ARE YOU FOREVER, OR NEVER, APOLOGISING?

As the song tells us, ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ – true for some, whilst for others, ‘sorry’ comes far too readily to their lips, apologising seemingly for anything and everything.

FOR MANY, APOLOGISING DOESN’T COME EASY

Some folk go into mumble mode when they feel that they ‘should’ apologise, whilst others seemingly don’t have the word ‘sorry’ or even better, ‘I am sorry’ in their vocabulary. Do they believe that an apology is a sign of weakness or that in some way, it is beneath them to apologise?

I worked with a client in the past for whom any apology brought back very negative memories. He had been emotionally abused by both parents as a child – nothing that he did was ever good enough for the very high standards that they set of him. He said that he felt that he was always having to apologise for things that he did, that he didn’t do, simply for being ‘him’. As an adult, having cut himself off from his toxic parents, he tried to never have to apologise. This didn’t help with adult relationships, hence his visits for therapy and support with reaching an understanding of his problem. He developed an appropriate way of accepting blame when necessary; an acceptance that we all make mistakes, and chances were that he did and, in all likelihood, would continue to do so. I guess we really don’t often know or understand the reasons for people struggling to apologise!

People will seemingly try to cover up the fact that they are apologising by muttering and moving on quickly. Do they feel that by apologising they are admitting to having made a mistake and they don’t like to do that? It can take strength of character to admit to fault. They appear to try and spin the blame back onto you, thereby compounding the feeling of injustice by saying that they are sorry that you are upset, or angry, and not going on to apologise for their words or actions. How you react IS down to you, but no need to have this pointed out by the person who is, in theory, apologising.

APOLOGIES FROM ‘PUBLIC FIGURES’

Is it harder for public figures to apologise? Do they feel at risk of losing face if they do apologise? Do they always owe the public an apology for something that the tabloid press saw fit to broadcast to the world at large? Maybe a presumption of guilt before this has actually been proved? Guess a matter of down to individual circumstances again, though such people are often happy to use the press to advertise and promote themselves in what they see as a positive way. I guess I will never be able to fathom ‘celebrities’, politicians, ‘stars’ - and I have to admit that it hasn’t even made it onto my to-do list.

THE APPARENTLY AMUSING APOLOGY

Some people accompany, or dominate, an apparent apology with a laugh or smile.  I feel that this can be for two reasons. 

Firstly that they find it difficult to apologise for what they have done, maybe because they feel so badly that they have done wrong, and are embarrassed to have hurt or upset you.

Secondly – maybe, just maybe, they don’t feel that an apology is necessary as what they have said or done wasn’t ‘that bad’, so why should you get your knickers in a knot about it ….. or even, sadly, they feel that you aren’t deserving of an apology.

How well I remember receiving such an ‘apology’ from my (then) husband. His car was on the drive, where there was room for only one car. As I was only briefly at home, mine was parked across the end of the drive. For whatever reason, he went out, to come back in after a couple of minutes. He had driven his car (which had a tow ball on the back) into my car full size, bright red car! Slam, bang into the door, making a lovely mess of it. That was annoying enough in itself, but he apparently found his actions hilarious, as he was laughing, not in a nervous way, and this made my annoyance turn to fury. As he walked out not many weeks later, I have always presumed that the reason for his laughter was a lack of respect for me and mine.

HOW CAN YOU RESPOND or REACT TO SUCH PEOPLE?

If someone doesn’t apologise, you cannot expect a change in their words or behaviour if you make no comment about how it makes you feel. Your choice. If you accept what they say or do then don’t mumble to yourself about it, or complain to others. You need to tackle them. As, if you always do what always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.  They will continue and it will continue to affect you, no matter how much you try to ignore their words or actions. They are not responsible for how you react to them, that is solely down to you. This may sound harsh, but it is the way of the world as communication is very much a two-way happening.

There are times, with some people that you know you will never get an   apology. It can really hurt. It’s decision time.

Do you accept that this is just how they are and get on with the relationship;

Do you confront them;

Do you, in the extreme, cut them out of your life.

If you make the first choice, then it’s back to full acceptance, not simply trying to ignore yet still complain to others about them. It is not a problem for these other friends, yet you, by drawing them in, are making it so, especially if part of the same social circle.

Many are daunted by the mere mention of ‘confronting’ someone. The best time is as soon as something has been said or done that is affecting you – point out that that is what has happened there and then, not a few days later. A deep breath and calmly explain.

