A Simple Sorry Will Do

“I’m Sorry”

The words aren’t exactly difficult to pronounce. They’re not complicated. In fact, next to “I love you” it’s probably the most important sentence in the English language. So what makes it so difficult for some people to say?

Through the years I’ve come to recognize several different avoidance tactics… Maybe you’ll recognize them too.

The first, and probably most popular, avoidance tactic is the guilt purchase in lieu of an apology. This is my mother’s go to technique. An example? How’s this…

Back when I was in high school my mom accused me of going on birth control without her permission. She was furious. She wanted to know where I’d managed to go to get on the pill and didn’t believe me when I told her I wasn’t. She swore up and down that I was having sex and swore that if I got pregnant, she’d disown me (yeah, that part I know she was exaggerating about…she’d never do that to me). It didn’t matter how many times I tried to defend my innocence. She was sure I was lying. Well, until my sister came into the room, grabbed the packet of pills she was waving around in my face and told her that they were her cleaning enzymes for her contacts.

You know teenagers…we feel things intensely. To say I was furious and wounded would be a mild understatement…especially when my sister vindicated me. I wanted an apology! So, I did what any loudmouth teenage daughter would do. I gave her the silent treatment. Hey, I’m not stupid. I knew she’d realize quickly that I was mad and hurt.

That evening, while I lay on my bed reading a book, she popped her head into my bedroom.

Mom: (Tosses cool black leather and silver metal barrette on the bed next to me) Hey Kitt. I went shopping today and bought this for you.
Me: (Head comes up from my book to look at her. Glares at her because I realized she didn’t apologize and feeling as though she’s trying to buy me off…because she is. Looks back down at the book. Not a word said.)
Mom: (Pretending nothing’s wrong) Do you like it?
Me: (Looks back at her, one eyebrow raised & shake my head as I look away again)

She finally walked away. I was determined not to accept the blackmail or her non-apology. After several hours of silence, she finally broke. She flounced into my room (yes, moms can flounce, too) and said. “Fine, I’m sorry. Okay?”

I looked up and smiled and said “Thank you.”

I won’t lie…I grabbed that hair clip and kept it after she gave her apology. No sense in letting it go to waste… And to be fair, I know my situation is not the norm…many people will just continue on with their business and never say the words.

The second avoidance tactic is the “Sounds like an apology non-apology”.

There was a guy I used to manage with. He was so proud of his “faux-pology” skills. He used to use it on customers a lot. An example?

A customer was frustrated with her treatment by one of his employees. She felt the employee misled her on her plan and how returns worked.

Him: I’m sorry you didn’t listen to your rep about the return policy.

or

Him: I’m sorry you didn’t think to read the fine print.

or

Him: I’m sorry you waited until two weeks later to tell me about how your rep treated you, now that you’re outside your return policy and my hands are tied.

As you can see…none of these things were real apologies. Nothing to validate their feelings.

All I could think was…would it have been so hard to tell the customer “I can only imagine how frustrated you’re feeling right now. I’m sorry you were made to feel unimportant. We value your business. Why don’t we take a look at this together and see what options and alternatives we can come up with”?

Somehow I doubt his customers were pleased with their service….or stayed very long.

The third avoidance tactic is where you tell someone that you love them, but never that you’re sorry. This is used most often on family. It’s very similar to #1, except that instead of blackmail with something of monetary value, you resort to twisting up emotions.

For example, you embarrass your significant other…maybe you lose your temper and yell at him/her in front of other people. Your partner is hurt and walks away. After you cool down you realize you might have overreacted. Instead of an apology, you seek him/her out and tell them “I love you”.

Courtesy of sweetstuffcalledlove.tumblr.com

Courtesy of sweetstuffcalledlove.tumblr.com

Two words. Two simple words… So why are they so hard for some people to say? How can accepting responsibility for injured feelings or poorly chosen words be so hard for some people? The funny thing is, many of these folks are sorry. They feel remorse for their careless/thoughtless actions…but they just can’t say it! Granted, there are those who refuse to apologize simply because they’re narcissistic enough to believe they’re never wrong…but usually that kind of arrogance spills over into every other aspect of their personality, making it a trait that’s fairly easy to recognize.

One thing I’ve learned…with love, there’s no room for foolish pride. Someone who loves you won’t take an admission of wrongdoing as an opportunity to browbeat you and hold it over your head. They recognize your willingness to humble yourself in front of them as a gift…and it strengthens your love and makes it easier to let go of hurts and move forward together.

When it’s left unsaid, resentments fester. Doubt creeps in. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of appreciation become so strong. All the good becomes overpowered by memories of every hurt and each slight. Yes, withholding the “I’m sorries” in my opinion, are just as dangerous as never saying “I love you”.

Before you ask… Yes, I’m well aware that there are also those people who overuse I’m sorry, but never mean it. But those people…their actions speak so loudly that they make it easy to walk away. The other ones, though…they devastate. You want to fight for your relationship. You try to fight. But after a while the battle feels one sided and you wonder if you’re the only one bothering. You begin to wonder WHY you try.

The words may be scary to say…especially if you’re the person who’s always held it back. But if you put yourself on that limb. Say the word. The rewards are so much bigger your fears. You’d be amazed at the difference it can make. Try it! I promise it won’t kill you.

What are your experiences with “I’m Sorry”? Which of these non-apologies do you see most frequently? Have you seen other avoidance techniques that we should be on the lookout for? Have you been the victim of this kind of hurt? How did it impact you?

In the meantime…I thought I’d share a little Elton John….

