Apologies ought to be easy. After all, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Yet so many find it quite difficult to say those three important words “I am sorry”.
As you read the upcoming points, think honestly: Might any part of any them be true about myself?
EGO is why it is difficult for people to apologize.
It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong or that they messed up.
People do not like the complicated, defeated feelings that come with being wrong and messing up.
People don’t like having to go to other people, publicly or privately, and admit to them they’ve been wrong and have messed up.
It is hard to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own ego.
Refusing to apologize often reflects efforts to protect a fragile sense of self.
For non-apologists, saying “I’m sorry” carries psychological ramifications that run far deeper than the words themselves imply; it elicits fundamental fears (either conscious or unconscious) they desperately want to avoid.
* Non apologist = someone who refuses to apologize even when they are clearly in the wrong.
Admissions of wrongdoing are incredibly threatening for non-apologists because they have trouble separating their actions from their character.
They believe that f they did something bad, they must be bad people; if they were neglectful, they must be fundamentally selfish and uncaring; if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid, etc. Therefore, apologies represent a major threat to their basic sense of identity and self-esteem.
Apologizing might open the door to guilt for most of us, but for non-apologists, it can instead open the door to shame.
While guilt makes us feel bad about our actions, shame makes non-apologists feel bad about their selves—who they are—which is what makes shame a far more toxic emotion than guilt.
While apologies are opportunities to resolve interpersonal conflict, non-apologists may fear their apology will only open the floodgates to further accusations and conflict.
Once they admit to one wrongdoing, surely the other person will pounce on the opportunity to pile on all the previous offenses for which they refused to apologize as well.
Non-apologists fear that by apologizing, they would assume full responsibility and relieve the other party of any culpability.
If arguing with a spouse, for example, they might fear an apology would exempt the spouse from taking any blame for a disagreement, despite the fact that each member of a couple has at least some responsibility in most arguments.
Some people are very competitive and fear that apologizing will make them seem ‘less than’ the other person.
Humans engage in some sort of rivalry and competitiveness all the time, each trying to assert their superiority over others – whether consciously or unconsciously. This turns apologizing into an intimidating ordeal that makes us look inferior.
Some people have not really seen people – or spouses – apologizing to each other.
Their parents may not have apologized to each other, or may have apologized in private.
By refusing to apologize, non-apologists are trying to manage their emotions.
They are often comfortable with anger, irritability, and emotional distance, and experience emotional closeness and vulnerability to be extremely threatening.
They fear that lowering their guard even slightly will make their psychological defenses crumble and open the floodgates to a well of sadness and despair that will pour out of them, leaving them powerless to stop it.
They might be correct. However, they are incorrect in assuming that exhibiting these deep and pent-up emotions (as long as they get support, love, and caring when they do—which fortunately, is often the case) will be traumatic and damaging.
Opening up in such a way is often incredibly therapeutic and empowering, and it can lead them to experience far deeper emotional closeness and trust toward the other person, significantly deepening their relationship satisfaction.
Don’t let your ego damage your relationship. Apologize when you have offended the other.
Even if it is hard, you still do have to apologize.
It might be helpful to keep this in mind:
- Everyone is human. Everyone will make mistakes. You too are not infallible.
- It is much better to focus your ego on doing what is right than always focusing on never being wrong.
- It is not weak to acknowledge that you did wrong and apologize. Rather, it takes courage and strength of character. Apologizing is a hallmark of a confident and strong person.
Your sincere words mean the most. They say to your spouse, “You are important to me, I want to do right by you.”
Nothing can replace an apology.
- Gifts – no matter how lavish – can not replace an apology.
- Admitting “That was so stupid of me” without expressing remorse – can not replace an apology.
- Saying “I’m sorry” as you run out the door – is not an apology.