“We all have a favorite picture of ourselves… we don’t want to hear how we have hurt someone, or made a mistake. It is very difficult.”

But I can see, in my life, when I do humble myself and really see myself from another, less flattering point of view, it is then that I find where it is that I can improve. It is a gift to me, and to my future self. There are times I have seen my shortcomings, by myself. There are times that I have asked someone I know and trust where it is I could improve. It feels uncomfortable when someone comes to us, unprompted, and tells us where they think we need to change, or they tell us how we have hurt them. But, again, if I can consider this data, and if I can humble myself to really consider how I have shown up and who I really want to be, this person is offering me a gift. And an opportunity to apologize.

Let’s start here – the gift of an apology. Three important gifts of a heartfelt apology, from Harriet Lerner:

  • It’s a gift to the person we hurt
    • They can feel safe in the relationship again because they feel like I care for them in that relationship
    • It helps this person to let go
    • It validates the hurt person’s reality – your feelings makes sense
  • It’s a gift to the self
    • It changes the way I look at myself, and I will grow in maturity and self-worth when I look at myself objectively
    • This is me taking responsibility
  • It’s a gift to the relationship
    • Relationships can’t function if we can’t trust that we will try and heal the dysfunction when we mess up

I think a heartfelt apology is also a gift to our children. When they see us make mistakes and apologize correctly – to them or to anyone else – they learn that mistakes happen, and apologies are very appropriate.

It is not a surprise, really, that studies show that if children don’t see their parents apologize, that affects their ability to apologize themselves, especially when they are adults. Of course. An apology, in those homes, is treated like a weakness, rather than a strength and a gift.

Good, heartfelt apologies are not showing weakness at all, rather showing strength. But apologies can be done wrong, as well.

“Negative consequences of a bad apology are pretty profound… The cost of a bad apology, at its worst, is a total cut-off. At it’s best, there is still a little river of something wrong – there is something wrong, something different. And we settle into it not being what it could be.”

So, let’s talk about how to do this properly – how to apologize properly to save relationships, and to also illustrate for our children what this looks like. I love this.

Nine ingredients to a heartfelt apology, from Harriet Lerner:

  1. A true apology does not include the word BUT. Whatever follows the BUT is another criticism or an excuse. And it doesn’t matter if whatever I say in the BUT is true, it cancels out the an apology. If I want to call out someone’s misbehavior, that is one thing, but don’t consider it as any part of an apology.
  2. A true apology keeps the focus on my actions and not on the other person’s response. I am sorry that you felt hurt. There is no accountability there. In doing this correctly, I am showing that other person that, whether or not their feelings were hurt, I am sorry for my behavior – I did not show up the way I wanted to show up for that person.
  3. A good apology offers a reparation or restitution that fits the situation. If I lost your hat, as part of the apology, I would offer to buy a new hat. Or moving forward, my actions will represent my feelings of respect for the person’s hurt. I don’t repeat the offense.
  4. A true apology does not “over do”. This would look like us feeling guilty and responsible for everything, and expressing that to the other person. An example of this was a poor apology I received when I once prepared and took the courage to bring up something to a friend that they had said that really hurt me. And I was gentle in my words to her. But that friend go so hurt by me bringing up my hurt, that she cried and cried, “I am just no good.” And I had to comfort her instead of vice versa. And I never felt a bit apologized to – I felt like it was entirely about her, and it continues to be entirely about her. And I am not sure what to do with that, right? Do I dare approach her again, in a effort to heal the relationship? “If someone gathers the courage to approach you about their grief, don’t act as if they are rubbing your face in a pile of dog food.” That is not an apology. It’s an invitation to sooth and to care for ME instead. “An apology serves only to calm and sooth the hurt party.”
  5. A true apology doesn’t get caught up in who is more to blame or who started it. You apologize for your part of the problem, even if the other person doesn’t recognize their part of the problem. Apologize for what you can agree you had done wrong. It’s about being your best self in this relationship
  6. A true apology requires that you try your best to avoid a repeat performance. An apology will not have meaning if you continue to repeat the behavior.
  7. A true apology should not serve to silence another person. I said I’m sorry ten times. Don’t bring it up again.
  8. A true apology should not be offered to make me feel better at the risk of making the other person feel worse. An apology is not to sooth me or lower my guilt, but a true apology is really to sooth the other person.
  9. A true apology does not ask the hurt party to do anything, not even to forgive. An example is when we apologize in hopes of getting an apology back. “An apology is not a bargaining tool.”

I have so many example of me both doing this right, and me absolutely botching an apology. I have examples of others showing me how to apologize correctly, and others really putting a strain on our relationship by not apologizing, or by apologizing poorly. I feel it. I think we all can.

And what about our response to an apology – what if we are on the other end?

“A proper response to an apology: ‘Thank you for that apology, I really appreciate it.'”

My children learn from me how to apologize. They learn from me how to accept an apology. They can also learn not to apologize if I haven’t properly responded to or accepted their apologies.

On Sunday, the lesson I taught in our home Sunday School was about apologizing and forgiving. And as I taught the children, the principle became one of absolute mercy. Again, this is a gift to us – the opportunity to apologize. As well as the opportunity to forgive. There is more to this. I am going to share more from Harriet Lerner and Brene Brown tomorrow.


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