Embody Apologies

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Have you ever had an apology yelled or forcefully exclaimed at you? Have you ever barked an apology at an upset partner? 

It can be a major shortcut to feeling like a monster... You know, snapping at someone who is already vulnerable and/or crying. But you want so desperately to take the pain away! To make things right.

We can end up getting in a hurry about "getting our apology accepted," and that ends up getting us in hot water thinking that we have atoned, when really we just pressured someone into verbalizing relief for us. 

Fact which we don't learn soon enough here in the West: apologies aren't about us, they're about the person who feels hurt as a result of our behavior. 

I tell clients that no one has the right to tell anyone else if they should forgive, or whom, or when.

It makes sense that so many orient this way around apologies because they were presented, at least in the region where I grew up, as something you GIVE to another person. 

So next time you’re yelling, “I’m sorry OK?!?” at your partner, I want you to remember Harriet Lerner: “Perhaps the best motive behind an apology is the wish to restore one’s integrity, to heal the relationship with one’s own self.”

Well, you’ll be yelling so you probably won’t actually remember wise Harriet because your prefrontal cortex will be on vacation, so think about it nowTo heal the relationship with one's own self. 

It makes sense that so many people across all kinds of relationships struggle here, because our culture gives us that vibe that we are supposed to “give” apologies. Like, POOF! Done. Hands clean. Almost like speaking some magic spell or something. And like there's only something external to us that is out of balance that needs to be "fixed." 

Anyone forced by parent/s to perform an apology through gritted teeth even if you were pissed

Harriet Lerner is a breath of fresh air in writing on atonement and the art of apology. If you need a really comprehensive guide to understanding the psychology of apology, try Why Won't You Apologize?


What I love the most is her focus on 1) delivering/"performing" the formal apology words AND following through with corrected behavior in the future, and 2) how internal and self-involved the best apologies actually are. 

I really don’t think there’s a more beautiful gift we can give someone we love than non-defensive listening and heartfelt apology. 

If you really hear and feel how you impacted someone, which takes courage and vulnerability—you can seriously grow yourself and your relationships. 

This seems so obvious to me now, but I’m not sure how I could get this notion through to younger versions of myself... That’s probably the point.

I think aging just makes it more likely we’ll be near someone whose happiness and safety matter as much as our own; when you experience that real, mature loving—I don’t know, it just makes it easier to be humble, shut up, listen, and take accountability with apology and through action. 

It's not smart to downplay how our sociocultural upbringings and contexts play into the ways we make rituals around healing wounds and re/building trust. 


In fights in love relationships, in the moment you want there to be a winner sometimes—a right and wrong. Especially if you've been going at it for a while and the parts of your brain/body/nervous system wired for war are activated. 

Only problem with that is, you’re connected. If only one person is right, everyone loses. 

I think it’s Stan Tatkin who calls it “throwing your partner under the bus;” you get the most temporary and hollow ‘victory,’ or what Sue Johnson calls “an awful boobie prize.” 

If you're looking for another model for apology, check out Magi Cooper's 3 Part Apology: 1) Here’s what I regret, 2) this is what I am doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and 3) is there anything else you need from me now?

What it really comes down to is that it's less about the words and "fixing" and more about embodying reparative behavior in a consistent way. 

The best apology is a behavior change that lasts. 

Now go drop some jaws with your fresh willingness to be sincere *and* sorry!