A Good Apology
What happens when you have hurt someone and you know it?
We may have been taught right from wrong, but we are rarely taught how to handle when we have done wrong, either intentionally or unintentionally. We hold so much shame around admitting wrongdoing that we never learn to apologize—shame promotes silence. So often instead of acknowledging that we have caused pain, we keep quiet and hope the other person will let it go. If we do apologize, we approach it with excuses ("I didn't mean it that way") and/or our own emotional response ("I feel terrible that I hurt you"). In essence, we approach the hurt person with our own shame, rather than take the time to listen to the hurt we have caused.
So where do we begin if an apology is necessary?
The apology is not about you! The person apologizing is irrelevant: it doesn't matter what your intentions were or that you are a good person. A true apology requires you to approach the hurt person with open ears and open heart, without attempting to explain your intentions, qualify your actions, or secure your position.
An apology is a genuine statement of understanding, accountability, and compassion. An apology is a recounting of what happened that caused pain including the details of what, how, and why. "I'm sorry, but..." or "I'm sorry you feel that way" are not sincere apologetic statements, and "I'm sorry I hurt you" is not enough. This is about holding space for the pain you caused by recognizing how your actions impacted another person.
When there is rupture, we repair. When we break something, we put it back together and handle it with care. Ask if there is any way you can make it right. What needs to be said or done as evidence of your willingness to change? Be open to collaborating with the hurt person. Be curious about what they might need to trust you or feel comfortable with you again.
Change Your Ways
In order for your apology to be credible the promises made must be kept. The apologizer must commit to changing their behavior so that they do not repeat the actions that caused harm. Be true to your word and if you falter admit it immediately.
We all stumble. We all hurt each other. We are human. I invite you to let go of the shame and welcome the opportunity to connect deeply with another person around apology.
For more on the authentic apology, check out this TEDTalk by V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) discussing the need for authentic apology after abuse (WARNING: the talk includes details of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault): The Profound Power of an Authentic Apology
For more information about therapy with Eve, visit here.