“I’m sorry,”  we say as we offer an apology. “I’m sorry” we make our children say when they do something wrong. “I’m sorry,” nations say to make amends for history.  But how do you make an apology that matters?

“Don’t say it unless you mean it” is often the response to an offhand apology. When you are forced to apologize you may not do it in a sincere manner. Then it falls on deaf ears. It seems like more of an insult than a reparation. So a powerful apology benefits from sincere emotion. In order to develop that, you need to reach for empathy. Understanding how you hurt someone, feeling what it would be like if this transgression was done to you leads to a more sincere effort. Your sincerity is transmitted through your voice and body.

Reparations. Another important aspect of a powerful apology. 12 step programs talk about making amends to those you hurt.  But how do you fix the hurt or damage you caused? A card? Flowers? Taking responsibility for your actions? A public apology? Any of these may be called for depending on the situation.

Taking Responsibility

Taking responsibility for your actions. A good apology acknowledges what you’ve done wrong. “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt, but I didn’t do anything wrong” will not take you far in repairing the relationship. It may, in fact, trigger an argument and further conflict. This approach sounds like you’re blaming the person who was hurt. “You shouldn’t feel that way, you’re too sensitive” also blames the victim.  So, you need to validate the person’s feelings as well as identify what you did wrong. If you can’t see what you did wrong, you may just repeat it.

“You always say you’re sorry, but you just keep doing it. I can’t trust anything you say”. By recognizing and taking responsibility for your behavior, you can change it. If you use an offhand apology to Band-Aid the problem and continue your behavior, your words become worthless. People don’t forgive what you continue to inflict on them. In some cases, words are not enough. Look to the old saying – Actions speak louder than words.

And then there are those who just won’t say “I’m sorry” at all. They don’t seem to know how to apologize. Learning how to be comfortable with and to make a meaningful apology can improve your life and will certainly improve the quality of your relationships.

If you need help with making apologies or improving relationships in your life, call Specialized Therapy Associates at 201-488-6678 for more information. Or check our website at specializedtherapy.com