I’m sorry…

There’s so much more to an apology.

Let’s talk about apologizing.

You know that person who apologizes for something she did that hurt you, and you walk away and it just doesn’t feel right? 

Maybe the person is an “apologizer” who quickly admits his faults…again, again and again — but nothing changes.

Or maybe the person is the unapologizer who won’t take responsibility, only apologizing to get away from the momentary unpleasantness.

Whatever the type of apology you’ve gotten, from the apologizer or the unapologizer, it affects your relationship with the other person. 

In fact, the way we seek out forgiveness from our fellow human beings is one of the hallmarks of being a connected, empathetic person who can maintain intimacy.

There is a right and wrong way to say “I’m sorry.”

Research shows that an effective apology has three elements: accepting responsibility, articulating an apology, and identifying the specific wrong-doing.

Apologizing is more than just conflict resolution.

A transgression is fundamentally a break in the trust between individuals. Without that trust, the relationship is rocky at best.

That is because being able to give effective apologies reflects our ability to maintain healthy relationships.

What is a “true” apology?

One of the hallmarks of an effective apology is that it comes from remorse rather than regret. You regret the negative outcomes of your behavior; you feel remorse when you’ve harmed the relationship itself.

You can express regret for a particular action that sincerely was a mistake. But if that action reflects a fundamental pattern of disconnect and lack of concern, then remorse is the only way you will mend the relationship.

Sometimes an apologizer might say sorry just for the “small stuff.”

They might say sorry for over and over again when they are seeing each transgression as an isolated misdeed. But these apologies can seem insincere because there is no attempt to change the thought pattern making those small mistakes possible. Over time, perceived slights accumulate in an avalanche of deep hurt.

The un-apologizer isn’t much better.

In terms of an un-apologizer, he might appear to be regretful of a mistake, but doesn’t take responsibility for it. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” is a common refrain from this type of apologizer.

However, someone can’t change their behavior, or the underlying thought process that leads to the behavior, if they don’t own up to the hurt they themselves have caused.

An effective apology is cathartic and bring individuals closer together. You know an apology has gone wrong when the individual walks away even angrier or more hurt than before.

That doesn’t mean an effective apology heals all wounds immediately. For reoccurring or substantial transgressions, the apologizer needs to make amends and prove over time they can behave differently.

Apologizing is crucial for having intimate connections with others. Love does mean saying we are sorry.

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