The Importance of Apologizing
The Importance of Apologizing for Stress Relief and Relationship Repair
By Elizabeth Scott, MS
Updated April 30, 2017
Why Apologizing Is Important
Many people have complicated feelings about apologies, and not all of our thoughts and feelings about apologies line up. Some of us were forced to apologize as children when we hurt someone, and some of us apologized freely and felt immediately better after having done so. Some people feel shamed by apologizing while others feel ashamed until we have done so. A popular movie from decades ago declared that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” while many relationship experts warn that never apologizing in a relationship is a sure way to risk losing it.
We may have learned about the need for apologizing when we’ve hurt a friend — accidentally or otherwise — but do you know why apologizing is really important, and what function a good apology serves? Researchers and psychologists have pinpointed some important reasons why apologizing is necessary when social rules have been violated. Some of the good things that come from a sincere apology:
- Apologizing when you’ve broken a rule of social conduct — from cutting in line to breaking the law — re-establishes that you know what the “rules” are, and you agree that they should be upheld. This allows others to feel safe knowing you agree that hurtful behaviour isn’t OK.
- Apologies re-establish dignity for those you hurt. Letting the injured party know that you know it was your fault, not theirs, helps them feel better, and it helps them save face.
- Apologizing helps repair relationships by getting people talking again, and makes them feel comfortable with each other again.
- A sincere apology allows you to let people know you’re not proud of what you did, and won’t be repeating the behaviour. That lets people know you’re the kind of person who is generally careful not to hurt others and puts the focus on your better virtues, rather than on your worst mistakes.
The Benefits of Apologizing
Relationships can be great sources of stress relief, but conflict can cause considerable stress, which really takes a toll.
Learn the art of apologizing effectively and you may find a significant reduction in the negative effects of conflict and relationship stress because apologies help us put the conflict behind us and move on more easily. There are many benefits that come from forgiveness, in terms of and happiness and stress relief as well. In these ways, being adept at apologizing when appropriate can bring the benefits that come with stronger relationships, reduced conflict, and forgiveness–it’s well worth the effort!
Why Is Apologizing So Hard For Some?
For some people, apologizing feels like an admission that they are inadequate–that, rather than having made a mistake, there is something inherently wrong with them. Others believe that offering the first apology after an argument is an admission of guilt and responsibility for the entirety of a conflict that involved wrongs on the part of both parties; they think an apology from them will allow the other person to take no responsibility for their own part in the conflict. Sometimes an apology seems to call added attention to a mistake that may have gone unnoticed. However, in the right circumstances, a well-delivered, appropriately sincere apology will generally avoid all of these issues, and will merely serve to usher in a resolution, reaffirm shared values, and restore positive feelings.
You just have to know when and how to deliver your apology.
When Apologizing Is a Good Idea
If something you’ve done has caused pain for another person, it’s a good idea to apologize, even if whatever you did was unintentional. This is because apologizing opens up the doors to communication, which allows you to reconnect with the person who was hurt. It also allows you to express regret that they have been hurt, which lets them know you really care about their feelings; this can help them feel safer with you again. Also, apologizing allows you to discuss what the “rules” should be in the future, especially if a new one needs to be made, which is often the case when you didn’t hurt the other person intentionally.
(Creating new rules for the relationship can help you be protected from getting hurt in the future as well.) Basically, if you care about the other person and the relationship, and you can avoid the offending behaviour in the future, an apology is usually a good idea.
This doesn’t mean that you need to take responsibility for things that were not your fault. For example, you can express regret at unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings, but you don’t have to say you “should have known better” if you truly feel there is no way you could have known they would be hurt by your actions — this is where creating a new rule can help. (For example, “I’m sorry I woke you! Now that I know you don’t want people to call you after 8 p.m., I will be careful not to do so.”)
