4 Ways to Make Apologizing Less StressfulBy Steve Calechman
“I’m sorry.” Two little words that have the power to head off resentment, derail an argument, or salvage a relationship. But for some of us, the three syllables are a bit too much. At times, we can feel like apologizing is an admission that we’ve caused harm or that we aren’t as good as we thought we were. “Apologizing threatens our sense of self,” says Karina Schumann, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social psychology at University of Pittsburgh. Rather than simply expressing regret, we balk, justify, and distance ourselves by casting blame.
Ego can also get in the way. In times that are already divisive, a discussion can easily turn into a heated debate, where people are trying to score points rather than listen. “Then the interaction becomes more about wounded pride and how we feel about being wrong,” says Debra M. Roberts, LCSW, a communications specialist and author of The Relationship Protocol: How to Talk, Defuse and Build Healthier Relationships.
All that plus the stress of not knowing how an apology will be received can stop us from acting—even when we know saying “I’m sorry,” is what’s in order. That’s why it’s key to remember the benefits of expressing regret: Saying “sorry” recognizes the other person’s feelings and how important they are to you. “That’s how we connect,” Roberts says.
The next time you’re having trouble getting out those two little words, consider the following advice.
Clear Up Any Confusion
Often the problem is one of perception. You say or do something you think is innocuous. The other person is livid and/or hurt. “You’re caught off guard by their reaction and get defensive,” says Carl Hindy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? What may have started as a misunderstanding has now become a full-blown fight. The more you dig in, the more embarrassing it becomes to correct the mix-up. To change the dynamic, play detective. Ask yourself, “Is that the reaction you wanted or expected?” Then consider what went wrong and how you can fix the message. You can also think about times you’ve been hurt and what would have made you feel better. This clarity-finding process is two-fold,