“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Benjamin Franklin
It’s safe to say that each of us has been in the position to offer and to receive an apology or two in important relationships. An apology can be essential to repairing a damaged relationship. An apology is a fundamental and validating process as it reassures victims that they are not at fault for the transgressor’s actions. It allows victims to regain dignity and a sense of self-worth. For transgressors, offering an apology can also be a process of self-compassion. It allows transgressors to acknowledge the difference between shame (“I am a bad person”) and guilt (“I did a bad thing.”) In other words, “This harmful act does not define me.”
The essential elements of an apology are recognition, responsibility, and remorse. If any one of these elements is missing, the experts say, it’s not a real apology. And as Ben Franklin noted, the transgressor must avoid excuses, justifications, defensive statements and arguments. An apology is about the impact of the transgressor’s hurtful behaviors on the victim, not the transgressor’s intentions, thoughts, or feelings. An apology does not include context, unless the victim asks for a deeper understanding.
A model for a real apology is:
“I am sorry.”
“I was wrong.”
“I will make it right.”
“I will not do it again.”
Unresolved conflict can fester and harden our hearts. A sincere apology can make all the difference.
Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon