There are those times in life when you have to ask yourself ‘what is an apology?’ Maybe it’s because you are apologising for something you don’t mean, maybe it’s because you have never apologised before, or if you are like me, maybe it’s because you find yourself apologising all too often. Sometimes it seems not to even be a daily motion but an hourly one. As if one could not even control their meagre actions for more than 30 minutes at a time and when these things strike you find yourself asking yourself,
“What the Fu*k is going on?!”
If like many others you find yourself apologizing not to the people you don’t like or even the people you have no feelings about, but people you love and care about very deeply, you will be asking yourself this question regularly. Yet we still somehow seem to bombard such people with such constant abuse and problems that we have to throw apologies over and over until, well let’s face it, and apology starts to mean nothing. This is when we meet this point,
“What is an Apology?”
When you have made one so many times to the same people surely it just fades to nothing, or maybe it just gets stronger in your heart, but weaker and diminished in theirs? Most of us wish we knew how apologies worked, how to make them mean something and most of all, how to keep to them. This isn't just a question on what an apology is, it is also a question on how to make one count.
There is a variety of information out there advising us on how to give an effective apology. The popular site MindTools reminds us that an apology is a statement that has two key elements:
- It shows your remorse over your actions.
- It acknowledges the hurt that your actions have caused to someone else.
As will most of the advice on how to apologize they then provide us with a step-by-step process. Theirs includes four somewhat generic steps:
- Express remorse
- Admit responsibility
- Make amends
- Promise that it won’t happen again
MindTools process is somewhat useful but is very much based around the workplace and as such has an emotionally stale nature to it. This also renders it significantly useless for those of us in the situations stipulated at the beginning of this article.
However, when looking for an emotionally deeper process it can get over-complicated by those seemingly wanting to help. In an article in Psychology Today, Dr Harriet Lerner provides us with nine considerably intense steps to create and produce a true apology. One could be forgiven for thinking that some of these ambitious steps overlap each other quite dramatically and could promote the average overthinker to very much over-complicate their apology. The article is useful, but it may be more useable for those practising mindfulness on a regular level.
A lot of the advice equates what is an apology with how an apology is to be implemented. However, several articles do equate what is an apology with why an apology is important. Elizabeth Scott explains why true and honest apologies are important within our intimate relationships. In-depth she asserts the positive outcomes they can be achieved through real apologies, the reasons it can be so hard to produce one and when as well as when it isn’t a good idea to do so. Within all of these sections, she quite bluntly asserts what a real apology consists of; admittance, remorse, acceptance and timing. Furthermore, she states with impunity that:
“An insincere apology can often do more damage than no apology at all “— Elizabeth Scott, MS
“they miss out on key opportunities for relationship repair”
Andy goes in-depth into what an ineffective and insincere apology is and provides with four types of damaging apologies:
- The empty apology
- The excessive apology
- The incomplete apology
- The denial
All of these are well thought out, justified and clearly presented concepts that make a lot of sense. They are extremely helpful for those wishing to work upon their ability to show clear remorse and ask for forgiveness. Therefore I would highly recommend reading the article. However, it’s an explanation towards a different direction than this article is looking.
In a search for a deeper understanding of what an apology should be but with real usability for the average joe one may come across a simple yet effective proposal by Dr Christine Carter. She defines a real, true and honest apology as a process of three stages:
- Share your remorseful feelings.
- Admittance to your mistake & its impact.
- Making the situation right or at least attempting to as much as possible.
This provides us with a user friendly and practical understanding to what an apology is or at least what it should be. It allows us to see the three real parts of what we are trying to achieve, not only through our words but with our actions following. Remorse, admittance and redemption.
However, possibly the best and most similar framework for a real apology that brings with it not only the art of forgiveness from one side but the motivation to follow through with actions on yours is by Jahan Kalantar a solicitor based in Sydney. In his TEDx Talk “A perfect apology in three steps” Kalantar breaks down what all other authors have stated into a simple why-because-and. He reminds us that the skill of apologising is something all of us need and therefore a simple framework is needed. A perfect apology can mean the difference between prison or community service, custody or monitored visitation, a healthy relationship and a messy divorce. Due to the nature of the importance of being able to deliver a sincere apology in an effective manner Kalantar uses his framework with his clients, some of the most vulnerable people in the city
His framework starts by simply looking the person in the eye.
Stating why you are sorry, reinforcing what mistake you are referring to.
Explaining the because that creates your remorse, showing you understand the pain or upset you have caused through your actions.
Finishing with an and, usually this and will include how you will make up for what you did. However, sometimes nothing can be done, but the and can provide options for future redemption.
Personally, after serious searching, this is closest to what an apology is; remorse, acceptance and redemption, but most of all while laying your vulnerability there on the table. Sometimes showing the weakest part of yourself is the strongest thing you can do.