The Unconditional Apology

The unconditional apology

The unconditional apology

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the difference between a constrained, insincere apology and a sincere, unconditional apology.

First a quick update:

“3 Simple tips for happiness”
In the “Get Motivated” series on syndicated TV show “The Daily Buzz,” I reveal 3 daily tips for happiness: Watch the video here.

Now, let’s talk about the difference between a constrained, insincere apology and a sincere, unconditional apology.

“I said I am sorry; what more do you want? I am sorry you feel that way…I am sorry you misunderstood me…And anyway, I didn’t hear you say that you are sorry…”

Do any of those sentences sound familiar to you? Have you said them or had someone say them to you?

In any and every relationship (business, social, romantic, familial) there will always be a situation whereby someone makes a mistake or commits a wrongdoing. The response by the person who makes that mistake will greatly impact the quality and progression of the relationship; unresolved hurt and repressed pain by the person who was wronged or injured leads to resentment, bitterness, lack of trust, contempt and ultimately the demise of the relationship.

An unconditional apology is the most powerful and effective way of correcting the wrongdoing and making amends.

The first step to making amends and resolving the wrongdoing is to apologize, to say “I am sorry.”

What appears to be such a simple process (i.e. “I am sorry”) is for most people a really difficult task or action.

As I explain in my Newsletter “You need to say ‘I am sorry’”, most of us find it hard to apologize because admitting to ourselves that we did something wrong can trigger for us extreme guilt or even self-loathing. But ignoring the problem or wrongdoing is simply denial of the problem and only worsens the situation.

Other people find it hard to apologize because they simply don’t recognize that they have done anything wrong; this is caused by a refusal to try to understand the other person and see the experience/event through his/her eyes: “I didn’t do anything wrong; you’re just being too sensitive” instead of saying “I am sorry; I didn’t understand how sensitive you are and I never thought it would hurt you. I know now I was wrong.” But even those words are only effective when spoken with sincerity and caring – not sarcasm, arrogance or condescension. Accordingly, note that when apologizing, you might use the wrong words, but, if you say them from your heart with compassion, then the words can still have a positive impact.

Words are powerful and thus have different meanings i.e. “I apologize”, “I am sorry” and “Please forgive me” need to be distinguished.

“I apologize” is usually a formal, official or way of expressing regret’; celebrities, athletes and politicians who make public apologies, usually use this phrase.

“I am sorry” usually indicates a deeper sense of personal regret.

“Please forgive me” (used on its own – without “I apologize/I am sorry”) is more focused on the wrongdoer’s emotions than it is on the person who was wronged or hurt.

Recognizing that we made a mistake and hurt the other person leads us to unconditionally apologize to the person.

An unconditional apology refers to saying you are sorry, free of excuses and without expecting anything in return. “I said I am sorry and you haven’t…I am not going to apologize to you until you apologize to me” are examples of conditional apologies – ones that do not come from the heart and which refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the wrongdoing and the hurt that it caused.

Accordingly, an unconditional apology comprises of 4 key elements:

  1. Accepting responsibility for one’s actions
  2. Identifying and acknowledging the hurt in the other person
  3. Willingness to accept the reproach (rebuking and disapproval) by the person who was wronged
  4. Patience and acceptance of the healing process and timeline of the person who was wronged i.e. saying “I am sorry” does not imply that the person who was hurt will suddenly be absolved of their pain or that they will immediately be free of their emotional pain; nor should that be expected of them.

I would like to share a personal experience. In one instance, a friend had offered to help take care of me while I underwent dental work. She offered and chose to accompany me to the office and to drive me back home because I would still be groggy from the anesthesia. And when home, she stayed for a while until I convinced her that I would be okay.

However, the next day, I proceeded to scald her for not taking sufficient care of me; for not checking up on me. However, my action of lashing out at her was actually driven by my then inability to accept help and support; I was not good at receiving and not good at expressing vulnerability. Thus, instead of asking for more help, I pretended I was fine (strong and independent) and then criticized her for not doing more.

I behaved in a way that was ungrateful and unappreciative, and, I blamed her for my inadequacies.

Accordingly, my friend was deeply hurt. She had devoted a lot of time and support to me and I had responded with “You didn’t do enough.”

I apologized to her unconditionally. And during that conversation of more than twenty minutes, I told her numerous times, “I am sorry” but she rebuked me; she expressed disapproval and disappointment in me and my actions.

I chose to allow her to express her anger, hurt and disappointment because I recognized I was wrong (selfish and ungrateful), I accepted responsibility for my actions, I acknowledged that I had hurt her, and I chose to allow her time to heal and process her own pain.

But there is more.

Even after the conversation, before flying out of town on a business trip, I called her again and left a message to express my sincere regrets for my behavior and the hurt it caused.

One might argue here that I went too far, that I overly capitulated. One client told me that when he apologizes to his wife, he will say it only three times and then no more. “She accepts it or she doesn’t”, he told me.

It is true that you cannot force someone to accept your apology or to forgive you. However, when you truly feel and understand that you have hurt or wronged someone, you will do whatever is necessary to apologize, to make amends and to heal the hurt.

Sometime later, my friend called to let me know that she accepted my apology, had forgiven me and that my last phone call to her before I left town had convinced her that our friendship was truly important to me.

I know that some men won’t go this far with relationships with women, but, it is also critical to understand that women will also test you to measure how much you care and how significant they are to you.

Finally, it is also critical for parents to understand that it is actually beneficial for parents to apologize to their children when they do something wrong because it teaches them responsibility, accountability, compassion, maturity, empathy, integrity and the acceptance of human imperfection.

If you would like to learn the 7 steps to asking for forgiveness, read my article “Asking for forgiveness”

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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