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The Power of a Sincere Apology

April 3, 2017  | 

{3:24 minutes to read} I thought it was interesting that the Personal Health columnist for the New York Times, Dr. Jane Brody, wrote a column entitled “The Right Way to Say I’m Sorry.”

She posits that taking responsibility for your actions and offering a true apology to someone you’ve hurt actually is a matter of your own health and well being. Dr. Brody refers to these words from Harriet Lerner’s Why Won’t You Apologize? as to why an apology can be “central to health, both physical and emotional.”

“...It’s also a gift to one’s own health, bestowing self-respect, integrity and maturity–an ability to take a clear-eyed look at how our behavior affects others and to assume responsibility for acting at another person’s expense.”

Of course, a sincere apology can also positively affect the health of the person to whom you are apologizing. Dr. Lerner provides that person is able to “feel soothed and released from obsessive recriminations, bitterness and corrosive anger.”

However, none of these benefits will emerge unless the apology is truly sincere. Here are some factors Dr. Brody believes make an apology meaningful:

  • Do not include ‘but’ after your words of apology. This signifies that you are excusing the behavior for which you are proffering an apology.
  • Do not request forgiveness since this is up to the person to forgive or not. Your apology should not be dependent upon forgiveness.
  • Be sure to focus on what you are saying and your behavior, as opposed to what the other person says or her reaction to it.
  • Avoid saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” since that is shifting fault from your actions to the other person for being overly sensitive.

It is hard to make a sincere apology, and yes, it does make you terribly vulnerable. You are admitting fault, admitting having hurt someone, and might even be opening yourself up to rejection.

But it’s a very big sign that you are accepting responsibility for your actions. If done with sincerity, it is something that will benefit you, even if you are not forgiven by the other person.

I can understand that, if you are going through a divorce, you might not want to offer an apology out of fear that you may “lose ground” and diminish a possible settlement. I can even understand the fear that your apology would be rejected or scorned.

I can’t say that won’t be the case, and probably more likely if you are in a litigation or adversarial process. However, if you truly believe that your actions warrant an apology, you might want to consider if this action could be a healthier alternative for both of you.

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
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Harrison, NY 10528
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