Why It Can Be Difficult To Apologize

And how we can do better.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I’m sure we all know someone, perhaps multiple people who either aren’t very good at apologizing or avoid doing it all together. Maybe we’ve been that person on occasion. Apologies aren’t always easy because it’s an admission of fault or wrongdoing — or, at least it should be. Sometimes we get and give the “I’m sorry you feel that way but…,” half-apology.

To admit that we may have wounded or mistreated someone requires a humility that not everyone is willing to embrace. It’s an acknowledgment that we may have used poor judgment, exhibited an undesirable characteristic, or that we were reckless with someone’s feelings. So, many avoid apologizing to avoid vulnerability.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all make mistakes. We’re all learning and growing. The key is wanting to improve in this area. Caring enough to address the potential issue is critical.

I’ve come across many different types of non-apologizers. Here are the three most common in my experience:

The Blame-Shifter

This individual may or may not say the words, “I’m sorry,” but it doesn’t matter either way. Their ultimate goal is to reverse-psychology you into feeling as though you’re the one who did something wrong. Imagine telling someone that you feel as though what they did was selfish. The blame-shifter’s response would be along the lines of, “ok maybe it was and I’m sorry, but I did that because you did this.”

They can’t handle being called out, and get defensive. Even if the other person did have a role in the situation, to bring up something they did every time confronted with transgressions makes any apology null and void. We have to be able to own our behavior without needing someone else to feel bad with us.

The Let’s Pretend it Never Happened, Person

This person avoids a discussion on the topic altogether. They don’t even open the door to being in a position where they may need to apologize or face what they might have done wrong. These are your people who let time pass after acting out and then invite you to dinner like nothing happened. They bring home your favorite ice cream and start talking about work instead of addressing their hurtful actions that morning. Brushing things under the rug is their preference.

Often, with this type of non-apologizer, if you try to discuss the issue they’ll grow angry. They may reference how everything was going great until you ruined it, or feign ignorance. Now, dinner or the day was spoiled not because of their actions, but because you brought it up — because you couldn’t just let it go.

The Fake Apology-Giver

In these situations, the person apologizes only to appease. They’re not sorry, don’t mean it, and are only saying the words to shut someone up. Many feel it’s easier to just apologize than discuss the topic or listen to complaints.

The problem here is nothing is ever resolved. The culprit doesn’t understand what they’ve done or how it hurt and offended the other person — so they continue to hurt them. The situation can’t get better because it’s never addressed. Empty apologies are used as pacifiers.

The best apology is changed behavior.

I’ll take atonement over apology any day, though the two go hand-in-hand. The words need to be said, but subsequent action gives them weight. There is a consensus among psychologists as far as the components of an effective apology:

1. Express Remorse

Be specific. For example, “I’m so sorry. It saddens me to hear that my lack of communication has made you so angry.”

2. Admit Your Mistake and the Negative Ramifications

i.e. “I know that it was wrong of me to call you out in front of the kids and that you are angry because I’ve hurt your credibility with them. I’m sure that was embarrassing, and it was a mistake for me to do that to you.”

3. Make Amends

Here’s where you make the apology stick. A pet peeve of mine is when someone gets upset that you brought up an old situation, but they’re still exhibiting the same behavior. If it’s a repeated offense, of course, it will serve as a reminder of those that came before.

To seal the apology, a vital step is to confirm how we’ll fix the situation or do better moving forward so that it doesn’t happen again. This goes a long way toward rebuilding trust and ensuring your apology is accepted.

I could do better, we all could do better with apologies. No one enjoys facing their fallacy or being told that they’ve done something hurtful. Among other things, it’s embarrassing. But apologies, when offered with the sincerity demonstrated through the aforementioned steps are crucial to repairing relationships.

Sometimes all a person wants is their pain acknowledged and for the source to be sorry for having inflicted it upon them. Unfortunately, because accountability is a skill not everyone is comfortable exercising, we may not always get this.

For our healing and peace of mind, we may have to accept apologies we’ve never received.

Author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687069786

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store