Is it too late now to say sorry?
The words "I'm sorry" are two of the easiest words to say... but also the hardest. It's easy to apologize for trivial things. You accidentally bump into someone and you say, "Sorry." You laugh at a harmless joke at the expense of a friend and you say, "Sorry, man." You forget to take the chicken out of the freezer two hours before dinner and you say, "Oops, sorry."
But it's difficult to apologize for things that have seriously hurt someone. You accuse a friend of some wrongdoing only to realize that you were in the wrong. You accidentally triggered a person's painful past and insecurities. And in some of the most extreme cases, you bullied and abused someone.
In an article for The New York Times, writer Jane E. Brody talks about Dr. Harriet Lerner's book Why Won't You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. Dr. Lerner discusses how to say sorry the right way, in the most sincere fashion. Here's how.
1. Never rationalize.
When we apologize, we tend to add a reason as to why we're apologizing.
"I'm sorry I brought up your painful past, but I didn't mean to..."
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, but to be fair, you were wrong..."
Adding that "but" at the end take away the sincerity of your apology, according to Dr. Lerner.
2. Don't ask for forgiveness.
This is another thing we tend to when we apologize for hurting someone. You may think that asking for forgiveness is taking responsibility for the wrong, but it's actually not our place to do so. A person, says Dr. Lerner, can accept an apology, but forgiveness is a different story.
“There is no one path to healing... There are many roads to letting go of corrosive emotions without forgiving, like therapy, meditation, medication, even swimming," she says.
Not to mention, if the other person senses the apology's insincerity, it's even more difficult to forgive. Give them the power to decide whether to forgive you or not at their own pace and time, but don't ask or beg for it yourself.
3. Put the focus on what you did, not on the hurt person's reaction.
"I'm sorry you felt that way" is another common response to the person we hurt or offended. And Dr. Lerner says that shifts the focus away from the offended and towards the offender.
Apologizing is one of the hardest things to do because of our defensive nature as human beings. This, in turn, makes us apologize insincerely, even if that was not our intention. But Dr. Lerner says that saying "I'm sorry" in the most sincere way possible is the path to healing.
“The courage to apologize wisely and well is not just a gift to the injured person, who can then feel soothed and released from obsessive recriminations, bitterness, and corrosive anger. It’s also a gift to one’s own health, bestowing self-respect, integrity, and maturity," she wrote.