October 22, 2016

When his Apology is an Un-Apology & we’re left Hurting.

Stephen Brace/Flickr

“Apologizing is an honorable first step in the journey toward healing.  It is a sacred act and the person making the apology is a critical part of that act.” ~ Kimberly Russell, M.A., M.S. ed.


This is the election of the great apologies.

Or perhaps I should say the great “un-apologies.

We all recognize them, those “un-apologies.” We’ve had them from people in our personal lives, and we’ve had them from public figures.

They are full of—well, full of insincerity.

“Lots of “I” statements that aren’t “I’m sorry” or “I hear you.”

The word “if,” as in, “if you were offended.”

Deflection of blame.

Excuses centering on the apologizer, such as “I was hurt and lashed out.”

The apologizer’s desired outcome: “I hope we can all move on.”

A change of subject following the apology.” ~ Jelena Woehr

I was once involved with a man who was very good at the un-apology.

There was the, “I’m sorry but it wasn’t my fault un-apology. The, “I’m sorry but I didn’t know it would hurt you” un-apology and oh yeah, the great, “I’m sorry you caught me fooling around with a woman in the office” un-apology.

Worst of all perhaps, was the ubiquitous “I’m sorry, but you know I love you,” un-apology.

“You know what?” I said to Mr. I’m Sorry, “You say you’re sorry and then go right ahead and do it again.”

It was as if to him, “I’m sorry” were magic words that would make things disappear like they never happened.

I was always left, however, with a gnawing unfinished feeling. It was as if by him merely uttering “I’m sorry,” I had tacitly approved of—or even been willing to forget—what he had done, and we could now both go on our merry ways.

“I don’t accept your apology,” I told him finally.

“Why not?” he had demanded to know.

“Because when you say you’re sorry, you’re merely telling me something about you. You’re not addressing what it was like for me when I learned what you had done.”

Personally, whether he was sorry or not didn’t matter to me.

Here’s what did matter to me:

1. That he truly he felt repentance and recognized that what he had done was wrong and hurtful to me

2. That he radically owned what he had done as his own behavior without blaming it on me or on anyone/anything else.

3. That he made a vow to not do it again; and

4. That he did something to show his sincerity in wanting to mend the bridge he had broken.

Woehr brilliantly writes that:

“An apology is not meant for damage control, but is supposed to lead to the awareness that [the person making it wants to] become the sort of person who wouldn’t do this kind of thing again.”

Needless to say, the un-apology is rampant.

Here is what Woehr describes as “the least repentant man alive releas[ing] the least genuine apology ever,” Donald Trump’s sorry-not-sorry message to America.

We are all human.  We all make mistakes and we all hurt other people—even me, and even you.

Imagine for a moment that we all viewed an apology as a “serious, deep process meant to lead to self-improvement.”

Imagine if we viewed it not as damage control, but as a means by which to mend the bridge that we had burned by our behavior.

Here’s what such an apology would consist of:

“Confession of  what you did wrong, in detail, to yourself before you confess to another.

Apologizing to those you harmed, without asking for forgiveness.

Making an attempt to repair the damage.

Taking  material steps to become a person who won’t do it again.

Seeking forgiveness from the specific individuals who were harmed or hurt.” ~ Woehr

In the end, I have learned that I cannot change the un-apology damage control people of the world. If they do not see the benefits of a true apology—how it reconnects broken connections, how it enlarges the heart or how it teaches empathy—there is nothing I can do about it.

Such a person will have to find their lessons in life on their own.

In the meantime, however, I myself can practice the true apology and reap the benefits it provides—and so can you.


Author: Carmelene Siani

Image: Stephen Brace/Flickr

Editor: Toby Israel


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