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On saying sorry: The apology is not about you

Updated on July 19, 2011

It takes a lot to apologize sometimes, which is strange considering that it usually entails saying “I’m sorry.” However, the ease of just uttering or writing words can devalue an apology. After all, it can sometimes be used without feeling or meaning – like the famous phrase “I love you.”

Does this look familiar?

A: Yes, but that pissed me off.

B: Well, I’m sorry.

A: Why did you do that anyway?!

B: Hey, I said I was sorry. Geez!

When we did something wrong or that offended others when we were younger, we were taught to apologize. That’s not a bad thing, since it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and show remorse. However, the impression given by some is that merely uttering the words is sufficient remedy.

That’s balderdash. Why? Well, there is a difference between a sincere apology and a perfunctory one. This is one reason for some apologies being bypassed by the person affected. If it seems too quick or said in the wrong tone, then it may even have the opposite effect.

Still, have you ever been in a situation where you apologize wholeheartedly and it seems to have no effect? This might seem perplexing to many, especially when you can do little else but apologize. I recall a situation when I was on vacation in Tobago; I told a female acquaintance that I’d rather not hear her singing. I tried not to be rude about it, but that got her really upset. Although I apologized for it, she was upset for the trip home and probably some days after.

The reality is that the apology is not everything, but that does not mean that it is nothing. The person that is upset, hurt or angry just needs to cool down considerably before they can really accept the apology fully.

Think of it this way. Whatever you did or said was a spark that ignited the person’s emotions negatively. They went from 0 to 100 degrees quickly. However, reversing the process is not as instantaneous. It’s easy to think “I apologized, so we should be good now.” If it’s a trifling incident, it may be the case, but sometimes the cooling off period is necessary.

Another reason for the apology not being able to immediately assuage another is that there may be some unresolved issues created by the situation that needs to be addressed. Perhaps the affected person just needs comfort for whatever fears or emotions that the situation stirred up. There needs to be some meaningful dialogue (which many poor communicators wish to avoid) in the aftermath. Perhaps you have done or said things before that affected the person similarly; you may seem like a habitual apologist.

Sometimes, persons apologize so that they would not have to “feel bad” about offending another. They really want to live the issue down quickly. But let me ask you this: Is the apology for you or the other person? Maybe the most important thing to remember about apologizing is that it’s not an automatic pacifier – even if it is heartfelt and sincere.


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  • SpiffyD profile image

    SpiffyD 6 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the comment Jennuhlee. I was inspired to write it when I reflected on the insincerity of some apologies. I noticed that many persons were inclined to think that their apologies are better than BandAid.

  • Jennuhlee profile image

    Jennuhlee 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

    Great hub and such a unique topic! Saying sorry is such a commonly taken for granted phrase. I love that you worte a whole hub on its importance.

  • SpiffyD profile image

    SpiffyD 6 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the read and comment WeeBGB

  • WeeBGB profile image

    WeeBGB 6 years ago from Arizona

    I LOVE this, SpiffD! :O) My BF and I are very aware of this, and in our house there are no "sorries", only apologies, when things HAVE calmed down and we've both had a chance to really think about what took place. We both put our focus on our own reactions to what happened, and when we think we have calmed down enough, we talk more about it and discover many very important things about ourselves. AND each other! :O) And that's when we look each other directly in the eyes and say "I apologize!", so that we both know it's from the Heart!

    Thanks for this awesome topic! I think more people should read this so they can apply it to their own lives, "if they so choose"!!!! :O)

    Have an awesome day, Darrel! :O)

  • skdwivediji profile image

    Shivkesh Dwivedi 6 years ago from Indore, India

    really apologizing and saying sorry both are very different things.

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    True. The apology must be heartfelt and based on real regret.

    It is also important for the apology to be received and accepted in the same, sincere manner in which it was offered.

    Good Hub.