Why is it so hard to say ‘I’m sorry’? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

An apology is an admission or acknowledgement of wrongdoing. To apologize is a decision to admit our error and try to make things right, or at the very least, make amends for our misstep. When is an apology in order? Whenever we inflict pain on someone.

But as the song goes, “sorry” seems to be the hardest word.

Many of us seem oblivious of the wrong we do, and are aware only of what hurts us, and who owes us an apology. Even when we know we have goofed, we still try to turn the story around, make excuses, and even cover up.

Why is it so gut-wrenching to admit we are at fault? Pride is the monster barrier.  It fills us with an arrogant smug attitude that we are always right and that the other party is dead wrong.

My niece asks: “Is there such a thing as a gentle non-threatening confrontation?” She believes more people would then come out to set things straight. But must we wait so long?

At this stage of my life, I still regret the times I should have apologized to friends and family but didn’t. I thought there would be plenty of time.  It’s too late now.

First on my list would be my parents.  It still breaks my heart to think they waited night after night for me to knock on their door to say I was sorry. But I was tired of their sermons; always the same old lectures that ended with, “We do this because we love you.”

How dull and boring it all seemed then.  And although mama and I became the best of friends, I wasted many opportunities to make things better.  When I figured it out, she was gone. I missed it.

Papa’s patience never wavered.  He waited.

Gentle confrontation

It took many years before I had the courage to stand before him, ready to listen to whatever he had to say.  Letters had been easy to write. But to come face to face with the person I thought would be my judge and jury was terrifying.

How wrong I was. If ever there was a gentle confrontation, this was it. It was the most unbelievable manifestation of love.

Today I do the waiting. And if the time ever comes, my words will very probably be the same as the ones I once tried to avoid.  And I wait. But I still haven’t heard a knock on my door.

Even in the best of relationships, there are times we risk losing that special someone because we refuse to admit that we are wrong.  Why is it so important to be right?

Again, it has taken me all these years to realize that being right isn’t all that great after all; that what matters most are relationships saved, and bonds restored.

“I’m not confrontational,” my friend says. “So, I just apologize and life goes on.” But is that the purpose of an apology? Saying “I’m sorry” is just not enough.  You must say what you are sorry about. What did you do?

True remorse, they say, is not just regret over the consequences of your actions; it is regret over your motives.

I know a woman, now in the twilight of her life, who has yet to hear “I’m sorry” from the man who walked out on her two decades ago.  He has offered no explanation, no remorse, nothing.

When asked if he apologizes to his children, another young father says, “I have said sorry to my sons, many times.  But I haven’t heard that word from them, not since they were in grade school.”

Another dad says, “I think being a parent comes with this ‘parental pride clause’ that prevents us from apologizing to our children. We just find ways of showing them we are sorry. However, when our children hurt us by doing what in our eyes is wrong, we can only hope and pray that they will apologize.”

I fear that parental remorse, especially in broken families, may mean the indulging and spoiling of the children, at whatever age. Parenting from a sense of guilt can have tragic consequences.

When our children are little, we nag them to “say sorry!” But do we teach them how? I can still hear my poor little 3-year-old twin daughter, asking, after several sessions on time-out for not apologizing, “Que es ‘pologize?”

Reaping and sowing

We all make mistakes with our children. We must remember that our words and actions have the power to wound and destroy.  Sarcasm is the most destructive weapon in our arsenal.  Let us be reminded about reaping and sowing.  Our sarcastic remarks today will come back to us as their “disrespect” in the future.

Apologizing to our children lifts their self-esteem.  But we must feel their pain and speak from the heart.  Admitting our mistakes does not undermine our authority as parents.

Who should apologize? Anyone who has offended a friend, neighbor, parent, child, sibling must ask to be forgiven. In a real love relationship, you don’t have to be at fault to be the one who says “I’m sorry.”

A careless and casual apology is not enough. It is like sweeping problems under the rug. Many of us are clueless as to how to make things right again. There is a coward in each  of us telling us to flee rather than confront.

In any relationship, it takes humility to acknowledge wrongdoing. How should we apologize? We must do it face to face and heart to heart.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

It’s not enough to say “my bad” and then shrug your shoulders.  Be sincere. Don’t bring back past mistakes. A non-apology is worse than no apology at all. You must say what you are sorry about. What did you do? Say it! Otherwise all your words will be empty.

Do not lay blame on anyone else. It is yours, all yours. Don’t be defensive or accusative. Listen. Do not justify your mistake. Speak about it and show your sorrow.

And here is the hardest part: An apology carries  a promise not to do it again. Do not be too proud to ask for forgiveness. You may need to beg.

In time, the pain may go away.  Resentments will fade. But some wounds are impossible to expunge completely.  There will be scars. We may be able to restore the relationship, but we will always know where it was patched.