Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why Do You Apologize?

You did something stupid.  It was hurtful.  And now you feel bad.  So you apologize.  And your apology is rejected!

*  Maybe it is openly rejected, "Oh, yeah.  Right.  Sure, you're sorry."  Dripping with sarcasm.
*  Maybe it is accepted on the face of things, but the person still holds a grudge and punishes you every chance they get.
*  Maybe you get no response.  They heard you.  They just won't acknowledge you said anything at all.

So now what?  If you're like most human beings, now you get irritated or even angry.  You offered a sincere apology.  How dare they not accept it?  How immature of them!  How un-Christlike!  And you walk away feeling superior.  You did your part.  They were too childish to do theirs.

But have you ever asked yourself why you are apologizing?  I think our reasons for apologizing change all the time.  And understanding why you are apologizing gives great insight into the way you react afterward.

Sometimes we apologize because we feel genuinely sorry.  Sometimes it's an attempt to get out of trouble.  Sometimes it's because it's what we think we are supposed to do, even when we don't feel sorry.  Sometimes our mom or wife or friend pushes us into apologizing.  Sometimes the person we've offended demands an apology and we offer it out of fear.  Sometimes we're too tired for the fight and just apologize hoping to end it.  There are more reasons we apologize than I can list.

When I say I'm sorry I should mean it.  It shouldn't be about getting out of trouble or doing what's right.  It should be because I saw the hurt I caused, realized I was at fault (either partially or entirely), and want to make amends.

And this is why I don't make my kids apologize.  When they were little I taught them to say, "I'm sorry."  Even when they didn't feel it.  And once they were old enough to say, "But I'm not sorry," the conversation changed.  We discussed other people's feelings, how our actions affect others, and repentance.  Their apologies began to hold greater meaning.  They are 14-21 now.  When they hurt each other they are often not sorry.  In many circumstances I could still bully them into apologizing.  But I won't.  I will chastise and teach.  And if they are unwilling to try to make up for being hurtful (usually because they aren't ready yet), they won't be allowed to stay in the room with the rest of us.  And maybe I will apologize to the person who was hurt because my child misbehaved.  I won't claim the offender is sorry.  I will say I am sorry for their behavior.  Because I am.  Sometimes they later apologize; sometimes they don't.  But when they do, they mean it.

And sometimes, even after all this, even with a sincere apology, forgiveness doesn't come.  The hurt individual stays angry.  And I am okay with that.

I think a sincere apology stands on its own, with or without forgiveness.  If I offer it with my whole heart, I am more concerned about healing a wrong I have committed than being forgiven.  Sometimes it takes a person a while to heal from a hurt.  If I am getting angry or bitter with them because they aren't accepting my apology as quickly as I think they should, how sincerely concerned was I about hurting them?  If I love them and am truly sorry I hurt them, then I have to step back and allow them the time they need to heal instead of demanding that they get over is so that I feel better.

Too often we don't allow people time to process their feelings as deeply as they need to.  We rush things.  We want to feel better now!  You need to forgive me so I can feel better!

Forgiveness is important and I accept an apology as quickly as I can.  Sometimes that's immediately.  Sometimes it takes time for me to heal.  A few minutes.  A few days.  Sometimes longer.  I appreciate the offer of an apology, but I won't fake healing.  I won't pretend I'm over it when I'm not.  Very few things offend me, but sometimes I am hurt.  Often by a repeat offender.  I won't cheapen myself by quickly saying it's all okay when it's not.  My feelings and pain matter.  If I don't value them, who will?

Doesn't everyone deserve that same freedom?


My post was inspired by this post, by Beth Ann at It's Just Life.  Thanks, Beth, for making me think.


Bonnie Atkinson said...

Amen. Christa and I have talked lately about what constitutes an apology, because her thing is "I'm sorry you're hurt" is NOT an apology. I'm sorry has two meanings, I believe, one being "I apologize" and the other being "I feel bad." Sometimes we do feel bad about a situation, but we aren't apologizing for it. That has happened many times for me as a parent. These words we use and think we each know what the other means - they're challenging.

One of my pet peeves is the apology that's about me. "I'm sorry" my house doesn't look nice or my clothes are smudged and dirty. What? I own my reputation. Apology doesn't give me a free pass when I behave outside what I want you to think about me. Sometimes, as you suggest, the apology is more about me than about my concern for another. That's silly.

Rubye Jack said...

"I'm sorry" is my middle name.
Seriously, it is so nice when someone genuinely apologizes but it doesn't seem to happen very often for me. If I know I was in the wrong I do try to be genuine and say I was wrong and am sorry for it. However, way too often I simply want people to get off my back. Ha.

MaggieJo said...

I apologize a lot because... well... as Bonnie said it "I behave outside what I want you to think about me." Drives me crazy that I do that; I'm working on it. And most of the time when I really do feel sorry and want to apologize I'm too prideful to do it. So there you go, sorry but I'm a loser. haha. ok it wasn't funny. I'm sorry.

Beth Ann said...

What great words you wrote, Robyn!!! It is important to actually be sincere in apologies and to not just throw the "I'm sorry" phrase around lightly!!! You wrote a thought provoking post!! Thanks for the insight!

Bonnie said...

I love you Maggie!

Mothering From Scratch said...

{Melinda} This is so good, Robin! You have a fabulous way of saying things so honestly and forthrightly without coming across as judgmental or holier-than-thou! :) I have been guilty. I no longer force apologies out of my kids, but I do require that when they are ready that they "make amends" for their behavior. And they don't get certain privileges until they do. I think how you talk about motives is so important. A genuine apology has to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His power to do it. Because we are selfish humans -- who are often just looking for the conflict to end, or to relieve our guilt, etc.

Great, thought-provoking stuff, as always!

Stephanie Kneese said...

Well put!

Ugochi said...

Being truly sorry is important, otherwise it means nothing when said. Great post you shred here, so many things to think about.
Happy Saturday Sharefest!

Christine said...

I often feel like people are so quick to apologize as a way to avoid or move quickly from conflict rather than because they are truly sorry. You so right - so important to look at and examine our own motivation for apologizing.

A said...

Great food for thought. Sorry, is often said without sincerity. One of my chiildren would say sorry so much out of habit, if he felt he disappointed anyone less than perfect. I have finally broken him from the habit!

Thanks for stopping by Your Daily Dance!

Lynn said...

Both giving and receiving apologies become gracious acts of kindness when you first forgive yourself.

Good post.

Aleta said...

I once read something that helps me to appreciate and respond very well to apologies.... It's a story and goes something like this...

Imagine you are carrying an empty sack across your back. Every time you get hurt by someone, add a stone to the sack. It starts to get heavier and heavier...

and every time that you forgive someone... you remove the stone from the sack.

Forgiveness is for both individuals.

Lisa said...

The savior of the world. Thank you for your treatment of this wonderful subject.