Saying “I’m sorry” is a social convention we are taught from the earliest days of our lives. One of the first lessons we learn when we make a mistake is to apologize. It’s not just something for children, though. It is integral across all ages and at all levels in life. Major lawsuits are settled with an apology or broken when one isn’t offered. Marriages succeed and fail based on spouses ability to apologize. Given that it is such an important part of our world, what is it exactly that an apology is or does? Let’s delve in a little.
When we apologize it shows three things. 1) You are important. Apologizing implicitly says, “I care about you.” A person who apologizes has to take time to reflect and discuss their mistake. We do this when we care or appreciate a person. 2) Apologies demonstrate awareness that people make mistakes. When people are willing to apologize, they show that they understand they can make mistakes and so can you. Even so, they feel people, including themselves, are worth being in relationships with. (Of course, there are people who feel apologizing is a show of weakness, but these folks tend to struggle with trust!) 3) Apologies acknowledge you hurt someone. Apologies validate another person’s experience of being mistreated and promises to avoid doing so again in the future. Taken together, these efforts build more trust for the person apologizing, which brings us closer and helps relationships endure.
Improves the health of others:
A genuine apology can be like a salve for the soul. When we validate another person’s hurt feelings we release calming hormones into their system, which allows them to relax and recover their health. As they consider the apology, they can more easily let go of anger that tears down their immune system and ages them faster. This also helps them more easily forgive, letting go of resentment and moving forward with their lives. If the apology leads to repair, such positive relationships result in more fulfilling experiences, a better outlook on life, and longer lifespans.
Helps us grow:
Apologies play an important role in personal growth and development. Reflecting on our mistakes and successes is how we adapt and evolve as individuals. Apologizing for our mistakes allows others to join us in our growth.
Fosters stability in our community:
Imagine causing a car accident without paying restitution. What would happen to our community if nobody paid restitution for car accidents? Apologies are the emotional equivalent of restitution. It allows us to regain balance and make amends in our communities.
As an aside: Children of abuse often grow up in worlds where apologies are not provided for mistakes. Because of this they have more difficulty forming stable adult relationships. They often struggle with anger and trust and may live shorter lives with more chronic illnesses. Many find help along the way, but they must struggle to get healthy.
If you struggle making or accepting apologies and want to learn more, this is an ideal subject to talk about with your counselor. Apologies are an important part of mending and emotional recovery. Learning how to give and receive apologies is not easy, so don’t be upset if you feel you struggle with them.