An apology can be a wonderful thing so long as it is infrequent and from the heart. However, beware of the person who justifies bad behavior with apologies. For them it is a means to an end, and quite often at your expense. – Gary Hopkins
In all honesty, very few people actually enjoy admitting wrongdoing. There’s no dopamine rush that accompanies apologizing, no deep, emotional purge in saying “I was wrong,” and certainly no guarantee that the recipient of the apology will respond favorably.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many people will perform mental and emotional acrobatics to avoid the discomfort of admitting they’re fallible.
These acrobatics tend to be based on one fear or another. Fears such as…
Fear Of Being Seen As Weak
For something that takes as much courage to accomplish as admitting wrongdoing or apologizing, western societies spend a lot of time attaching weakness to the act.
“Stand your ground, don’t back down, don’t be a punk” are just a few of the toxic expressions that coil around our brains.
Yet, apologizing isn’t akin to submitting to another, or feeling the overriding, constant need to protect one’s tender underbelly.
Admitting that you’ve wronged someone takes being compassionate and respectful enough of yourself and the others in your life to admit you trust them with who you are.
Confidence like that should never be seen as a weakness.
Fear Of Retaliation
Some people live inside an eye-for-an-eye bubble where any wrongdoing they admit will – they feel – surely be revisited upon them. So the last thing they want to do is open themselves to such a painful option.
These are the people who haven’t quite learned to trust in others.
One way to deal with them is to set firm boundaries around your boundaries, i.e., don’t let them get so close to the core things that matter to you that they’ll be able to upset you.
One would hope we might be able to get this type of person to learn to trust, but unless we have the wherewithal to tame a lion using twigs, their journey to trust, honesty, and vulnerability is guaranteed to be a long, arduous one.
Fear Of Loss
There’s a twisted logic in thinking, “I’ve hurt you, but making amends will further hurt you to the point that you’ll go away.”
One of the most barbed fears behind a reluctance to apologize or admit wrongdoing is the paralyzing thought of losing someone or something because of it.
This fear haunts people who require constant reassurance, and can be dealt with by being as open and honest as possible. Lead by example. If they see that we have yet to bolt from their lives from our mistakes, they might more readily admit their own.
Fear Of Not Being Perfect
One wonders how much less daunting life would be if every single person awoke every morning and took a moment to actively say to themselves, “I am human.”
Humanity is a tangled ball of errors, there’s no getting around that. It is when we attempt to untangle even just one infinitesimally tiny piece of that ball that we achieve grace and compassion.
Those who feel they must never be seen as anything less than “perfect” are hiding fears and insecurities that do nothing but serve to tighten the ball of confusion around them, not loosen any inner knots.
Acceptance is huge for these people. Help them by letting them know they are loved. Gently remind them that mistakes are inevitable, and that even outright lying to others is as human as breathing air.
If they learn that perfection is self-correction, they’ll see how nimble their fingers can be at untangling some of life’s knots they can neither predict nor avoid.
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There are those who, for their own warped reasons, actually enjoy presiding over misery. Withholding and wrongdoing feed them. Narcissists do it all the time. Masochists too.
How, then, to deal with someone intent on creating situations requiring their apology?
Simple: one doesn’t.
As with those who haven’t learned to trust others, it’s prudent to actively maintain boundaries against these people.
Actively because they will look for cracks and crevices in all walls and slide in so quickly that the large lump of drama they intend to unload will catch you off guard and unawares.
If such lords of chaos can manipulate you into apologizing for their wrongdoing, they’re satiated in feeling they’ve earned their emotional wages for the day.
Oblivious people stymie us. A person can be caught with pants down, hand in cookie jar, cheat sheet taped to their forehead, and fake ID proclaiming them as Pope Clemente – and still somehow manage to be the proverbial deer in headlights when it comes to being called on their wrongs.
What to do with an oblivious person? Science has yet to figure that out.
Granted, there are many who are sociopathic or residing on a spectrum, and thus missing the ability to detect social cues readily apparent to the bulk of humanity, but obliviousness can go even deeper than that.
The danger with obliviousness is that it can be a learned behavior, one that shields and coddles the learner, making it hard as diamond to break through.
They will apologize if their sense of guilt receives enough outside prodding, but do not expect this to come quickly or without considerable cueing on your part.
Being stubborn is a combination of all the previous shortcomings. Stubborn people are aware of their positions, aware of culpability, aware of the pain of others, and aware that a simple apology or admission of wrongdoing can take a situation from hot to bearable, but they prevent themselves from doing so on principle, whatever that principle may be.
The best way to get a stubborn person to apologize is by not letting them get their way. Call their bluff. Be steadfast in a need for resolution.
When they see that their principles of self-preservation mean less than a whisper, they will generally – albeit grudgingly – come around.
Don’t Want To Be First
Odds are we’ve all had that person in our life who infuriated us, and we, them, and all parties were aware an apology of some kind was necessary. Most of us will be the first to sheepishly offer that olive branch, to the huge relief of the Wow, I’m So Glad You Put That Behind Us brigade.
The tango has nothing on the way these people can dance around an apology. Each time you think they’re about to open up, they spin away.
How to keep the dance from turning into stomps of anger away from them?
Change up the rhythm.
Asking “Were you about to say something?” during a cooled down, innocuous moment is a good way to make them stumble toward patching up a situation, because the apology is always on their mind, just never forthcoming.
Another good way to deal with this type is to tackle the unspoken apology/admission head on, effectively stopping the dance altogether.
“We need to talk,” or a variation thereof, lets them know the dance floor is clearing of all but the two of you, creating a kind of emotional bubble outside the flow of time where being first is meaningless.
Hate The Sin, Love The Sinner
The act of apologizing and admitting fault is fraught with dangers, unknowns, and an unsettling lack of control. The act is also, however, a very necessary part of our lives.
Apologizing to someone lets them know that they’re seen as human; that they matter. Admitting fault or error shows a healthy mind engaging the world.
Now might be a good time to assess how readily any of us apologize. Not how uncomfortable it makes us feel, because it always is, but how readily we do it.
Do we sit on it? Do we hem and haw? Do we hope the need to step quietly forth goes away?
Or do we realize that, in the eyes of others, we are as beloved, precious, and fallible as any other model that’s come off the celestial assembly line? That all of us are?
And that, given the benefit of trust, love, and respect, we all need the grace to stand again after a slip up, extend our hands, and say, very simply, the small but large words, “I’m sorry.”