photo credit: Lina Trachez @imtrachezz - unsplash

Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.Kevin Hancock, Not For Sale: Finding Center in the Land of Crazy Horse

Saying “I’m sorry” is such a difficult thing to do for many of us.  For some of us, just gulping out the words is trying. Then when we finally manage to say it, we believe that everything will suddenly be alright, everything will be forgiven and forgotten. We are genuinely surprised when our apologies are met with distance or mistrust. How many of us have thought (or said) “But I said I was sorry”?  We may wonder “what didn’t they understand”?

Apologizing is hard to do because it gets to the heart of and comes against our pride. Admitting that we are wrong puts us in a position of humility and at the mercy of the one we are apologizing to. Because of this, we hope that a verbal apology of “I’m sorry” will restore the relationship back to normal.  But many times these words are not enough? Why is this?

According to Gary Chapman and Jenniffer Thomas in their book “When Sorry Isn’t Enough”,  we have “different languages of apology”. sometimes, they say, we ” need to go beyond a quick “I’m sorry”.

“We believe that when we all learn to apologize – and when we understand each other’s aplogy language – we can trade in tired excuses for honesty, trust and joy”.

Here are the languages of apology outlined in their book.

  1. Expressing Regret (Saying I’m sorry)

Saying the Magic Words is an expression of regret (normally). It is the emotional expression of our guilt or shame in causing hurt. It is a very good start because at least there is recognition of one’s actions.

Sometimes saying “I’m sorry” is exactly what the offended person is waiting to hear. They want to know that at least there is some understanding of wrongdoing or hurtful actions. Additionally, they often want it to be specific – “sorry for what”? By being specific the offending person communicates that he or she understands how their actions have hurt.

There are other aspects of saying “I’m Sorry”. Our body language needs to match up with our words in expressing our sincerity. sometimes the voice of our body language is louder than our words. Being specific (sorry for what?) is also important in communicating sincerity and it also shows that we understand how we have been hurtful. Finally, the apology should be enough. Adding “but”  discredits the apology.

2. Accepting Responsibility (I Was Wrong)

Often not accepting responsibility is “tied to our sense of self-worth,” the authors say. It can feel like showing that we are weak when we admit that we are wrong as if we are not in keeping with how we see ourselves. Instead, we may be in the habit of justifying our actions using reason and “so-called” logic to explain our actions. Other times we may resort to shifting the blame onto other people, even the people we have hurt or offended.

These attitudes make it difficult for us to admit we were wrong. We may not admit our wrongs out of fear of appearing weak or denial of our responsibility, but admitting we are wrong reveals our strength, wisdom and common sense among other qualities. The stong and wise person accepts responsibility for his actions. It is a powerful step in the reconciliation process and, for some people, it is absolutely necessary to hear.

3. Making Restitution (I Want To Make things Right)

Some people, in order to truly feel that we have apologized to them, need to know or hear that we are willing to repair the damage by making up for losses- either physical or emotional. For these people, offering to do something to try to make it write shows that the person is indeed sorry for what they have done. Fo them, it is a matter of equalizing.

Equalizing is making up for the loss that the other person experienced. To offer restitution is to equalize the balance of justice. – Everett Worthington Jr, profeesor of psychology at Virginia commonwealth University

How can we make up for losses in a way that will be meaningful to the offended person? It can be helpful to be familiar with the five ways that people express and feel love found in the book, The Five Love Languages. Not everyone sees the expression of “making up for damages” in the same way. Here are the five love languages from the book:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch
  • Receiving gifts

4.  Deciding to Change

What people do not want after an apology is for repetitions of the offense. Some people apologize and promise not to do it again, but then the offense happens again and again. The apology means nothing. Repentance or deciding to change must take place in the person’s heart. The expectation of some people is to not only hear an apology and expression of remorse but to truly see a clear sign that the person is choosing to change.

For these people, words are meaningless unless they are backed up by action and, the expected action is changing the mind and heart. It means choosing not to repeat the same kind of offense and taking the appropriate steps. They need to hear the desire to change and see results. Without this commitment, these people who sincerely desire an apology can not give out their trust.

5. Requesting Forgiveness

According to one survey, one in five people (20%) needs to hear the offending person ask for forgiveness in order for the apology to be complete. Why would this step be so crucial for these people?  Asking for forgiveness is a very clear sign that the offending party realizes that his or her actions have been hurtful, intentionally or unintentionally. It is also an indicator that the person truly wants to restore the relationship.

Asking for forgiveness is very humbling especially for those with strong personalities. It may seem like an admission of weakness and also surrender, both of which are difficult to do. Furthermore, some people may be afraid of asking for forgiveness because of fear of rejection. After all, asking for forgiveness places all the power to restore the relationship in the hands of the offended party.

Asking for forgiveness is also hard because of our expectation to receive it immediately. Sometimes this does happen, but other times the person may need time and we can not control that aspect. We need to trust and wait.

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Diana Lynne loves to travel, pursue self-improvement and debt-free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and her dog Skye. You can connect with her through