6 Steps to a Healthy and Meaningful Apology
We apologize to reconnect, to repair, to stitch back together the net of relationships that was made weaker by something we said or did. We apologize because love and peace and understanding feel amazing, and being radically honest with ourselves and those we love about where we’ve F’ed up is so freeing.
To do that, we get to get radically honest with ourselves, and we have to center the other person.
Their experience, their pain, whether or not we fully understand it.
Ready to learn how to really truly apologize in a loving way?
Keep reading my love, it’s going to be a good one.
How apologizing may make us feel
So the Thought Work we do every day works when you are honest with yourself about the thoughts you’re thinking habitually, on repeat, and the feelings those thoughts are creating for you, the actions you take, and the results in your life.
That’s how we do our thought work.
Circumstance, Thought, Feeling, Action, Result.
And if you are stuck in a thought loop, if you are believing a story that someone else put in your head about you, about them, about the world, it’s hard to get the Thought Work to work. And in that, it is hard to break free from the grasp of those old tired stories. Those thought habits like codependency, perfectionism, people-pleasing that have got written into your brain like coding on a computer.
So you get to rewrite the software in your brain, that code. And all of those thought habits play into finding apologies either super-duper challenging, or leading you to have that knee-jerk habit of saying “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry for existing.”
What do you feel when you have the thought, “I’m sorry?”
Often, apologizing or being told we need to, the whole theme brings up feelings like worry, shame, disappointment, resentment, which indicates ego involvement, which makes sense but doesn’t serve you my darling.
How negative thoughts are a gift
This theme can also bring up annoyance or irritability. And I know if something is making me feel scraggly, irritable, it’s touching something deep.
And when our perfect inner childrens and our ego are very defended, when we have learned that protective, beautiful mechanism, we may feel numb.
We may feel checked out when we try to check-in.
Awash in dorsal vagal freeze, immobilization, the bottom of the polyvagal ladder, as it were, which as always, is not something to judge.
Not something to say “Ugh, why do I go there?” It’s just something to notice with love and tenderness because something inside you is protecting you with that reaction.
What a gift…
Relationships, having, maintaining, living in relationship with other humans, other mammals are built into our nervous system. It’s the main directive of ventral vagal. It’s built into our genetic code and scientists have done all sorts of research with very-new-to-this-world-humans, also known as babies, who can’t yet speak, but who through non-verbal communication build relationships with their caregivers whose attention they need to survive.
Since most of us live in relationship with other humans, we are bound to say or do things that cause harm, that push buttons, that upset feelings.
And when we do, we are in a position to apologize.
And to repair the harm that was done so that we can continue to grow and nurture these essential relationships.
So the big question, how do we do it?
How do we apologize without harming ourselves or the other person further?
How do we apologize from a place of radical self-love, radical and unconditional love for others?
6 steps to a meaningful apology
Because scientists like to study anything not stapled to the floor, there are studies out there about what makes for an effective apology. I have, of course, given this my own little spin:
- Express your intent to apologize
- Explain what went wrong
- Take responsibility.
- Express your sorrow and regret
- Offer a way to repair.
- Ask if the other person is ready to forgive you or if there is anything else they need.
And then there’s a seventh step that’s not technically part of the apology but is super important. So step seven, after you’ve gotten clear about why you are apologizing and gone through the six steps I mentioned, your job is to stop talking, and to start listening
The pre-apology prep work
The pre-apology prep work involves getting clear with yourself about the why of your apology.
And this is when we get to ask ourselves some big questions.
- Are you apologizing to be manipulative?
- Are you apologizing to try to get the other person to think something about you? Like that you’re a good person?
- Are you apologizing to try to get them to do something?
Are you apologizing with a goal in the end, other than to show up with love? If so, take a beat, my darling. Take a breath, excuse yourself from the room. Let the other person know “I need to run to the bathroom, I’ll be right back,” or whatever works for you.
Do your work to come correct to the apology.
If you say you’re going to the bathroom, go to the bathroom and do some thought work about why you want to apologize.
Next, ask yourself, what did I do or say that was out of line or that missed the mark? If you can’t clearly identify what you did to cause harm or what you were pretty sure caused harm, keep thinking.
Confusion is also a stress and a trauma response so be gentle and loving with yourself if you feel overwhelmed or confused when someone asks you for an apology. Again, go take a few minutes to write out what happened and to look for the facts.
Loaded apologies and when not to apologize
We must ask ourselves if the apology is genuine and we have caused harm that we want to apologize for, or if we feel like we MUST apologize.
Some of us – socialized as girls or women have been told a lot to apologize and keep our pretty little heads down in order to be liked even if it means tolerating abuse or unkindness. And that can be doubly so for BIPOC folks. All sorts of folks who are pushed to the margins by white supremacy.
We need to think about the moments where you can tap into that feeling of that desire to apologize and let that be your touchstone. Not a time when someone made a false accusation or was trying to gaslight you.
That’s not what we’re working with today, my love.
How to start the work of understanding the need to apologize.
When you are aware of what you have said or done to harm someone else and you and you are confident enough to identify that there is truth in what they’re saying, you can start with your intent to apologize.
Consider, “I want to apologize for my misstep.”
vs “I’m sorry I messed up…”
Can you feel the difference? When we say “I’m sorry”, we are labelling ourselves and centering our feelings. There is a time and place to center your own feelings. I love it when you do that, but an apology is not the time or the place.
As a human being we all mess up, so moving forward is what we need to focus on –
Once you have offered up a sincere apology by expressing your intent to apologize, explaining what went wrong, taking responsibility, express your sorrow or regret, offering a way to repair the harm, and asking if the person is ready to forgive you, you have set the groundwork for further conversation.
You get to set limits and boundaries and to listen to someone else’s limits and boundaries.
And it may be what the other person needs from you just isn’t going to work. And then you can rethink the relationship and if it’s healthy and fulfilling for you and where you are on your path.
Thank you for being here.
you are safe,
you are held,
you are loved.
And when one of us heals, we help heal the world.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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Victoria Albina, NP, MPH is a licensed and board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, herbalist and life coach, with 20 years experience in health and wellness. She trained at the University of California, San Francisco, and holds a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and a bachelors from Oberlin College. She comes to this work having been a patient herself, and having healed from a lifetime of IBS, GERD, SIBO, fatigue, depression and anxiety.
She is passionate about her work, and loves supporting patients in a truly holistic way - body, mind, heart and spirit. A native of Mar del Plata, Argentina, she grew up in the great state of Rhode Island, and lives in NYC with her partner. A brown dog named Frankie Bacon has her heart, and she lives for steak and a good dark chocolate.