Saying Sorry Badly

This is episode two in my series about apologies. A quick re-cap from the previous episode: we’ve let one of our friends down by flaking on an event of theirs and we feel bad about it. We’re now building ourselves up to an apology. Yet it turns out there are an awful lot of different ways to say sorry and how we do it defines what sort of apologiser we are. Read on for a list of said apologisers…

The One In Denial: Many of us really don’t enjoy feeling bad and that feeling of regret we have can prove very difficult. We just want the feeling to go away and to not have to deal with it. So, we do our best to ignore the feeling and pretend it’s not there. We push it deep down into the recesses of our subconscious to let it fester with other negative feelings that live there just waiting for the day they can break free and cause chaos. However, in failing to acknowledge the feeling we will also fail to realise we’ve upset our friend (or we’ll just pretend we haven’t) and so we won’t end up apologising. Meanwhile, our friend’s feeling of sadness will never be allowed to heal and that too will fester into resentment. There’s no chance for closure and that pretty much guarantees a bigger bust up somewhere later down the line. Good luck.

The Defensive One: It’s not just that we regret what we’ve done it’s that we feel guilty about it and many of us don’t just dislike feeling guilty we actively hate it. Of course, this feeling of guilt is perfectly normal – it’s just our body/mind’s way of telling us that we haven’t behaved optimally, we’ve caused some social disruption and we need to do something about it to patch things up. But rather than see guilt as an emotional call to action we see it is a threat. And when threatened our defences go up. Yet defences are designed to protect us from stuff outside and even though this feeling is inside us we’ll look for the source of the problem external to us. What we find is our friend and when they want to breach the subject of our ‘flaking’ rather than take responsibility for our actions we project our feeling of guilt at our friend. They become the problem because they’re making us feel bad about ourselves and we lash out at them. We dredge up all those past grievances and the times they’ve let us down and hurl them at our friend just to hide our own bad behaviour. So we upset our friend and give ourselves something else to apologise for!

OK, I’ve realised the first two apologisers in my list are both examples of people who don’t say sorry, so technically they’re not actually apologisers. I’m sorry if I gave you false expectations. Actually no, I’m not, deal with it. But hopefully it’s clear that denial and defensiveness are no great paths to apology success. The next episode will focus on the infamous over-apologiser, the one who says sorry almost at the start of every sentence. In the meantime here’s Bieber having a shot at saying sorry (and getting paid millions to do so, well done him), although I’m not 100% sure he means it.

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