Two of the most powerful words in any language are, “I’m sorry.” Why are they so hard to say?
In our personal lives – especially within our families — we’ve all done things that wounded someone else. Afterward, we felt bad about it. Yet when confronted, our first reaction may have been denial (“I didn’t say/do that”), minimizing (“That’s nothing to get upset about”), blaming (“Well, you shouldn’t have told me if you wanted to keep it a secret”), or withdrawing physically or emotionally. Or we may simply try to pretend that nothing ever happened. All of these responses further strain a relationship.
Why can’t we just say, “I’m sorry”?
Maybe we’re embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid. Maybe pride says, “You have to be right.” We’re afraid of looking weak or vulnerable. An apology puts us in a “one down” position with the other, and that’s hard for some of us to take.
If pressed, we may do the pseudo-apology shuffle. (“If anyone misunderstood what I said and was offended, I’m sorry.”) This is a favorite of politicians and celebrities caught in compromising situations. I did nothing wrong, and you’re either oversensitive or stupid. A shorter version is, “I’m sorry you were upset.”
Here’s what a good, healing, sincere apology does: takes responsibility for specific behavior, acknowledges the harm it caused, expresses regret, and where possible offers to make amends. (“I’m really sorry I didn’t send money to help with Mom’s expenses like I’d promised. You were stuck with the whole bill for the home health aide, and that must have put you under a lot of pressure. I’ll pay you back, and it won’t happen again.”)
Next time you mess up, take a deep breath and try the magic of those two little words, “I’m sorry.”