Saying sorry can be complicated. Most of you learned to say it as small children but somehow along the way into adulthood this simple word has become difficult to express. That’s a pity because saying sorry has the power to bring about big changes.
Hard to say
There are many reasons why you do not say sorry. Maybe you are waiting for someone else to apologise to you first and so are unwilling to say it until you know that the other person understands how hurt you feel.
“You end up in this sort of deadlock where on both sides you withhold the apologies because you’re both feeling so misunderstood,” says Anne Hollonds, CEO of Relationships Australia.
“Sometimes it’s because you’re angry, or frustrated, or seeking to punish the other person. But all of those things come from a place of hurt feelings and misunderstanding.”
Getting past this deadlock requires you make a decision about what is most important to you. “Sometimes you feel you are completely justified and should stand your ground,” says Hollonds. “Other times you may decide that the relationship is most important and you’re the first one to break the ice.”
Some people, however, decide that what’s done is done and there is no point in looking back. “Let’s just move on” is their motto. Lindsay tells of a relationship she had with a man who had forgotten to phone her on her birthday. They had been together for four years and he was away on a business trip.
“When he finally called two days later and I told him he had forgotten my birthday, he simply said, ‘Well, I’m calling now!’” It wasn’t the first time he had been insensitive to her hurt feelings and the relationship soon ended.
Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, in their book The Five Languages of Apology, say an insensitive conscience is associated with low self-esteem. “What these people do not know is this: apologising enhances one’s self-esteem. People respect the man and the woman who are willing to take responsibility for their own failures.”
When sorry is not sorry
It is this acceptance of responsibility that is the mark of a mature adult. Unfortunately, there are those who feel saying sorry is a sign of weakness and prefer to put the blame on the other party for the way they have behaved: “I’m sorry for what I did, but if you (had, hadn’t, did, didn’t ...)”
This is the sorry that is said in order to shift the blame onto the other person. You often hear children say this sort of sorry. They blame others for their actions and refuse to admit they are wrong.
“You tend to more naturally point the finger and blame — you know, ‘You are the cause of my unhappiness,’” says Hollonds. “The opposite of that is actually to be able to take responsibility for your bit in the interaction. And that requires a high level of emotional maturity.”
Blaming others is not only refusing to accept responsibility, it can also further whatever damage has been done. “Any time you verbally shift the blame to the other person, you have moved from an apology to an attack,” say Chapman and Thomas. “Attacks never lead to forgiveness and reconciliation.”