Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
I seem to commit quite a few social faux pas, and I’ve committed so many over such a number of years that you might think I’d know better by now. Obviously, I don’t; I continue to get into the same sort of ugly situations as always. For instance, in 2006, my best friend had a candle party. I had promised her I’d go, but at the last minute I decided not to. She lived nearly an hour away, and I had made plans with a man, so I blew her off.
With that one selfish move, I ruined our friendship, and to be honest, I haven’t seen her since. I apologized repeatedly, but she didn’t accept “I’m sorry,” and she chose to end the friendship, instead.
A New Predicament
This time, I’ve created a similar situation with my sister. In mid-October, she had a small gathering at her house to celebrate her upcoming nuptials. I had promised I’d go, and, again, I decided not to at the last minute. There were a lot of reasons that I ultimately chose not to go, but the gist is this: plans kept changing, so that the gathering evolved from consisting of just her bridal party and a trip to an apple orchard to including men and a night on the town drinking. I had no male to accompany me and didn’t want to be the only unattached female. I also didn’t want to have a few drinks and then drive home at midnight, so I chose not to attend.
Now, my sister is rightfully angry with me, and I’ve learned she told two of her bridesmaids that they’ll need to pick up my slack (I’m the maid of honor) with wedding duties.
This situation is making me sick to my stomach, and I’m experienced enough with such errors to know that saying “I’m sorry” won’t suffice. So what do I do?
The Motives Behind an Apology
A sincere apology that is both offered and accepted has been described as “one of the most profound interactions of civilized people.” It has the power to restore damaged relationships, and, if done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness. But, while it’s an enormous social skill, people rarely give thought as to how an apology should be made.
It’s safe to say the most compelling and common reason to apologize is because of a personal offense. Whether one has been ignored, belittled, betrayed, or publicly humiliated, the common denominator of any personal offense is that we’ve diminished or injured a person’s self-concept. The self-concept is our personal story. It’s our thoughts and feelings about who we are, how we would like to be and how we would like others to perceive us.
Here are four basic motives for apologizing:
- To salvage or restore a relationship, whether with someone you’ve hurt, love, enjoy, or simply need as an ally. In this instance, an apology may well rekindle the troubled relationship.
- To diminish or end the pain of someone you’ve caused pain.
- To escape punishment, such as the criminal who apologizes to his victim in exchange for a lesser plea.
- To relieve a guilty conscience, in which you feel so ashamed of an act you committed – such as arriving at dinner 30 minutes late – you feel compelled to apologize profusely. In so doing, you are trying to maintain some self-respect because you must nurture an image of yourself to escape the offense that violates some basic self-concept.