Apologies. Maybe you feel like you’re waiting for one that will never come, or perhaps you apologized for something, and the response wasn’t what you hoped. Whatever the case, it’s vital to talk about how important apologies are for feeling relief and forgiveness.
One of my colleagues is an amazing and delightful woman who is also a neuroscience educator–Staci Danford. She has a podcast called A Mental Makeover, and I highly recommend it! One of my favorite episodes is #210; she shares a technique called HURT. It correlates to what I’ve learned and taught about apologies and giving them; what was exciting was the neuroscience behind the HURT technique.
Staci referenced a study showing that a particular area of our brains lights up when someone apologizes. That’s because our brain is working hard to protect us from pain. Staci tells us there is a direct link between an apology, empathy, and forgiveness.
Our empathetic apology allows us to understand that we’ve hurt someone. And when sincere, an apology can activate forgiveness and calm in the other person!
Sincerity Is Key To Apologies
Staci gave a great example of interpreting sincerity in apologies, and I will use something similar. You know how someone pulls right in front of you while driving–you’re on the freeway or a parking lot, and you realize you’re cursing and grumbling because they could’ve gotten you in an accident that could have killed you both?
Then they wave at you. Sort of like, “Sorry–thanks for the grace.” What happens? You calm down, don’t you? You realize they’re human and maybe didn’t even see you. You feel empathy toward them, and their apology in that wave gives you some calm-down energy.
Do you feel the same calm and forgiveness when they give you the finger and keep going like you’re not even there? Nope. You sure don’t.
Science suggests that being emotionally hurt registers in the brain in the same location that physical hurt registers. Your brain tells your body that emotional hurt feels like physical hurt. A study showed that aspirin or ibuprofen given to someone emotionally hurt gave them physical AND emotional relief! Isn’t that wild?
Another thing Staci brought up that fascinated me was that our brains register differently regarding being hurt. When we emotionally hurt someone, our brain knows what we MEANT to do…it knows our intention and judges us on it. I don’t beat myself up over what I didn’t mean to do.
That’s not the same for others. Their brains don’t know and understand that I did not intend to harm them. When someone does something to me, my brain doesn’t know their intent either. It just registers the hurt and the pain, regardless of intent, and judges what I interpreted their actions to mean.
Our brains are our filters. Great for us, not so great for the other person, whose brain is also a filter that doesn’t understand mine. That’s why apologies matter; they address intent.
The intent has to be coupled with sincerity. Staci talked about another study that showed insincere apologies can cause more damage to the other person’s brain.
Through all the forgiveness and spiritual work, I’ve learned that being right and standing my ground is not as important as trying to be vulnerable and see another person’s point of view. That’s when I can look deeper, see their intent, and come to a place of forgiveness.
This world will tell you NEVER BACK DOWN, and I’m not saying you should be a doormat. There is strength in vulnerability and empathy that allows you to see others may be scared, hurt, or uninformed, and their intent is not to hurt–they’re just acting out of those places.
Looking Past Unintentionality
What can we do to get there? How can we get to that place where we can be vulnerable and see people not always intentionally hurt us? Or that we hurt people, even when we don’t mean to?
Use language that takes responsibility for yourself, and don’t point fingers. Let them know how YOU feel and then ask if that was their intention. This gives YOU the power and allows them to say, “No, honestly, I did not mean that.”
When we take responsibility for our feelings and communicate our intentions and feelings, we acknowledge that our emotions and feelings have VALUE. So ASK for CLARIFICATION when you feel these emotions by saying something like, “When you said or did (blank), I felt (blank), and I am curious if that is what you meant to say or do.”
Communication helps alleviate misunderstandings. It also saves a lot of energy you’d expend fussing and fuming!
Communication also allows us to reflect on what was said or done and how we received the words or actions. Knowing the answers can go a long way, so here are some things to ask when you’re reflecting:
- What was going on within me, or what happened that day?
- Can I name the emotion I was feeling?
- Where did that happen before? Because sometimes it’s a pattern.
- Who did that happen with before? Again–look for patterns.
- How old were we? Was it in childhood? Or throughout my life?
I love the idea of journaling the answers to these questions. You can gain insight that helps you grow, and that can help you with future apologies.
Making Amends Whenever Possible
When doing the Twelve Steps in AA 20 years ago, I came to #9: “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
That friend, is when I was introduced to sincerity in apology.
In AA, you’re told about doing the steps in order for a reason. It’s because until you get through to a place of humility and understanding of the harm you’ve possibly caused, you’ll never be able to apologize for that hurt sincerely. Getting to a place of humbleness will shine through, and the other person will know your heart is looking for reconciliation. That’s powerful.
I want to share how you can come to this place too. When you want to reconcile and make amends, how you can take your heart to them and apologize. Here are some steps to guide you.
What Does A Sincere Apology Look Like When You’ve Hurt Someone?
- A very clear “I’m Sorry” statement.
- If safe, make it face-to-face; if you need to write it and can read it to them, great. You can still say it if they’re no longer around and then burn your written statement. Just make sure it’s clear and stated. If you need to, tell someone you trust and then burn or shred it. This takes the energy out of your body and your brain. It helps stop that rumination and heaviness we feel when carrying around that guilt or hurt.
- In learning to make amends, I was taught to say what I was apologizing for, instead of saying I’m sorry because you took it wrong. A sincere apology acknowledges YOUR wrong, not someone else’s.
- An empathy statement that acknowledges the impact our actions had on the other person.
- Be honest; they know how they feel, so don’t act like they don’t or shouldn’t.
- A request for forgiveness. For example, “I know you are feeling hurt, and I ask that you please forgive me if you can.”
- They may not grant you that, but you’re still offering.
- Make it right. Ask how you can make it right again, and then be quiet.
- Let the other person share if you are face-to-face. Don’t tell them how you want it to look. Remember, their brain has been hurt, and you’re looking to help. Again, remember, they may say, “Nothing,” and that’s okay. They may need time or space as well.
It can feel intimidating to “own up” to our behavior. Still, when we do this, it alleviates guilt and helps us take responsibility for our actions, which is VERY EMPOWERING.
What If Someone Owes ME An Apology?
Now, not everyone makes apologies like I just shared. They haven’t learned or don’t know. When someone else hurts us, we can let people know they have hurt us, but it’s not in our best interest to blow up at them or demand an apology.
Often, clients tell me that they feel better when they lash out and get angry, and I understand because I thought the same way. Staci points out that when we lash out, our brains get instant relief from a chemical reaction. It relieves the pain from the hurt and is a dopamine hit. It’s only for the moment and doesn’t solve the problem.
Clarify the person’s intention, and if you still don’t get an apology, you can learn to take responsibility for your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts and do the work around the hurt. We do this in the forgiveness work so that we are okay whether we get an apology or not.
I understand this may not seem fair–YOU are doing the work. The thing is, YOU want to feel better, and you will when you’re not hanging on to something that may never come. You doing the work is worth it for YOU!
Remember To Be Kind To Yourself
Our brains are amazing, and I love that neuro-science is teaching us more and more about them and how they respond to everyday life.
I encourage YOU TO check out Staci’s podcast because she makes learning about our brains much easier. Learning about our brains helps us be more kind to ourselves as we realize that the more we know about ourselves, the easier it will be to forgive, accept and have compassion for our fellow humans. It also lets us have all those things for ourselves, and that’s the whole goal!