Apologies go a long way

Two weeks ago, commuting by bus, a woman in her late 60s placed her two heavy-looking bags on the seat in front of me and remained standing. I moved to the window seat and motioned her to the one I just vacated. She declined thankfully and explained politely that her back hurt and couldn’t sit down.

The next 25 minutes were like being in a cinema watching a terrible community drama. With full of emotion, she narrated how her daughter’s motorcycle accident caused their family un-describable pain and hardship. Her daughter was only 17 years old (this was nearly 20 years ago) and went for a motorcycle ride with a male friend of her age in the countryside not far from their home. The driver took off leaving her on the ground bleeding and bruised. She got home by crawling and limping, and stayed in the hospital for several months. This devoted mum said with watery eyes «If that coward didn’t leave her alone and she had medical attention right away, she would have recovered earlier and better.”

I asked her what happened to that “male friend”. “He now has a good job and in a relationship, but my daughter lives with me because she can’t look after herself. I wish I had brought them to court; but at that time, I was just glad she’s alive. I did admonish him saying that if she had died, I’d have killed him.”

Did he apologise? No… “Of course not.”

Why didn’t he? How about his parents? Why didn’t they apologise or talk him into doing it?

Apology goes a long way, and there are many ways to show you’re sorry.

According to Dr Guy Winch, saying “I’m sorry” has psychological ramifications and elicits fundamental fears, either conscious or unconscious, that non-apologists desperately want to avoid. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201305/5-reasons%20-why-some-people-will-never-say-sorry seen on 30/11/17).

Dr Winch further explained that:
* Those who don’t apologise (non-apologists) have trouble separating their actions from their character; so when they did something bad, they must be bad people. Then, if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid. As such, apologising is a threat to their identity and self-esteem.
* Apologising might cause guilt and shame, and the latter is a more toxic emotion than the former. Non-apologists worry that their apology will lead to more accusations and conflict. They worry that by apologising they would assume full responsibility and relieve the other person of culpability. “If arguing with a spouse, for example, they might fear an apology would exempt the spouse from taking any blame for a disagreement, despite the fact that each member of a couple has at least some responsibility in most arguments,” Dr Winch said.
* Non-apologists are often comfortable with anger, irritability and emotional distance, but they are threatened by emotional closeness and vulnerability. Contrary to their assumption, however, opening up is “often incredibly therapeutic and empowering, and it can lead them to experience far deeper emotional closeness and trust toward the other person, significantly deepening their relationship,” Dr Winch added.

I’ve seen and heard how a simple “I’m sorry” had prevented a quarrel, mended a broken relationship, got rid of sorrow and pain, helped someone move on, and improved exchanges. As a parent, saying sorry is a good example for our children, and this has a far-reaching social implication.

Saying sorry is a strength and not a weakness, and a necessary interpersonal skill. A failed or undelivered apology hampers forgiveness and can cause long-term grudges (and even vengeance).

The holiday season has arrived and the year 2017 is nearly over. I wish you and your loved ones safe and joyful celebrations, and may you will have peace, good and happiness throughout 2018.

Cheers!

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