How to Say I'm Sorry and Mean It
No Easy Task
Saying “I’m sorry” is a difficult task. You have to admit you were wrong, which opens you to reproach. The very words can feel like you’ve seceded control; in confessing to a mistake or transgression, you give the upper hand to the other person. In that moment, you are exposed, along with all of your human weakness.
It’s no wonder so few people are willing to give apologies. If the implication of saying “I’m sorry” wasn’t bad enough, the delivery impacts how it is received. This influences the entire situation. Many perceive the mumbled apology as insincere. The one spoken rapidly is thought to be contrite, while the one said slowly is considered sarcastic. An apology made before a crowd or large group is viewed as nothing more than a slick public relations move. Tone also plays into this; any hint of dishonesty renders the apology artificial. In other words, an expression of regret is meaningless if the delivery isn’t just right.
A Solemn Acknowledgement
As children, we are taught to automatically respond with “I’m sorry” when confronted for bad behaviors. “Say you’re sorry,” a parent will order when a child acts inappropriately. It is also at a tender age that we develop such dislike for these two words. Rather than learning the meaning of an apology, we are instructed to give it automatically simply because it is expected. With time, apologizing becomes synonymous with scolding.
The real purpose of an apology is not to provide the chance to scold, but to mend a hurt. It is supposed to bridge a gap so the relationship can continue. When no apology is given, a person is left to assume the other has no remorse. Feeling like this makes it hard to carry on, even under the best of circumstances. After all, an apology is an admission of guilt but also acknowledgement of someone’s pain.
Perhaps the reason people crave apologies is because they want vindication, not in the sense that they are right, but that they want their feelings recognized. In today’s world, most of us want to be heard, and this is hard to achieve over the din of demands and daily living. An apology helps us feel that we do matter, despite the act that caused hurt in the first place. It means someone took the time to care about our needs.
Simplicity Is Key
The best apology is the one given simply, delivered sincerely in a tone that is neither too loud nor too soft. It only requires a few words. But the key is that the person must genuinely feel what he or she is saying. Sorrow cannot be conveyed if it isn’t felt. An apology doesn’t necessarily have to be sorrowful, but some degree of compunction is necessary or the words feel hollow.
The best approach to an apology is to let go of pride, forget about the control factor, and let compassion flow. “I’m sorry I hurt you” or “I’m sorry for what I did” is a clean and simple way to start fresh. You offer a piece of yourself that you probably hadn’t thought to give before. If a lapse in decorum or a moment of irresponsibility brought you to this point, maybe it was all worth it.