Saying You're Sorry? How, Is What Matters

Several years ago I wrote a piece on forgiveness (it won a statewide first place award, but anyway), and now a new study says how you say you're sorry is the most important part of it.

It used to be hard to say I'm sorry.  I would do anything to avoid it.  But now it comes a lot more naturally.  Maybe it's because I have to say it just about all the time?  Hope not.  But when I had a child, I found myself saying it a lot.  After screaming at him about bringing his dishes into the kitchen  because I was tired (like last night).  Or when I accused him of misplacing the remote, then found I was the one who did it.  Or especially, when I take out my day's frustrations on him.

I've found a really neat thing happens, when I do it, though.  I feel peace.  

But the study hammers home the point that the way you apologize is key.

According to the study, the reason saying it the right way works so well is that the the apology makes the transgressor seem more valuable as a relationship partner, and also helps the victim feel less at risk of getting hurt again, according to a story at

For the study almost 400 young men and women completed questionnaires and took part in short interviews about the transgression they had experienced and their feelings toward the person who had wronged them, prepared a short speech about the situation and completed a 21-day online survey to measure their forgiveness levels.  Guess what?  The forgiveness they felt was directly proportional to the extent and sincerity of the apologies. In other words, the more heartfelt it was, the more likely you were to be forgiven.

It's kind of like falling on your sword.  You have to get very vulnerable yourself -- you have to connect with the part of you that may feel very damaged by having to do this, or that you are damaged because you have to do it.  I know, for me, it sometimes takes me back to a place where I feel inferior and ashamed, a place I don't like to go.

But somehow -- maybe from getting to know myself better, and yes, having a child around to remind me  -- it's gotten easier to say I'm sorry.

There are still some people I find it hard to say it to, like my husband (especially when he's right about something!).  But I've learned to take a deep breath and say "sorry" to him, too, and, big surprise.  It's helped our marriage.

I guess the hard part about apologizing is admitting that you did something wrong.  And for those of us, who, as children, were constantly told that we did, it may bring us right back to the hurt and shame of those times.  

Maybe it all gets back to learning to like yourself, no matter how many mistakes you make.  This week Phillip and I had an appointment at a consultant's home.  I left the directions -- and my phone -- home and we got hopelessly lost.  I was furious.  "How could I be so stupid?" I said over and over in the car as we just went back home.

Finally my son said, "Mom, you didn't mean to do it.  We'll call her when we get home and go tomorrow."

And I forgave myself.


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