Authentic Apologies 734.2

“I’m sorry.”

These are powerful words. Authentic apologies can work like a healing ointment on old wounds, dissolve bitter grudges, and repair damaged relationships. They encourage both parties to let go of toxic emotions like anger and guilt and provide a fresh foundation of mutual respect.

But authentic apologies involve much more than words expressing sorrow; they require accountability, remorse, and repentance.

An accountable apology involves a sincere acknowledgment that the apologizer did something wrong. “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt” is a fake apology because it accepts no personal responsibility. A better apology is “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” An even better one reveals an understanding of the wrongdoing from the point of view of the person injured and asks for forgiveness. “I’m sorry I called you a bad mother. I was speaking out of anger, and I ask you to forgive me.” Given the natural human tendency to interpret our own words and actions in a manner most favorable to us, it takes great self-awareness to be accountable.

An authentic apology also conveys remorse. It’s easier to forgive persons who have hurt us if we believe they have suffered some pain themselves in the form of regret, sorrow, or shame. Self-inflicted guilt is a form of penance or reparation that clears the road to forgiveness.

Accountability and remorse must also be joined by repentance – recognizing something we did was wrong coupled with a credible commitment to not do it again. Without such a commitment, an apology is hollow. Thus, repetitive apologies for the same conduct are meaningless and often offensive. “I’m sorry” is not a Get Out of Jail Free card that lets people off the hook who repeatedly break promises, get drunk, or say cruel things.

It takes character to both give and accept an authentic apology.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 2

  1. I struggled with forgiveness to someone who thought that “I’m sorry” was all he had to say to be absolved from the same transgressions over and over and over.
    Many years after the relationship had ended, (though there were children involved, he never took responsibility for helping with them), I still struggled. My pastor helped me, explaining the full path of forgiveness begins with the guilty party ACKNOWLEDGING their responsibility and ASKING for forgiveness. Since neither of those acts had occurred, I felt absolved momentarily, but it did continue to weigh me down.
    The subject came up again at another church I attended with friends on occasion. I talked with the pastor afterward, who said, “Forgive him and get on with your life. And then, FORGET! He’s out of your life so there’s no more opportunity for him to hurt you again. And remember the next time, forgiving someone does NOT GIVE THAT PERSON PERMISSION TO ACT IN THE SAME MANNER AGAIN.”

  2. Yes indeed, some apologies are authentic while others are not. Sometimes we tend to give apologies because we have to. Some apologies are ‘for peace to reign’. Those kind of apologies are given when agreement and understanding are not reached. So while i appreciate authentic apologies are appreciated, fake apologies may sometimes become necessary.

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