How Our Deepest Apologies Benefit Us
Offering our deepest apologies seems like a simple thing. They’re just words, right?
But somehow, apologizing isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Our minds seem to resist it, even when we know we’ve done something wrong.
Apologies should not be trivialized; they do not come freely. Rather, they are emotionally demanding, requiring us to suspend our vulnerabilities and exercise mindfulness.
Something has to make all this effort worthwhile. When we muster our deepest apologies in the right time and place, not only do we strengthen our bonds with others; we improve our relationship with ourselves.
Why is Apologizing So Difficult?
From Internal to External
An apology is a sincere admission of guilt. This guilt must be admitted in two steps: first internally, to oneself; then externally, to others.
We may run into obstacles even in the first step. Acknowledging that we have done harm is a very real threat to our self-esteem. It causes us to doubt our place with others, and to doubt the value of our actions. It calls into question our basic sense of worth.
Those who are already insecure in their self-value may be unable to take this first step. They may become convinced of any perspective that excludes their side of the blame or becomes avoidant of the issue altogether.
The second step has its own share of difficulties. Admitting our guilt to others requires even more self-esteem than admitting it to ourselves. Those who are unable to meet this higher threshold may make sarcastic, insincere apologies.
In admitting hard facts to ourselves and others and by acknowledging our mistakes, we are demonstrating strength, not weakness. The narrative that “I have done nothing wrong” is usually persuasive only to ourselves.
The question, then, is how to develop this strength.
The deepest apologies actually cultivate the sense of pride and dignity they require. This means that when we start small and make a habit of being honest with ourselves, it gets incrementally easier to do so on a larger scale. This is true above and beyond the simple practice of apologizing.
This leaves us with a graceful solution to our problem: if we want to learn to apologize, we should simply start apologizing, on whatever scale possible.
How and When to Apologize
The final difficulty is that the deepest apologies often entail vulnerability. Our apologies leave us receptive to the suggestion that we have done wrong, opening us to evaluation (and condemnation) by others.
We can apologize to trustworthy people without risk. However, we will be averse to putting ourselves in vulnerable positions if we fear being exploited, or being made to feel ashamed of ourselves.
Because of this, it may seem that the benefits of apologizing are limited to trusting relationships.
Apologizing with Confidence
Yet, it is possible to apologize without vulnerability, even towards those who would take advantage.
Doing so requires us to be confident in our self-worth, regardless of our mistakes. It also requires us to have a firm, unyielding conception of the extent of our blame; we must not be coerced into believing that we are at fault any more than we really are.
We should not apologize obsessively; if we habitually apologize for things when we shouldn’t, we accept a distorted picture of who is to blame. We also impose it onto those we apologize to; this undermines their accountability, leading well-intended people to exploit us.
We need a realistic and complete assessment of the situation before blaming ourselves for anything. So, if we know ourselves and our mistakes, and if we place our trust wisely, we can act according to our own standards without putting ourselves at risk.
This makes it possible for us to apologize for our part of the blame, even when we know that others may not apologize for theirs. We thereby practice accountability within ourselves, rather than attempting to impose it on others.
The Limitations of Apology
The deepest apologies are a form of generosity; an olive branch, offered to someone we care about; a symbol, which demonstrates integrity of our character. When we apologize to others, we cultivate a sense of trust that is conducive to further apologies; this is especially true when we take initiative. Our relationships prosper.
But apologies are finite. Their ultimate role is to act as a stopgap between wrongdoing and corrective action. If our apologies are not supported by action, they begin to lose value, both to others and ourselves.
Apologies build the expectation of change; if change does not follow, trust can be eroded even further than if we had not apologized at all.
For this reason, we should not offer empty apologies. Rather, the same dignity and pride that we used to apologize must also be turned towards changing our behaviour. We must acknowledge our own fallibility and take action.
This fallibility is not a basis for self-loathing. Apologies should be made in pride, not shame. They are evidence of a willingness to change one’s behaviour; an assertion of our own resolution to invest in ourselves.
What We Gain from our Deepest Apologies
The benefits of such apologies are generalizable. Learning to offer authentic apologies when appropriate, without compromising our confidence, is one step of many towards cultivating a sense of accountability in ourselves. From accountability follows self-respect and trusting relationships.
The deepest apologies are really about trust. They can help us build trust with others, often relieving family and friends from their insecurities and frustration.
Yet, our apologies should help us learn to trust ourselves. When we apologize, we leave our self-deception behind and bring ourselves closer to the truth. We observe our mistakes, discover patterns in our behaviour, and come to recognize our flaws.
When we offer up our apologies, we develop confidence in our opinions and in the results of our actions. We come to know ourselves, and we use this knowledge to develop our character.
Our deepest apologies give us the opportunity to become the kind of person we always wanted to be.
About the Author
Cameron Sewick is the independent owner of Superspective, functioning as its webmaster, writer, and promoter. Through Superspective, Cameron aims to develop a worldview that transcends personal bias.
The goal of Superspective is to provide a support system and to encourage introspection; when we use these tools to self-actualize, we can each contribute to the world in our own unique way. See more of what Superspective has to offer.