When you think of an apology, you probably think of the words, “I’m sorry,” as this has become synonymous with apologizing. As children, we are all taught to say, “I’m sorry,” and we seek to hear those very words from anyone whom we think may have wronged us in any way. It’s as if hearing the words make the hurt go away or erase the infraction. So many times, I hear people saying that all they really want is an apology.
We can all agree that words do matter, and they are very important. Words can hurt, and words can heal. But words are not enough. Yes, it is important to verbally apologize. But it is simply not enough. Most of us, as children, were taught to just to say the words. Unfortunately, many teens as a result have learned just to say the words, as if that was enough. A true apology is demonstrated by behaviors that make things right.
Does it drive you crazy when your parents apologize to you after they’ve yelled at you for something, only to repeat the behavior again the next day? Do they get annoyed with you for saying, “Ok” or “I’m sorry” and then just continuing to exhibit the same behavior that got you in trouble in the first place? It’s important to learn what an apology really means and how to apologize.
Here are some tips for giving a proper apology:
- Start by owning the behavior and express your remorse verbally. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry” try something more specific. You could say, “I’m sorry for being so disrespectful to you. I had a bad day at school today, and I’m feeling really stressed. I should not have taken that out on you. I know you were just trying to help.”
- Don’t blame the other person. Never say, “If you would just stop nagging me about homework and grades, I wouldn’t get so mad and yell at you.” Basically, that is the same as telling the other person that your inappropriate behavior was their fault. As if they have that much power and control over you and your behavior. They don’t. Only you do.
- Don’t offer a pseudo-apology. That is not really an apology at all. Often, it is even worse than not saying anything at all. A pseudo-apology is when you say something like, “I’m sorry if you felt hurt.” An actual apology would be more like, “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” There is a big difference. One has you owning the behavior and taking responsibility for it, while the other is simply a manipulative way to sound sorry when you are really taking no responsibility at all.
- Follow your apology with action. If you are apologizing for yelling when you shouldn’t have, you must learn more appropriate ways to communicate and deal with anger and frustration. If you’re apologizing for not doing something you said you would do, then your action would be to actually do what you promised. You must follow through with changes in behavior, or you will continuously be apologizing for the same thing, which literally makes your apology meaningless.
- If you are having trouble correcting your behavior, and find yourself trying really hard but unable to follow through, or find yourself constantly apologizing for the same thing over and over again, you might need to seek outside help. Whether the issue is just needing some communication skills or tools, or even if it is something more deeply rooted that needs to be addressed, a skilled therapist can help you with this.
Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. We have all transgressed in ways worthy of apologizing. It is important, though, to recognize the hurt that we cause others, and do what we can to make things right. Furthermore, it is important to address the issues leading us to behave this way in the first place. A true apology requires recognizing the wrong, expressing it, and correcting it. It is important that we all learn how to do this, as it benefits all of our relationships and even ourselves. If you can learn to do this now, while you’re still a teenager, your adult relationships will benefit greatly.