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34 thoughts on “A Simple Sorry Will Do

  1. prewitt1970 says:

    Kitt, this was a great post, I know for me it’s one of the hardest things to recognize when I need to apologize or sometime what I’m apologizing for. I think the part that say it doesn’t mean your wrong, has huge value. For me it does . Thanks for the wisdom.
    Benjamin

  2. Gloria Richard Author says:

    I am the one who apologizes profusely when I’ve done something wrong. Why? It’s the caretaker in me. It’s the five biological sisters and many sisters-of-the-heart. I sense when something isn’t right between us, and often don’t know why. For me? The best approach is to say something like, “It may be my imagination, but it seems I’ve done something to hurt you. I never want to lose your love. You’re too important to me. Just know that I’m sorry for whatever I might have done — my mouth sometimes moves when it shouldn’t. I’m here to talk about it if that helps.”

    She either opens up and discusses, or I learn there’s something going on in her life that has her out-of-sorts.

    My biological sisters? Four of them are currently engaged in a who-is-speaking-with-whom, and who-owes-who an apology. Drives me nuts! We’re sisters! Kiss and make up! [That’s what Dad used to make us do when we were little.]

    My husband? I may be guilty of your co-workers tactics. I’m a blue sky kind of gal. His picture is used on Wikipedia’s “pessimist” page. Metaphorically, he pulls storm clouds over my shiny, bright sky. I often tell him, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I truly wish you could be happy.”

    It’s true. I do wish him peace and happiness. I used to go bonkers trying to talk him ’round. I know he has to verbalize his fears to someone. I just wish he’d have those chats with his dog. Me? I’ve had to embrace that I own my mood. He owns his. God did not die and put me in charge.

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Aw, Gloria… You truly are sweet. When something is “off” between my friends and me, I’m likely to say “What’s wrong? Did I say or do something that hurt your feelings? I’m sorry. I would never want to deliberately do something to hurt you. Please tell me what I did so that I can fix it.”

      That usually opens the lines of communication, too…. And I try never to push that trigger again. If they won’t discuss it, there’s not much I can do to avoid repetition….and if their friendship is so conditional that they’re unable to forgive one honest mistake, I move on. I feel bad, but I move on. Love and friendship should not feel like a constant high wire act where you’re constantly afraid of taking a wrong step.

      Siblings…ugh. It’s complicated when we get angry with each other. I’m grateful every day for the relationship I have with mine, but I see a lot of what you mentioned.

      Somehow I doubt your apologies to your husband were in the same spirit as his where he was basically saying “I’m sorry you’re an idiot”. I sense yours were more of the “I’m sorry you feel that way and I know nothing I say can fix it” variety.

  3. Tana Bevan says:

    *Chuckles thinking how much practice she’s had apologizing* LOTS of practice! Sincere, heartfelt apologies. When graciously accepted I am thrilled. When not, I accept the consequences of my actions and move on, a little sadder, a little wiser.

    Regardless of the outcome, there is a second step to apologizing — forgiveness. Forgiving oneself for the action prompting the apology. As one who’s struggled with forgiveness of self, I can see this being a deterrent to apologizing (even if on an unconscious level).

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      That’s a very astute point. If one has been unable to forgive themselves for their actions, it could definitely make asking forgiveness from someone else very difficult. Of course, sometimes, gaining forgiveness from those you’ve wronged can also help you begin to forgive yourself. Talk about complex.

  4. blowingoffsteamandmore says:

    Love this! It took me a long time to admit when I am wrong and an even longer time to actually apologize, then an even longer time to apologize when I know I am right! Truth be told, my relationships really ARE more important than my pride. Sorry goes a long way!

  5. lauraloudon says:

    One thing I pride myself on is always saying I’m sorry when I’m wrong, or even when I’m not and I know that something might have just been bad timing. I’ve had all sorts of non-apology apologies shot at me too. But mostly I see the avoidance tactic 🙂

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      That’s awesome. Apologies, especially when I was technically right was something I had to learn. Once I understood the value of an honest, sincere apology…and the impact my language & actions could create, it got easier.

  6. August McLaughlin says:

    I can so relate to that teen-hood story, Kitt. It’s tough to beat sincere apologies – same for forgiveness. I dig what you said about there being no room for foolish pride in love. Amen, sister!

  7. Professor Taboo says:

    Mmm, the over-sized ego and pride; something I’m fortunately keeping in-check most of the time. Emphasis on “most”. The Apologizing poster said it perfectly. I’ve learned the hard way that I do better, well…actually I NEED someone who can put MY (temporary) feelings aside, and put my ego in-check when it needs it.

    Grrrrr, but I also have to do most of the work myself too. *mumbles cuss words* 😉

  8. Emma says:

    They’re difficult words to say. Admitting you were wrong and swallowing your ego and feeling embarrassed are all unpleasant emotions. No wonder we often seem to choke when attempting to say “I’m sorry”.

  9. brickhousechick says:

    So true, Kitt! Why is this so? I have learned, especially with teenage kids, to admit when I am wrong and let them know. It actually surprises them and puts them at ease and not on the defensive. Plus I want to model the behavior so that they see it as ok to say. I’m sure your mama felt bad! 🙂

    • Kitt Crescendo says:

      Oh, she felt bad… That’s why she bought me the hair clip. She was hoping to get out of the apology part. Sometimes learning goes both ways… And you’re so right about lowering the defenses & modeling behaviors.

  10. filbio says:

    As I have gotten older I notice it has become easier to say I’m Sorry when definitely in the wrong. I think people fear saying those words as it admits wrong doing, guilt, or shame. As we get older and wiser many of us lose that need to be right all the time and feed our ego. So may of life’s problems would be eased if we learned just a bit of humility.

  11. Coleen Patrick says:

    I think I’m getting better at sorry (at least I hope). Sorry seemed much more difficult when I was younger. My husband was the same, he used to apologize by saying, I’m sorry you feel that way. Ha ha. He knows that’s not an apology now.

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