Personal Growth

Why Saying "I'm Sorry" Isn't Enough

By Denise O’Doherty

Have you ever had trouble letting go and moving on when another apologizes? When another learns they have offended you or hurt your feelings, then say, “I’m sorry,” what gets in the way of being able to let it go? If you have trouble forgiving another, chances are that you don't feel the person apologizing has a clue of how much the offense hurt you. Listen to what you are thinking and feeling. Maybe you are thinking, "What are you sorry for? That I got hurt and angry or because you really feel remorse and believe you have done something wrong?"

For example: Let's say, a good friend spoke about your mother's alcoholism at a cocktail party last night to people that did not know she was alcoholic and you were not around to hear the conversation. Later, someone told you what your friend had said. You were embarrassed since this is personal information that only you should be giving, if it is to be said at all. You later confront your friend who responds with "I'm Sorry". You say "no problem" and walk away. But is it over? No. There is a problem. There is now a trust issue between you and your friend. You do not know why this happened or if it will happen again. You're not really sure what he is apologizing for, because he said something personal, because you found out, because he just wants to appease you and move on?

It is common in couples’ therapy for a person to make a complaint about their partner for something that happened years ago. It is often met by, "I have apologized for that 100 times, what else do you want me to do?" The offender is frustrated and feels angry the partner keeps punishing them with bringing up something that happened years ago.

It has become clear to me why some people can't let go of the hurt, even if they know their friend or partner cares about them. For many people, "I'm sorry," isn't enough. Why? Because it doesn't convey the depth of understanding that what was done was hurtful. "I'm sorry" does not express that the offender knows why their behavior was hurtful or harmful. The solution is to make amends, to show regret about the wounding effect of the words or actions that hurt the other.

Take the above example of the friend inappropriately talking about your mother’s alcoholism. Here is a response that goes deeper than just saying sorry. Imagine what it would feel like to hear, "Hey listen. I'm so sorry for even mentioning your mother's alcoholism at the party. I realize now, after thinking about it, that her drinking is a private and personal issue and I had no right to bring it up. I crossed a boundary. I am embarrassed and have much remorse. We have been friends for so long and you are so important to me. I can't believe I did that. It wasn't fair to you, to your mother or to myself. You can be sure it will never happen again. I hope and want you to forgive me because our friendship is very important to me. I have much respect for you and will be much more careful to act in a way that expresses that in the future."

With this response, many would be more likely to forgive and move on. It feels like the person "got it." We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. But with this response, one feels that trust can be restored again. The important thing is once we make a mistake and are truly sorry, we make strong agreements with self to not make the same mistake again. This builds the trust that we've tried to establish.

When we make amends we need to be clear about what we're apologizing for and to express our understanding of how our behavior was hurtful to the other. What we're really doing with our amends is taking responsibility for our behavior. Our apology could imply to ourselves that we're now going to commit to changing our behavior to reflect our values, beliefs, and integrity which we may have temporarily compromised by our behavior. It's important to be open to making amends. The process of making amends, keeps us at peace with ourselves and others. 

 

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