Taking responsibility also means specifying what you did that you believe was wrong, but can entail gently mentioning what you believe was not wrong on your part. In this way, you protect yourself from the feeling that if you are the first to apologize, you are taking responsibility for the whole conflict, or for the bulk of it.
When Apologizing May Be a Bad Idea
It is important to note that apologies that involve empty promises are a bad idea. One of the important functions of an apology is that it affords the opportunity to re-establish trust; resolving not to repeat the offending behaviour — or to make whatever change is possible — is an important part of an apology. If you promise to change but then don’t, the apology merely calls attention to the fact that you’ve done something even you agree is wrong, but refuse to change. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but do try to make reasonable promises to avoid hurting the person in the future, and the follow through on those promises. If the other person is expecting something unreasonable or impossible, perhaps you’re taking responsibility for more than you need to.
Tips for Apologizing Effectively
An insincere apology can often do more damage than no apology at all. When you are apologizing, it is important to include a few key ingredients. See these tips for how to apologize sincerely. They should help you to maintain healthy, happy relationships with your friends, family and loved ones.
Ferris, D.; Kim, P.; Dirks, K.; Silence speaks volumes: The effectiveness of reticence in comparison to apology and denial for responding to integrity- and competence-based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 92(4), Jul, 2007. pp. 893-908
Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The unique effects of forgiveness on health: an exploration of pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, April 2005.
Risen, J.; Gilovich, T. Target and observer differences in the acceptance of questionable apologies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 92(3), Mar, 2007. pp. 418-433.
The Power of Apologizing: Why Saying “Sorry” Is So Important
“Sincere apologies are for those that make them, not for those to whom they are made.” ~Greg LeMond
When I was growing up, every time I took my sister’s toy or called my brother names, my mother would grab me by the wrist and demanded that I offer an apology. What’s more, if the apology didn’t sound meaningful enough to her, I had to repeat it until my tone was genuine. An apology was the basic reaction to any mistake.
Now that I’m older, I see apologizing as more than just a household rule. My younger self didn’t understand the complexities of human pride and self-righteousness, but my older self does.
Now, I see family members refusing to talk to each other for years after an argument just because neither side wants to be the first to let go of their pride and “break down and apologize.” But who decided apologizing was a sign of weakness?
I think we’ve reached a day and age where showing emotional vulnerability can be viewed as a positive rather than a negative quality.
People are becoming more aware of ideas like empathy and sensitivity, and everywhere we are being encouraged to talk about our feelings, to seek help, and to connect with others. Gone are the days of keeping everything bottled up inside to suffer alone.
As we move forward in this time of self-knowledge and self-discovery, it’s vital to acquire the ability to recognize our own mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and we all will do something to hurt another person at some point in our lives. The difference, however, lies acknowledging that we have done something wrong.
This was hard for me to grasp, because I was taught that an apology should be an automatic response.
It took me a long time to realize what it meant to say “I’m sorry” from the heart. Apologizing just for the sake of apologizing is meaningless. We cannot genuinely apologize if we can’t admit to ourselves that we made a mistake.
This is where humility comes in. Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and say that it was at least partly our fault? Can we take that responsibility?
Placing the blame on someone else is easy. Making excuses and skirting the subject is easy. Assuming the full weight of blame on our own shoulders, however, is very hard.
I learned this the hard way with a childhood friend of mine. As we grew older, we started becoming more competitive in the things we did together, and eventually the playful competition went a little too far.
It became a game of silently trying to prove who was better, and we ended up hurting each other over our pride.
We refused to apologize or even address what was going on because neither wanted to be the one to “give in.”
The tension kept growing, breaking apart our friendship. I wish I could go back now, because if I had taken responsibility for the mistakes I made, we probably could have resolved it easily and saved our friendship.
Instead, I let my pride take priority over my relationships with the people around me.
Learning to apologize is the first and most important step in the healing process. Not only does it show the recipient that you acknowledge their right to feel hurt, but it opens the way to forgiveness.
It seems so silly, really. I mean, it’s only two tiny words. How can something so small be so powerful?
