The ability and willingness to apologize for hurtful actions and words are essential to maintaining healthy relationships, especially with those for whom we care deeply. Yet apologizing is one of the hardest things for many of us to do.  Apologizing brings up feelings of guilt, shame and feeling bad about ourselves and confronts us with our imperfections. None of us want to admit that we have the capacity to wrong others and we fear that wrong actions make us bad people, a thought we cannot stand to believe.

It is important to remember that each of us is better than our worst actions. Our actions are our actions, they are not us.  In addition, many of the ways we hurt others are unintentional, accidental or unconscious, but even those unintended hurts, if not apologized for, can harm our relationships in lasting ways.

We have many mistaken ideas about apologies and some apologies cause more harm rather than healing.  We can learn how to offer apologies that are healing and to recognize our unhelpful apologies.  Apologizing is an important skill and it can be learned.  The essence of a healing apology is

Conflicts between members of different generations within the family almost always arise from lack of communication, lack of understanding and difficulty accepting the validity of each person’s differing perspective and priorities. Lack of understanding and attitudes of judgment around these differences lead to conflict. Let’s discuss strategies for improving our relationships with members of our families spanning different generations.

  • How difficult or easy is it for you to move beyond your defensiveness when you have hurt someone and offer a genuine apology?
  • Do you believe you have to forgive someone to free yourself from the pain and hurt of being wronged? Or is there another way to let go and move forward without “forgiving”?
  • Are there people who have wronged you that you are still waiting for an apology from?
  • What will you do if you never get that apology?
  • Are there people you have wronged that you feel you need to apologize to? What would help you remove the barriers to offering that genuine apology?

An excellent resource to assist you in this journey is the book, “Why won’t you Apologize? Healing big betrayals and everyday hurts” by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.  (also the author of “The Dance of Anger” and other books in “The Dance” series).