If you think saying you’re sorry is a sign of weakness, then think again. It’s a lot like forgiveness…it’s often more for you than for the other person. Consider Joan’s thoughts on this human offering and work your personal healing.

Joan: Every sappy romantic can recall that moment in the movie “Love Story” when, after an argument, Oliver told Jenny he was sorry and through her tears she quivered and replied, “Don’t … love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Anyone who has ever been in a loving relationship understands the point of that statement – unconditional love doesn’t require one to apologize. But, is it really a good practice to forego an admission of wrongdoing or hurtful behavior?

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I say, no way! Love means saying you’re sorry!

Q. How do we get away from these clichés?

Joan: It’s about thinking about the other person over self. In any conflict there are two or more people that get hurt. These people feel disrespected, betrayed, unheard, unloved, and emotionally shattered. When this occurs, they look to the other participant(s) to validate what took place, show remorse, and respect their feelings. When an apology is not offered, it can destroy that relationship.

Q. That’s a heavy load to bare. How does one know that “sorry” can be so heavily weighted in a relationship?

Joan: For some people, apologizing for even the smallest infraction involves a major battle. This reluctance is usually perceived as defensiveness or pride. But, according to psychologists, refusing to apologize often reflects a person’s effort to protect a fragile sense of self. And these people will go to great lengths to avoid that feeling of inadequacy. In their mind, if they did something bad, they must be bad people.

Q. How in the world does a person deal with someone who cannot say they’re sorry for their own reasons?

Joan: Throughout my life, I have witnessed people who, rather than offer an apology, were willing to divorce a spouse, leave a job, disown a child, or end a friendship. They would cut someone out of their life instead of saying “I’m sorry”. It’s important to remember that the apology is not about you, it’s about an action, and that doesn’t make for a bad person.

Q. Understood. But what about the other person? How does the hurt, or even understanding party, deal with this?

Joan: For the other person, offering an apology is sometimes viewed as a sign of weakness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Having the courage to admit culpability in hurting another actually takes tremendous strength.

And others believe that saying “I’m sorry” is an admission of guilt making them assume full responsibility for the conflict. They fear that their apology will exempt the other person from taking any blame for the disagreement. Offering an apology does not negate the other person’s role, it simply acknowledges behavior that may have caused pain and suffering to another.

Q. Does “sorry” benefit the person saying it?

Joan: Research shows that the benefits of saying “I’m sorry” far outweigh the objections of a non-apologist.

  • An apology is crucial to emotional and physical health. It has a noticeable positive effect on the body and can actually affect bodily functions — blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows, and breathing becomes steadier.
  • An apology validates the feelings of others letting the person know he or she has been heard.
  • An apology re-establishes dignity for those who have been hurt.
  • An apology makes people feel comfortable with each other again.
  • An apology lets someone know the same behavior will not be repeated.
  • An apology shows regret for having caused another pain.

Wouldn’t you want all of these benefits for someone you love or care about?

So, while Elton John may say, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” I say it’s one of the most powerful words that can be spoken.

The next time you find yourself in a situation that leaves someone angry and hurt, put your feelings aside, take a deep breath, look that person in the eye (no texting allowed) and offer a genuine, “I’m sorry”. You will be amazed at the results!