Well, there have been various scientific studies on the power of apologizing, which have demonstrated that when the victim receives an apology from his offender, he develops empathy toward that person, which later develops more quickly into forgiveness.
This is due to the fact that when we receive an apology, we feel that our offender recognizes our pain and is willing to help us heal.
Timing is an important aspect to keep in mind, as well, because sometimes the other person might not be ready to accept your apology. Sometimes we need to allow time to heal the wounds a little bit before we come forward to say “I’m sorry.”
An apology cannot undo what has been done, but it can help ease the pain and tension of the aftermath. It gives hope for rebuilding, and puts value on the relationship rather than the individual’s pride.
Sometimes people don’t even realize the hurt they are creating around them by failing to take responsibility for their actions. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s someone you know, but everyone knows someone who has suffered from this at some time.
Now is the time to make a change.
Often times those two simple words are worth more than a lifetime of excuses and explanations.
Choose the path of humility. Choose the path of healing. Choose love above pride. Choose to apologize.
The importance of forgiveness
Forgiveness is part of the process of healing and letting go of the past.
Posted on December 12, 2016 by Lisa Tams, Michigan State University Extension
When two people are angry with each other, each side feels hurt by the other and would like to receive an apology. Unfortunately, many people believe that they “lose” by admitting they hurt the other person. So neither side apologizes and the mutual resentment continues indefinitely. It’s important to remember that you do not lose by apologizing and admitting that you have been hurting the other person. You win and so does the other person.
So what exactly is forgiveness? We have a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, that it means being weak, not demanding justice, excusing the reprehensible behavior, or letting oneself be treated badly. It’s not any of those things! Forgiveness means to cease to feel resentment against someone or something. It is very empowering to know that you can regain your sense of self. You can wake up each day without reliving the past, even though you won’t forget it.
Four myths about forgiveness
- Forgiving means forgetting.False! Your brain doesn’t stop remembering. Instead of dwelling on the past, you are now free to protect yourself and move on.
- Forgiving means you’re a pushover.Absolutely not! Forgiving puts you in a position of strength. You can still hold people accountable, but you take away that person’s power to hurt you anymore.
- Forgiving means you can’t get angry.Not true! You don’t excuse unkind, inconsiderate, selfish behavior nor minimize your own pain. You can’t change the past or predict the future, but you don’t have to suffer forever either.
- Forgiving means reconciliation. Not always! It just gives you emotional space to make decisions that are best for you. It helps you decide, with strength and confidence, what’s best for you. You can decide if you want to work things out, or just walk away or do something else.
Why should we forgive?
The Stanford Forgiveness Project has shown that learning to forgive lessens the amount of hurt, anger, stress and depression that people experience. People who forgive also become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate and have enhanced conflict resolution skills. This research also found that people who forgive report significantly fewer physical symptoms of stress such as a backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. The act of forgiveness also increases energy and overall well-being.
How to forgive
- Acknowledge the pain you feel and recognize who is responsible for causing that pain.
- Express your emotions in healthy ways.
- Release any expectations you have of righting the wrong that was done to you.
- Be mindful of or restore your boundaries so that this doesn’t happen again. Remind yourself that people cannot give you what they don’t have. Remember what to expect of others.
- Find new ways to get your needs met in the future.
- Don’t say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is not an apology, but a criticism.
- Don’t make your apology conditional on the other person’s apology. “I’ll admit I was wrong if you admit you were wrong.” Just apologize for what you did wrong. If the other person wants to apologize back, it is their choice, but do not expect it.
- Learning to forgive requires acceptance by acknowledging that what happened really happened, instead of wishing it were different.
- Release the unhealthy attachment you previously maintained concerning how the other person behaves.
- Re-frame your life story and find meaning in the broken places. Redefine, recreate and restructure your life.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
27 Reasons to Forgive
When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future. ~Bernard Meltzer
Are you feeling the pain of your family’s substance use?
