I talked to a woman who relayed this powerful experience and is worth sharing to help illustrate the power of a genuine apology:
Her husband and her were going through a very difficult time. He had done things to seriously damage the relationship and she felt betrayed, unappreciated, and unloved. The tornado of emotions that come with trying to forgive and work through difficult times led her one day to pick up a bat and destroy her entertainment center. She cried in anguish, frustration, and deep sorrow as she hit each blow to pieces. Once her anger and intense pent up emotions were spent, in tears she slowly went to go start cleaning up the huge mess she had made. As she reached for the first piece to pick up and put in the trash, her husband stopped her. He looked her deep into her eyes and said these powerful words; “This is my mess, I’m so sorry for what I have done and that it has led you to feel so deeply upset and betrayed. This is my mess, don’t touch it, it is mine to clean up.”
It would have been easier to look at this woman in her time of upset and call her crazy, or out of line, or being over reactive. The power of this moment is that her husband saw beyond the outward frustration and behavior of destroying something and recognized his actions of hurting her had led her to want to destroy the entertainment center in the first place. His ability to see the deeper piece in this moment led to a heartfelt apology which then opened the ground for healing and mending in the relationship to take place and build on. Rather than continue to decay the relationship: hope was able to flourish instead of pain and sorrow.
A sincere apology often has three parts: 1) I am sorry 2) I own what I have done (it is my fault, no blame anywhere else) 3) What can I do to make this/it right
We are human and will make mistakes. When we do this we aren’t just being bad people, or weak people. Our mistakes make us human and so they will happen and will we impact our relationships with our human “ness”. Even when we don’t think that we’ve made a mistake, other people will at times still feel hurt with how they perceive we have treated them. We human beings are walking offenders even if we don’t mean to be.
Here’s the real question: If we’ve done something that offends someone else—whether or not we feel we are to blame—should we apologize? Absolutely, it always serves our highest good to apologize if we’ve hurt or offended someone else—even if we think the offended person’s anger is unjustified, or if we have a perfectly good excuse for what happened.
Making the situation right can be the most difficult part of an apology and holding the space as long as it takes for the other person to step into forgiving and letting the relationship repair is hard because our timing is not their timing and it can be difficult to wait that process out.
Good apologies include reparation of some kind. For example, creating an opportunity for the person you embarrassed or hurt to regain credibility, or help them understand you get what you did to hurt them, and you are truly sorry. Or perhaps you admit your mistake to others, too, as a part of the reparation. In many relationships, a hug or physical connection is good reparation. Either way it is so important to repair and mend, not just in words only. Rebuilding trust takes time to truly repair the relationship. If you aren’t sure how to make it right, just ask, “Is there anything I can do to make this up to you, or make this right?” Make sure to deliver on any promises you make, so make realistic suggestions when doing repair work. When we feel guilty or embarrassed, sometimes we over-correct in our attempt to gain forgiveness.
When we work with young adults at ATC, we are teaching them the power of accountability, and that when they get messy with life, and make chaotic or poor choices, that they learn how to care more about how these choices impact themselves and others, including their parents.
As parents it can be frustrating to wait for what seems like genuine accountability and an apology for when they go array in life. The framework of a genuine apology is key to learn and understand on both ends. Parents can at times fall into the trap of enabling their young adults and not treating them like adults, but still treating them like kids. In these moments it is powerful for their adult children to hear their ownership surrounding the struggle to let them grow up, make mistakes, learn from them, and doing so without fixing or making it better. In these moments saying, “I apologize for enabling your ability to stay a child, you are not a child, and I can do better to treat you as an adult.” This powerful statement will be a part of the collective push to grow young adults into being the very adults we are hoping they become. It also pushes them to be accountable for their lives and their choices, and when they make mistakes be able to repair and mend in mature ways.
It goes both ways; parent to child, child to parents, husband to wife, friend to friend, etc. Good repair work in relationships is a learned skill and needs to be practiced often. Ownership instead of blaming when we make mistakes is so powerful in maintaining healthy connections. May we all continue to learn and grow surrounding how we manage our relationships and connections with those we care about. The relationships we have with our parents, significant others, children, siblings, friends, etc, these are the most sacred and precious things we can make and hold in this life, and so it behooves us to tend to them well and often.