“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future” Paul Boese

After a recent disagreement with a person, I started thinking about the small, yet extremely powerful word of “sorry”.  What is it with people being unable to mutter this word or better still, clearly state “I am sorry for… (what I have done)” and take full responsibility for their actions?  Is it admitting fault means one is a bad person or that forgiveness is just expected without ownership of the situation that has unfolded?  Being seen as weak, vulnerable or not deserving of forgiveness?  Is it feeling uncomfortable with the emotions attached to the situation, like guilt or shame?

Whatever it is that motivates you to avoid saying sorry or prevents you from taking ownership is worth exploring.  After years of working with couples and individuals in therapy, a common thread has emerged.  People just want to be acknowledged for what their experience has been and to hear that tiny, yet dynamic word ‘sorry’.

To add some depth to your apology a couple of tips are to say sorry only when you genuinely feel it and to avoid adding an excuse or explanation onto the end of the apology.  We want to justify or explain why we have done what we have done, yet this takes away from the all powerful strength of the apology.  For example saying “I am sorry for embarrassing you in front of your friends, it was just that I had drunk too much” is said to make the person who has messed up feel better.  A more effective apology would leave off the end part and just say “I am sorry for embarrassing you in front of your friends.”

Another tip is to make sure you take full ownership for your actions without implicating the other person and to state what you are sorry about.  It is best to say “I am sorry that I let you down by yelling at you again”, rather than “I wouldn’t have yelled at you if you didn’t forget to do that job for me.”  Remember we all have a choice about how we behave, including how we treat others, particularly the people we care most about.

If saying sorry isn’t one of your strong points, why not take a risk and try it out?  See what happens, you may experience how the future can differ by taking responsibility for the past.

Written by Natascha Madden