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Why Is It So Hard To Say "I'm Sorry" In Relationships?

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Why Is It So Hard To Say "I'm Sorry" In Relationships?
Apologizing can feel like a relief when it's done right.
Put your pride aside and learn how to apologize.

This guest article from PsychCentral was written by Dr. Athena Staik.

Among the most powerful words to say in healing our relationships are "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. How can I make it up to you?" And yet, even when we know we've acted wrongly, something inside blocks us from saying so or taking action to make amends. More often, that something is a set of beliefs that act as excuses. Excuses are assumptions that, whether conscious or subconscious, block us from taking action. Here are the ten most frequent ones.

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1. I'll be seen as a bad person and not appreciated for the good things I've done.
This excuse also distracts us from directly resolving an issue. It focuses our attention on our fears — in particular, the fear of feeling we don't matter or contribute value in our relationships. This is a shared experience, however. Like you, your partner is also wired to yearn to feel like a good and worthwhile person who is recognized for their contributions. The point here is that it was our actions that were hurtful not our self as a person. This is a vital distinction. When our actions caused some harm, the ball is in our court to restore a sense of trust and safety in the relationship.

2. I'll have to feel uncomfortable emotions, such as shame, guilt and fear.
This excuse misdirects us to focus on avoiding pain rather than identifying the problem, what part of it we own, what action we can take toward resolution and so on. It makes sense that you don't like feeling vulnerable. It also makes sense to feel uncomfortable emotions when someone is upset by our actions. It's even useful to us! These feelings tell us we care, and that's a good thing. It's a source of information that, if you're open, can grow your understanding of the situation. In other words: this is critical action-activating information. In contrast, ignoring the vulnerable aspects of human nature can keep us weak and fearful. Learning how to own and to strengthen our own sense of emotional safety in a triggering situation is an essential life skill that grows and strengthens our courage and confidence in the long run. Be open and willing to get comfortable with what is uncomfortable to you.

3. It's the other's job to forgive if they're a good, unselfish person.
The truth is that both of you are good people at heart. Like genuine love, genuine forgiveness is a reciprocal process that nurtures both partners and allows them to learn and grow in the process. It is a willingness to engage in whatever actions necessary to nourish the relationship between two people, and enriches the growth and wellbeing of each. It's as harmful to not acknowledge we've hurt another as it is to be pressured to forgive and forget — especially when actions are repetitive. If we want vibrant and healthy relationships, we must be willing to engage heartfelt efforts to own actions that, wittingly or unwittingly, hurt a person we love.

4. I'm entitled to forgiveness and should be forgiven without asking.
No one is entitled to automatic forgiveness, especially when actions are repetitive. In fact, in some contexts, this can "enable" us to form unhealthy habits or addictions. It's not helpful to think of forgiveness as an automatic requirement. It does not help either person learn how to better relate to their feelings and thoughts, wants and needs, one another, themselves, or their relationship. It also takes less energy for a person who wronged another to take action and bring the necessary ingredients that create the context for healing to take place.

5. If I admit I was wrong, I will seem weak and vulnerable in their eyes and mine.
It's actually the other way around. It takes a lot of courage and strength to own one's actions, to make changes to prevent repeating the wrongful action —to even say those words! It grows courage in the process, and thus, more confidence.

6. I am not worthy of forgiveness.
This way of thinking makes us more likely to repeat mistakes and wrongful actions. It is a limited belief that leads us to take actions that are harsh on others and ourselves. It does not allow anyone to heal. It's essential to realize that we are not our beliefs or emotions or thoughts; instead, we are the creator of them. As much as we yearn for compassion from others, we need our own first. We need to see our self as a human being who not only has a right to make and learn from mistakes, but also that this is essential to our growth.

7. Nothing can undo the wrong I've done.
This belief keeps us stuck in the past and feeling powerless to change. We need to know that we always have a choice to change a situation by changing and improving the way we express our love — in action.

8. They'll never forgive me, so why should I try?
This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and, again, reflects an excuse that takes away our power to take action by persuading us that we are helpless. While earning one's forgiveness may be healing for the other and for our relationship, we also need to apologizing of this as something we are doing that is in our highest interest.

9. If I work to earn forgiveness, I'm saying I'm the only one who did wrong. What about how they've hurt me?
This excuse keeps us focused on the problem in a way that can fuel attack and counterattack. To make amends, we must deal with our hurts separately. Otherwise, they become mere justifications for more wrongful actions. It's essential that we learn how to separate and deal with one issue at a time. In general we should follow guidelines for healthy communications that allow both partners to feel safe enough to open their hearts and share what is in their minds and hearts.

10. It makes no sense to earn forgiveness if the other no longer wants a relationship.
This excuse prevents us from seeing that taking responsibility for our actions is something we do to enhance our own peace of mind and wellbeing. It may be too late to restore the relationship, but it can still be a new begining that alters our relationships that to come. We do not need to have a relationship with the other person to seek forgiveness. We heal ourselves whenever we refrain from repeating an action that we understand to be hurtful to our relationships. Our peace of mind and health depend on learning to activate healing patterns and processes.

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Article contributed by
Advanced Member

John M. Grohol

Psychologist

Dr. John Grohol is a mental health expert and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.

Location: Newburyport, MA
Credentials: PsyD
Other Articles/News by John M. Grohol:

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