For most people, those two little words are the hardest to say. Those words make people who speak them feel bad, feel horrible, feel defeated – feel as if they have lost something important about themselves. They feel like they “lost” when they utter those two words to someone else. Some people take days, weeks, months, even years to say “I’m sorry” to someone. Some never say it at all.
It makes the person saying it vulnerable to the person they say it to. It puts the power in that other person’s hands. It leaves one open to rejection, hurt and humiliation because it gives that person the opportunity to retaliate.
Some people say it easily but without truly meaning it. “I’m sorry, but…” Ever heard that before? How about, “I’m sorry you feel that way”? Neither of these phrases are an apology and they cause more frustration and hurt.
Anything said after “but” are reasons why a person is not actually sorry; they are simply stating justifications why they did or said what they did or said. Justifying what was said or done is not an apology. Is there really any justification for doing or saying something that later needs to be apologized for? And telling someone you are sorry for how they feel because of something you did or said is also a far cry from apologizing. You aren’t saying you are sorry for what you actually said or did – you are saying you are sorry how they took it, how they now feel because of what you said or did. In essence, you are saying “What I did was correct, you just reacted wrong.”
Saying “I’m sorry” is an act of taking responsibility for your own actions or words towards someone else. You are acknowledging that what you did or said hurt the other person in some way. Most importantly, you are attempting to restore your relationship with that person.
This is what most people have forgotten about apologies. It’s not about one person being wrong and the other being right. It’s about restoring the relationship between each other, moving forward in a positive way with that person, re-establshing the trust and friendship between the two of you that has been damaged by an incident.
Many times the person who was wronged apologizes first. Why? Because they are attempting to restore the relationship. They didn’t commit the wrong-doing but they are willing to make the first attempt to restore the relationship. To them the relationship is more important than who was right and who was wrong. Anyone who apologizes is more concerned with restoring the relationship than with who should be the one apologizing in the first place. On the flip side to that, telling someone they need to apologize is more an act of establishing right vs wrong than restoring the relationship. If an apology needs to be made, getting a forced apology is hollow and without true meaning. It doesn’t make either person feel any better in the relationship.
Apologies don’t always make everything better right away, but they do show a person’s willingness to restore the relationship. If people can remember the true reason for saying “I’m sorry” – wanting to keep the other person in your life – perhaps relationships will be stronger and longer for everyone involved.