Recently I had a lesson in why saying sorry is not enough, then I read an article by Lori Swain about her psychology teacher. Lori Swain is well worth following on LinkedIn, so I take no credit for this article. It is so insightful I have posted it verbatim. I apologize I can’t find the link for Lori Swain.
“My favourite course in college was psychology. Probably because my psychology professor, I’ll refer to as Mr H, was an excellent teacher and he had a great sense of humour. A student walked into class late one morning. Mr H did that little throat clearing cough to let her know he was aware of her tardiness. She turned to him and said “I’m sorry”. Mr H said “You’re sorry? Why are you sorry? Are you a sorry person? Do you look down on yourself? Do you have any self-esteem? Do you love yourself? Do you even like who you are?”
Not an Apology
Mr H said that if you feel bad because you are late then apologize for being late. “I’m sorry” is not an apology. ‘Sorry’ is used to show that you empathize with a sad situation someone is dealing with. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well”. “I’m sorry that you missed the show” “I’m sorry you are failing psychology. Other answers correctly distinguish between these expressions, one of them “I’m sorry” being an expression of empathy, and the other “I was wrong” being an expression or acknowledgment of responsibility for a bad outcome.
There is a 3rd approach, which may be more productive, which is to focus on how to make things better, rather than to get enmeshed in trying to accept ambiguous or shared ownership for the past. The desire to help make things better is forward-looking, as opposed to backward looking and it lifts the person hearing it out of self-pity or playing the blame game. A real apology is taking responsibility for your actions. “I apologize for being late to class.”
“I was wrong. I apologize for ………” is empowering to yourself.
Sorry a Put Down
Saying sorry is not enough. Saying that you are sorry is saying that you are pitiful, a sorry person. You did something bad. How awful of me to do that. I’m a sorry person., etc., It is a put down. Even though we don’t mean to put ourselves down by saying it, unknowingly we do. Teach your kids to acknowledge what they did and why they are apologizing. They’ll grow up more responsible for their behaviour and have more self-esteem.
‘I’m so sorry’ is like saying I’m such a horrible person.” We make ourselves feel shame, guilt as if we can’t do anything right. Pay attention when you say I’m sorry and you’ll notice the negativity you feel about yourself. You’ll feel a little uneasy or ashamed, or even a bit depressed. All it does is lower your self-esteem and the way you feel about yourself.
Now apologize for being late. “I apologize for being late to your class”. It feels better, huh? You don’t feel like your pitiful or guilty of being bad. You feel like you have apologized for being late to class and that the teacher accepted your apology and it’s done and forgotten. There’s no need to feel ashamed or guilt. Don’t be a sorry person just because you were late to class. Apologize for being late and that’s all you need to apologize for. You acknowledged what you’ve done by saying what you’re apologizing for. Be clear on the apology.
I apologize for making you mad IS NOT an apology. Include the hard part. Own what it was that you did to make them mad.”
There is an art to apologizing that will be an eye opener for many.
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