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Saying “I’m Sorry” like you mean it

What do you do when you hurt someone you love?  Well of course you say “I’m sorry.” But what happens when that’s not enough? What happens when the apology doesn’t erase the pain that you’ve caused?

Sometimes the pain stems from a betrayal like infidelity in a partnership. Other times it’s unkind words or the accumulation of slights between friends that cause the pain.  Regardless of the injury or action that caused the pain many times we find ourselves thinking (and sometimes saying), “Can’t I just say I’m sorry and move on?” or  “Why does it have to be such a big deal, I said I was sorry!” We become annoyed and defensive that the other person won’t let it go and move on with the relationship.

But the relationship cannot move on simply because we uttered those two words. Whatever the offense or slight, we hurt someone we love. We caused their pain by what we did or said. Many times the offensive action itself isn’t as egregious as the meaning behind it. “How could she say that to me?” we think. It makes us question if our friend/partner/family member/lover really sees and knows who we are. Do they see us and not care about our feelings or do they not see us at all and don’t know who we really are? Either way is really hurtful and saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t initially do enough to heal that wound.

In my personal and professional life I’ve found that there are three important components to healing the hurts that we cause:

First, acknowledge and deal with your own feelings about hurting someone you care for. There may be guilt, sadness, anger, defensiveness, or resentment. You need to know that these feelings exist for you and you need to address them. You can’t heal the pain that you caused when you’re wracked with guilt or defensive about what you did. It’s important to note that the person you hurt doesn’t have to deal with your feelings but you need to. If you haven’t dealt with your own feelings of guilt and defensiveness it will block your ability to perceive the experience of the other person, an important part of apologizing.

Next, witness the intensity of the pain that you caused. It feels better to skip over this part but to really move forward in your relationship you cannot. You need to see and hear how your loved one is feeling pain and how it is affecting them. Let them know that you understand and can see how much you hurt them.

Finally, own the behavior, words, or actions you took that hurt the person. Don’t make excuses for what you did but acknowledge it. Now you can say those oh-so-important words and give a genuine apology. You can say “I’m truly sorry that I hurt you and caused you pain.” This apology will go a lot further in repairing the relationship and even increasing intimacy within that relationship.

The next time you hurt someone, rather than sending flowers or saying a quick “sorry”, give it more time and attention to genuinely apologize for the hurt that you caused.

Thoughts or Comments? How do you apologize?

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