The words “I’m sorry” can be tough ones. We all make mistakes. We all do things wrong. We all live a life during which we are growing, but we all make missteps. That said, it is about you handle them. Is sorry a tough one for you? I think it’s a tough one for anybody, but the more you practice it, the easier it gets.
Let’s break this down for a minute – there are three steps to apologizing, all of which you have to acknowledge if you are going to make things “right.” The first is saying, “I’m sorry.” The second is really, truly owning it. You are sorry without excuses, without a “but,” and without anything further. Own that you made the mistake and let the person know that you are being absolutely genuine. The third is the one that people tend to have the hardest part with (all of us!), and that is to make the change. If you say you’re sorry and you own it, but then continue the behavior in the future, that apology has not only lost all meaning, but you’ve now lost trust. You can’t trust a person who apologizes, but continues the behavior time after time. All that has happened is that you’ve proven you’re not reliable or trustworthy.
I have made many mistakes in my life – some more serious than others – but I try really hard to be an open, genuine person. What you see with me really is what you get (for better or for worse!). If I make a mistake (and there have been many!), it is very important to me that I express my apologies and do better next time. As I sit here trying to think of a good example, one specific incident comes to mind. It may not sound like a big thing (or perhaps it will), but it was a very big deal to me.
Just over two years ago, my son had to complete a project for school. He was eight at the time, and the last thing he has ever wanted to do was a project. He would be happy to write something up in Google Docs or do some research (if you pushed), but putting together a board is torture for him. My husband and I both know this, so we have always taken the team approach: I’m in charge of encouraging and helping with the board/printables/design and my husband is in charge of encouraging and helping with the research/paper.
On this particular Sunday, my son and I had been working all weekend on putting his board together. I call myself his “sous-hands” and do whatever he asks me to do in terms of cutting and shaping and aligning things, but he is in charge. After dragging his feet all weekend and with the board due the next day, I had to go make dinner. We came up with a design for where everything should be placed on the board and he said that he would glue/tape it all down while I was in the kitchen. Excellent. About half an hour later I walked into the living room and he had arranged everything in a different, much straighter manner than we’d planned. He was very excited that he was almost done and as I looked at the board, my frazzled reaction was a disappointed, “Duuuuddde!” His eyes fell, and my heart broke. I realized in that instant that – first, this was not my project, it was his. Second, how dare I – because the alignment didn’t matter. And third, he was finally happy and feeling accomplished – and I’d just ruined it.
That was a very critical lesson for me. I have always tried to give my kids their own space and make them feel safe. To give them the freedom to discuss anything – happy, sad, fearful or full of wonder – and here I was closing the door a tiny bit. I had made him feel that I was disappointed in him when he did exactly what we had talked about. I apologized to him almost immediately, but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t enough. That night when I was putting him to bed, I apologized again. I told him that I was sorry and why I was sorry. He told me that it was okay, and I told him that no, it really wasn’t. But that I would do better and that I was truly sorry I’d hurt his feelings.
My son may not remember that conversation anymore, but I hope that it made an impact on him. It has absolutely had a huge impact on me. I know that he has forgiven me, but more than anything, I hope that it was an example of it being okay to say we’re sorry when we are wrong. Because that is genuinely all anybody wants: to have their pain acknowledged and validated. Once we know that someone feels and honors our pain, we can let the healing begin. If you never feel understood, the pain just festers and grows.
Are there things that you’ve held onto over the years? Things that have come between your relationships? It really is never too late to say I’m sorry. If something is eating away at you, it is likely eating away at the other person as well. Do yourself a favor and own it. How they react is not your problem. Putting that energy into the universe and really meaning it is the only power you have over the situation. It may help to heal them, but it will definitely help to heal you.