Be careful of I’m sorry

Two words: I apologize.

Three words: I am sorry.

Whatever shape an apology might take, it is difficult to give one and perhaps even more difficult to accept. 

We have all been in situations where we have had to apologize and most times they don’t come easy. It’s one thing to be wrong, and a whole other thing to be wrong and admit - to the person you’ve wronged - that you are wrong. It takes guts to apologize, but just saying "sorry" doesn't excuse your behaviour. Apologizing doesn't change anything unless it is followed by action to repair the relationship.

If you punch somebody and then say sorry, it doesn't change the fact that you punched them. That pain and betrayal they felt after being punched doesn't just disappear when you apologize. Working consistently to repair the relationship after you've said sorry can slowly chip away the pain and hurt.

Forgiveness is a process, it’s not instant.

When you’re wrong you have to do some introspection to realize what you may have said or done affected the recipient in ways you did not intend. Instead of dismissing their feelings; you have to try to see it from their perspective. 

And when you are the one who has been wronged people love to tell you to "forgive and forget”; but our bodies quite literally don't forgot trauma so it can defend us better in the future. So why would we deliberately want to hurt ourselves by forgetting our pain? Do we want to be an emotional punching bag? We deserve better.

We need to be careful of empty apologies, because they just allow people to continue hurting us. Dr. Judith Eve Lipton outlines in this article what she calls the forgiveness protocol. It is a ten-step process (or cycle) of apologizing and affirming that the behaviour won’t happen again. 

1. Say you are sorry.

2. Make an inventory of how your behaviour might have hurt or harmed someone. Ask that person if the list is complete, and correct your list to reflect a complete account of the costs of your behaviour.

3. Say you are sorry again. Be prepared to say this many times.

4. Tell the other person exactly how you understand the costs of your behaviour, and allow the other person to vent, elaborate, or reiterate as needed so that the other person really feels heard.

5. Clarify with the other person if the behaviour was a simple accident, a mistake, a mistaken calculation of costs and benefits, or a deliberate deed. This part is not easy and takes time and attention. "Thoughtlessness" is one of the most common sources of problems, and may reflect recurrent self-centeredness. Intentional acts of revenge or malice also require great insight to acknowledge.

6. Humbly ask forgiveness. Describe your inner state of guilt, remorse, sadness, grief, anger or whatever.

7. Describe what you have learned from the incident. Show insight and awareness, or yourself and your mistake, and the other person and his/her pain.

8. List what you will do or change to avoid a repetition of the incident.

9. Clarify what penalties to expect if you make a mistake, or transgress again. Discuss what each of you will do to avoid a repetition.

10. Say you are sorry, yet again.

And she ends with this: 

Too many people believe that simply saying sorry one time should suffice, if we have hurt somebody's feelings. However, the legal code is more clear: if you hurt somebody's car, you have to pay the damages. It can be difficult to itemize emotional costs, but to heal, it must be done. In effect, the Forgiveness Protocol offloads the pain and suffering of a victim back onto the perpetrator, by making the perpetrator humble, thoughtful, and indebted, in other words, subordinated, with a need to pay back the injury with considerable amends.

So, be careful of empty apologies.