Is it too late now to say sorry?

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I remember growing up and my parents forcing me to say sorry when I did something wrong or acted like a total jerk. Many times I would just say “sorry” in that under my breath, teeth clenched voice, not meaning it at all. While I always hated being forced to say sorry, I think it helped me realize when I needed to truly say sorry and how to properly say sorry.

Did you know there is an art to saying sorry?! I’ve learned this mostly in the last year. When you have been hurt and you feel like all you really need to get past something is a sincere apology from a friend, you realize how important words can be. It’s helped me be more truthful and sincere when I’m the one who needs to apologize.

People say “I’m sorry” throughout their day for any number of reasons from trivial blunders such as bumping into someone or dropping someone’s pen. Trivial affronts are easy to come by and don’t really need much (if any) emotion attached to it. But when an “I’m sorry” is needed for something much more hurtful, these words can be that much harder to come by. An ill planned apology can actually cause more anger. Even a well-planned apology can be undermined with the words we choose. So let’s look at the key points of a heart-felt, meaningful, apology that will let both parties move forward.

Apologies are not about you.

When you are apologizing, the apology is less about you and more about the person you are apologizing to. This is KEY and this is where most apologies go wrong. Too many times I’ve heard, “I’m sorry YOU thought….” That is not an apology. That is simply saying that you are sorry for them taking whatever you did or said in a way you wish they didn’t and you are not showing that you are sorry for doing whatever it is you did. Instead, your apology should sound more like, “I’m sorry that I….[made you feel that way]” or “I’m sorry I [hurt you]” or “I’m sorry MY actions/words….”. This takes responsibility for what you did and not saying that your sorry that the other person reacted.

I recently told someone who I thought was a friend of mine for an apology for accusing me something unthinkable. I told her that her accusations hurt me and all I wanted was an an apology for even thinking something like that about me. Her response, “I’m sorry you thought I was accusing you of an awful act.” That made me even more furious. All I wanted was for her to say something like, “I”m sorry for accusing you.” or “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.” Instead, she put it back on me and said she was sorry that I reacted, not for her actions. It shifts the focus off the person who is apologizing and really says, “I’m not sorry at all for the thing I did or said.” Psychologist and author Harriet Lerner talks about this in her first chapter of her book, “Why Won’t You Apologize?”

You can see how a simple word can change the meaning of the apology. Many times, I don’t know if people are realizing that they are even doing it. Dr. Lerner even talks about how humans are hard-wired to be defensive and offering a heart-felt, sincere apology is against our nature because it is an admission of guilt and makes us vulnerable. Not saying we are incapable of doing it, but it’s something we truly have to be intentional about.

It’s never too late to apologize.

It is true that time heals all (at least it helps), but when you hurt someone or someone hurts you, an apology, even years later (even if you have forgotten the incident) can be so meaningful. Sometimes I think an apology that is not immediate is more sincere because the person has been thinking about it and still feels that the apology is needed. Even if it isn’t NEEDED, it’s seems more genuine because it’s not just a reaction to your actions. Doing something hurtful toward someone else or being on the receiving end can effect both our physical and emotional health. An apology can help both the person offering the apology as well the person receiving it.

I know that I have a hard time with letting things go. If nothing else, I feel the need to say something to someone to find closure in a conflict, whether it’s to say sorry or to explain why I have been so hurt. Even in the times I apologize and a friendship seems over, I feel better because I know that at least I did what I could to fix the problem. I can confidently say that I did everything I could, I was sincerely apologetic, and my heart and mind can move on.

There’s no magic formula.

There is no magic formula or timeframe to finding forgiveness or providing an apology and every situation is different. In most cases, both people are at fault to come extent. An apology is also not going to guarantee that the conflict is over or that everything goes back to what it was, however, it can provide closure and provide a sense of peace to both parties, and allow each to move forward and allow time to heal wounds.