not at out best and that can play out in ways we don't feel good about. And with less outlets for discharging some of our stress or frustrations, little things can quickly turn into bigger things. Knowing how to apologize sincerely goes hand in hand with being able to recover and reconnect. I suspect there are a lot of folks who have had to do a little more apologizing lately. I know I'm in that camp.


Let me start with what a good apology does not look like:



This starts out well, but goes south quickly. There are a lot of times, however well intended, that we may not get it right. Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of numerous best selling books including The Dance of Anger and Why Won't You Apologize, Healing Big Betrayal and Every Day Hurts, offers some very specific rules for what a true apology looks like.


1) A true apology does not include the word “but” (“I’m sorry, but …”). “But” automatically negates an apology, and nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse. 2) A true apology keeps the focus on your actions—and not on the other person’s response. Own your behavior. 3) A true apology does not overdo. It stays focused on acknowledging the feelings of the hurt party without overshadowing them with your own pain or remorse. 4) A true apology doesn’t get caught up in who's to blame or who "started it." Start the conversation by simply apologizing for your part in the problem. 5) A true apology needs to be backed by corrective action. 6) A true apology requires that you do your best to avoid a repeat performance. Obviously, remorse doesn't carry much weight if you continue the same behaviors over and over. 7) A true apology should not serve to silence another person or be used as a quick way out to get yourself out of a difficult conversation or dispute. A superficial apology is easy to detect and carries no accountability. 8) A true apology should not be offered to make you feel better if it risks making the hurt party feel worse. Not all apologies are welcome. Making amends may be part of your healing process, but find another way to heal if the other person doesn’t want to hear from you. 9) A true apology recognizes when “I’m sorry” is not enough. A serious hurt or betrayal requires repair work over time to restore trust.

Apologizing isn't always easy, but learning to do it well can save ourselves and those we care about a lot of unnecessary hurt feelings or misunderstanding. And as a mom who sometimes needs to apologize for not managing something particularly well and who wants to teach what a good apology looks like, this was especially interesting:


The biggest influence in how well our kids will learn to apologize is not how well we apologize, but how well we accept apologies from our kids when they apologize. Which means our response to their apology can not be more lecturing, or we wish they had apologized sooner, or do they really understand how their behavior impacted others? A good response is a simple thank you or expression of appreciation.


So, yes, it means we have to model accepting an apology well in addition to apologizing well, which can be tough work.


But so worth it.