In Part 1, I wrote about why apologising matters and what not to do. Here’s some guidance on how to do it well…
Recipe for The Best Apology
While many have written about forgiveness, few have written about the healing power of apologies and how to give one that is meaningful. Beverly Engel, a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience, fills this gap with her book, “The Power of Apology”. It is a seminal piece that has the potential to bring much needed healing to all kinds of relationships, including those that have ended. In her book, she provides guidance on how to apologise and what distinguishes her advice from others’ is the inner work that is done before the apology.
~ Make a list of whom you have hurt or treated unfairly and not made amends to.
~ Be honest with yourself. Take responsibility for your actions.
~ Reflect on the impact of your actions on the other.
~ Forgive yourself. Otherwise the attention will be on your guilt and not the person you are apologising to. Guilt is not the best reason to apologise.
~ Forgive the person you are apologising to for whatever they may have done to you. Otherwise, you may be holding on to resentment that can taint the apology.
~ Plan your apology carefully. A flippant “sorry” can exacerbate things.
As you use this process, it feels like you are peeling away layers, till you get to the heart where a hidden gem lies. This is the apology, waiting quietly to be given as a gift. Without such inner work, the apology would not be ready – uncooked!
During the actual apology, Engel recommends three steps:
Regret – Empathise. Feel the sorrow and regret for having caused hurt. Communicate this.
Responsibility – Take responsibility for your actions or inactions. Avoid excuses or blame.
Remedy – How you will make it better for the person you hurt? What amends will you make? Communicate that. I believe that it may be beneficial to also ask the other party how else you could support them so that they can truly heal.
Tip: The magic ingredient is really genuine empathy. It is what distinguishes us from psychopaths who can hurt others and move on, feeling nothing.
The Best Amends
In “A Pace of Grace”, Linda Popov, founder of The Virtues Project is unequivocal about what a true apology means. She says, “When we have made a mistake, transformation is the only amends.” Popov cites the story of a man who was regretful for something he had done. He asked a spiritual master, “How can I know if God has forgiven me for what I did?” The master said, “You’ll know you are forgiven when you no longer do it”.
Reminders for Reaching Out
~ Step nine of 12-step programmes remind us to only apologise when this will not cause further harm.
~ Even if you have no contact with the person you want to apologise to, set out to reach them. It is never too late. Such apologies are especially important because it is easy for someone to be “out of sight, out of mind”. Yet you have no idea how you might have affected them. Your relationship with them may just evolve into something better than before, because you have evolved.
~ Facing the risk of your apology being rejected is part of the courageous journey this is. The right thing to do is sometimes not the easiest.
Start a Pandemic
The miraculous power of apologising lies in its healing potential for both parties – and more. As you set out to heal someone else’s heart, you may heal yours. And as you set out to respect someone else, you will respect yourself. And as two people experience growth and healing, those connected to them will, too.
Of course, the best outcome is learning and growing from our “Sorries” so we really have to say fewer of them as time goes by.
But for now, how many “Sorries” are waiting for you to deliver?
Related: Forgiveness, Apologies Page