A close friend told me about an experience she had after she worked up the courage to ask someone for an apology for something he had done that had been disrespectful and painful. The event happened years before. She tried to talk to him about it soon after, but he shut her down. She saw that he just missed the point and denied it ever happened. This was despite her clear memory and proof of the offense.
Finally, years later, since she could not “let it go,” as many people had advised her, she tried again, albeit with a different approach. She asked him to sit and listen to her memory of the experience and the effect on her of what happened. She recounted how she had gone as far as she could go with her own healing, and would like to hear a sincere apology and acknowledgement of her experience.
It was difficult for him. He actually did not appear to remember the event. Then, as he relaxed and listened, he seemed to realize that he did not need to defend himself. The more details she shared, the more he began to remember. Although the apology was not exactly what she had hoped for, he ultimately acknowledged his actions and offered an apology. Notably, he did not say, “Well, IF it happened and IF you were hurt, I’m sorry.”
This experience illustrates the importance of apologies and how they can transform lives. Apologies are not simply social niceties; they are about validating the feelings and the experience of the person who was wronged. Embedded in them are compassion, respect, and empathy. Apologies are important and powerful. When offered with sincere caring, they can affirm an event and be an important part of repairing, improving, and healing relationships.
Apologies cannot undo harmful past actions. But if offered with sincerity, kindness, and an open heart, along with a willingness to try to understand the other person’s experience, they can undo many of the negative effects of those actions.