If the hurt caused is persistent, on-going, causing negative feelings that are spreading to other areas of your life, then maybe, the time has come to cut the ties. You are worth more than being on the receiving end of a whole heap of angst.

I have used all of these approaches, depending on the person, the relationship and whether I choose to have them in my life. My choices. The latter option was taken and the decision made following reflection and consideration of the pros and cons rather than a knee jerk reaction following a specific incident. Maybe a case of that incident being the straw that broke this particular camel’s back. I have also used a combination of all three strategies, feeling my way back into a relationship in which previous hurt had been caused and no apology given, but going back into it very much on my (stated) terms.

IS APOLOGISING YOUR DEFAULT SETTING?

On the flip side of the coin, some people apologise even when it is the other person/people at fault. The words, ‘I’m sorry’ just tumble out seemingly unbidden.

Apparently, the majority of people who do this are women. Those particularly prone to do so suffer from anxiety. Their anxiety, when bad, can make them almost feel as if they should apologise for breathing, apologise for being upset by what others have said, if someone bumps into them – and even saying sorry for saying sorry. To them, the apology is heartfelt, though to the receivers, well, their reaction can range from mild annoyance, through to a feeling of insincerity due to the number of times that they have heard the words. They apologise with regular monotony, thereby weakening any apology that is genuinely required … Save the apology for when it is really needed.

None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, errors of judgement and learning to accept this is an important step in cutting down, then out, on the over-apologising. If you know that you do something, have a habit, that causes annoyance, stop apologising for it as this actually draws more attention to what you have done. Some say change the habit, maybe better to change your apologising for it, and the habit may then lessen too! Be aware of what your triggers for apologising are so that you can begin by being prepared for your mouth, seemingly automatically, opening and ‘sorry’ escaping.

There is no need to apologise for not having put make-up on, or for having less than perfect hair that day – especially if someone has come to your home unexpectedly.  Your home, your face, your hair, your choice. If they judge you for that, maybe they are the one who should be apologising! In fact, most people won’t be even giving it a thought and their reaction is a presumption on your part. Remember, we are ALL flawsome. Hold your head up high and embrace the wonderful person that you are without apology.

I know that these days I struggle to park my car in anything other than a decent (OK, quite large) sized space.  I used to apologise to any passengers for my shunting backwards and forwards. I used the poor lock on my car as my excuse. However, at one point, I handed the keys over to a tutting passenger, who ended up doing just the same as me, so what I had seen as an excuse was, in fact, a genuine reason. No more apologies. In fact, I smile at my best attempts to park, it’s all part of me, who I am and what I am. My self-concept is no longer negatively affected by my parking problem, be it a car or Dee related problem – what the heck? My attempts to park probably serve as an opportunity for other drivers to reflect on how much better at parking they are – and I bet there are lots of things that I can do that they can’t!

A PRECEDING ‘SORRY’

Many people use an apology as an introduction to a sentence, as in the workplace, ‘I’m sorry but I think we could do that better’. Don’t apologise for having an opinion.  You have just as much right to your opinion as anyone else, so shoulders back and let it be shared – without apologising for it. Switch off that little inner voice that leads to your self-doubt and switch on a positive one assuring you that you really are worth being heard.

A GOOD, POSITIVE APOLOGY

Randy Pausch wrote in ‘The Last Lecture’ (2008) that a ‘proper apology’ has three parts to it –

What was said or done that was wrong;

an acceptance that hurt was caused;

an enquiry about how this can be made better.

So, far and above the muttered ‘sorry’; genuine and showing that they are not putting themselves first, rather accepting the wrong and how it led to hurt. I wonder how many have actually been in receipt of such an apology? I wouldn’t mind putting money on the fact that the vast majority had to make do with ‘Sorry’, or, even worse as far as I am concerned ‘soz’.  Is that just me being an old biddy?

OUR OWN SPIN

We all have our own biases, things that we believe to be acceptable or not. I believe that these biases very much come into play when we consider whether a word or action ‘against’ us was something we could ignore, or something we should have received an apology for. This will therefore affect the strength of our feelings against the miscreant.

As I have said before, for me being late is something that happens only under occasional, unforeseen circumstances. If people arrive late for therapy, give no apology, yet expect me to run over time even though there may be another client coming, it is something that I have to bring up with them whilst I metaphorically bite my tongue. There often is a reason, lurking somewhere, that they feel it’s OK to be late and not have to apologise. More work for our therapy sessions to work on the paddling under their water.

Do please feel free to leave a comment below, or check out my Facebook pages for further information, or my web site for the distance therapy I offer if you do not live locally to me, or have a problem with getting out.

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