When I was five, I decided to take my first trip. I was going to Europe. I was not quite sure where that was, but I knew it existed and I was going there. I had everything I needed:
o Transportation: Red radio flyer wagon.
o Co-pilot: Best friend, Jennifer who lived next door.
o Food: Box of cheerios.
o Drink: I forgot that part (I was only five).
This excursion across the ocean ended about three miles from my house when someone spotted us and notified my parents. Oh. I forgot to mention that the purpose for my quest was to run away and express displeasure with something my parents had done. Understandably, they were alarmed, and I would imagine somewhat terrified. Although I do not remember this, apparently my Father spanked me which was a completely understandable response. I do not recall many of the events of my grand trip. There is, however, one thing I remember very clearly.
My Dad apologized.
And his words are key. He did not apologize for spanking me. He said he was sorry for being angry when he did it. I do not know that I had much of an understanding at the time of exactly what he was saying or even why he was telling me. However, what I clearly do remember was an amazing sense of being valued and feeling loved.
When we truly apologize to someone it is one of the most significant ways to communicate worth to another person. That is the key…it MUST be genuine. When it is not authentic an apology can be used as a veiled criticism. Saying “I'm sorry you got your feelings hurt” is another way of saying, “It’s so sad that you are overly sensitive”. It can also be dismissive, “I’m sorry, okay?!”
A true apology flows from and even creates empathy. It is salve to a wounded relationship. A real apology is not done through behavior (acting nice) or simply saying the words. It comes from a place of awareness that something we have done has hurt someone. Saying “I’m sorry” to someone involves the healthy pain of regret and understanding.
That is what makes it hard. It is also what makes it healthy. Even if we do not yet FEEL the apology there is tremendous value in the decision and action that begins to connect us with a true sense of empathy and value of the other person. TRULY apologizing is like a release valve for negative emotion that positively affects our attitude and even our physical health. Holding all of that in is like inflating the balloon of internal poison that effects everything in our system.
A great place to start if you desire to be truly healthy in all areas of your life is to think about the importance of both owning and verbalizing our wrongs to the people in our life. The gift to the other person is significant, but the receiver of the greatest reward will be you!