When is it Right to Apologize?

Updated: Jul 10

Apologies are dualistic, and while necessary, apologies are oftentimes a great source of discomfort. We have all been in a position where something hurtful happened and the need to apologize quickly arose. But, apologies can spill out because another person is upset and maybe even pointing blame. Apologizing can easily become a reflex instead of a genuine action.


Gender roles play a large part in the misuse of apologies. Women apologize more than men because the threshold for what women believe is offensive, is much lower than that of men. “Sorry” oftentimes stands in for assertiveness, and masks declarative and necessary statements.


Apologizing to your BIPOC Friends and Peers


Apologies have become a source of tension and as social justice issues continue to rage, apologies hold different value and can make people bump up against the walls of discomfort. Most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with accepting our own biases, and it is likely you have started to become more aware of your stance on social justice issues. You may have even realized your role in these issues, and feel the immediate urge to apologize for your actions.


Do not make the apology about you. Meeting someone right where they are is a genuine way to apologize. Acknowledging another person's pain is a selfless and powerful act. A genuine apology can help all parties heal, and has the power to change the way you handle your biases.


Take responsibility without explanation. Taking responsibility is an important part of apologizing, but making excuses is not. There is no need for an explanation unless you are asked for one. Intent does not equal impact, and it is important to focus on the impact of your actions.


Focus on "I" statements. When you move away from "I" statements defensiveness starts to take precedence in conversation. Apologies are not always easy, but they are necessary. Acknowledgment and validation are invaluable.


What Makes an Apology Manipulative?


Pacifying someone else's anger can indicate that you are using your apology to quell someone's frustrations instead of expressing regret for how you have hurt them.


Disapproval can also steer apologies away from being genuine. Avoiding disapproval and being forced to apologize is not the right reason to apologize.


Furthermore, when you apologize constantly for something you have no motivation to quit, apologies lose their value. Sometimes getting help can help you get to the bottom of your problems, and help you understand how powerful apologies can actually be.


Remember, apologies do not get you off the hook.


Observing how apologizing makes you physically feel can help you to know if your apologies are genuine or manipulative. If your apology leaves you with even the slightest feeling of unease anywhere in your body, your apology may be coming from an inauthentic space. A genuine apology will leave you feeling free.


Are You Apologizing Because of Fear, or Remorse?


An apology does not have to come at the moment someone else might be “expecting” it. An apology should come from reflection and the genuine understanding that you have done something wrong. You are not responsible for other people’s past hurts, and an apology should never be forced. We are each responsible for our own self-work and healing. You will always know in your heart if you have done something hurtful. Genuine apologies are healing to all parties involved.


Apologizing is a great practice in being vulnerable. Apologies build respect and trust. Your apology is your first step in moving forward. Your integrity will shine and relief will start to enter the moment you genuinely apologize. We are here to evolve.


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© 2020 by Markesha Miller, Ph.D.