You want to forgive and move on, but you may feel burdened by your situation and can’t let go.
Sometimes there is a payoff for hanging on to the pain.
When we don’t forgive, we can continue to feel miserable and blame it on the person who is struggling. That allows us to continue to blame others for our unhappiness, and not take responsibility for our own lives.
We can learn to forgive. One way is through compassion.
Do you blame yourself for the substance abuse of your children?
Parents can be filled with regret and often relive what they could have done differently. We hear that we didn’t cause the substance use, can’t control it, and can’t cure it. We may not believe these words, because we can’t quite forgive ourselves.
- Maybe we did not educate ourselves on addiction and it’s early warning signs.
- Possibly we saw some of the signs of substance use, but were in denial.
- There may have early trauma in our child’s life, such as divorce, or something else that was disturbing and we didn’t understand the importance of giving our children the opportunity to share their feelings.
- The adults in the family may have had a genetic component that we believe influenced the children.
- We were sidetracked by our other responsibilities and lost our parenting focus along the way.
Some of these situations may have occurred as your children were growing.
When you realize your children are have substance use issues, many parents blame themselves, and yet as time goes on regardless of the outcome, it is important to forgive not only our child for the pain they have caused us, but ourselves as well for anything we did that wasn’t helpful.
While it is important to forgive our loved ones, it is also important to forgive ourselves.
Studies have shown that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. They also have less number of health problems.
People who forgive tend to be less angry, feel less hurt, and are more optimistic. They become more compassionate and self-confident.
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it. ~Mark Twain
Forgiveness is included in most religions. In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma.
Anyone struggling feels guilt, shame, remorse, and self-loathing. Knowing that they are forgiven is another step on their journey to recovery.
Forgiveness is the final form of love. ~ Reinhold Neibuhr
Here are 27 reasons to forgive others and to forgive yourself.
- The start of the healing process.
- Not necessarily condoning the action.
- A sense of wholeness and peace.
- Letting go of staying the victim.
- Something you do for yourself, not for the other person.
- Focusing your energy on the healing, not the hurtful action.
- Compassion for self and others.
- A path to healthy relationships.
- Healing the hurt from the past.
- An opportunity to move on with your life.
- A solution for anxiety and depression.
- Restoring yourself to basic goodness and health.
- A way to enhance your self-esteem and give you hope.
- A chance to restore faith in yourself.
- A journey and does mean that you will forget, but you can still forgive.
- Giving up resentment, revenge, and obsession.
- The freedom to begin many new and healthy life choices.
- Your path to serenity.
- The chance to be the one who benefits from your forgiveness.
- A way to let go of your pain from the past.
- A path to continuing a relationship with someone causing you harm.
- Another chance to help your child.
- Keeping yourself in the flow of good.
- The key to our happiness.
- Making peace with the past.
- A gift that one gives another.
- Fully embracing your future.
This Author’s Impressions……..
It is as important to apologize sincerely, as it is to accept an apology graciously and forgive from the heart.
But what happens when an apology is never going to be forthcoming, despite a grievous wrong done?
Take my word for it, forgive that person anyway.
You will say that you are neither so foolish nor so idiotic to do any such thing. However, it is neither foolish nor idiotic to forgive someone, let me assure you. Many people hurt us on our journey through Life; some go so far as to mean harm. You will state, “Why should I be the one to forgive first? Let the other person do the forgiving!” Now, such a pig-headed and dogmatic attitude helps no one. Forgiveness is essential for self-healing; do it not so much for the other person as for yourself. It is needed to close the doors on certain hurtful episodes of the past – it is more than ever necessary to move on in Life with a clear conscience.
I am not talking out of the top of my hat…..I state this fact fervently and from personal experience.
Don’t you want to continue on Life’s path in a happier frame of mind? Then, please give what I am stating great and serious thought.
When no apology is forthcoming, forgive anyway and be happier for it.