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Do you "Sorry, not sorry." ?!

Last year, I apologized to two people. Here I share my reflections that I had before the attempt, during the attempt, and after the attempt. The two apologies are drastically different from each other. Considering the distinction, I would address my apologies as - Apology A and Apology B. My decision to choose these two kinds of apologies was to experience both ends of the spectrum with the same set of "How to apologize" tools and see the similarities and differences.

Apology A has caused a lesser degree of harm to the other person and the relationship. It happened over a video call and addressed one of my actions over a regular conversation with this person. Our relationship during the period of apology is of a strong friendship. It refers to the incident where I mentioned some other South Indian language than the person's native South Indian language. One can consider this a racist remark as South Indian languages are often referred to interchangeably by North Indians to mock the community's identity. The potential harm that I have caused is ridiculing the person's identity and re-exposing the damage they have faced regularly during their time in North India.

The other person wasn't willing to have a conversation on apology as Mia Mingus points out that an act of apology must be in mutual agreement, and one cannot impose on someone else.

Apology B, on the other side, has caused more degree of harm to the person and the relationship over a continued period. I tried to attempt it on call, but it abruptly happened over a WhatsApp (text) conversation, which I consider not a successful attempt. It describes my action of repetitively causing harm to the other person by not being honest with them in an interpersonal relationship. They have been vocal about the damage in the past that I have caused to them on their self-esteem. The other person wasn't willing to have a conversation on apology as Mia Mingus points out that an act of apology must be in mutual agreement, and one cannot impose on someone else. They state what Mia Mingus has also mentioned in How To Give A Genuine Apology Part 2. A conversation on the potential harm that I have caused and the recollection of the incidents would resurface the damage and have caused more harm to the other person and me.

Before the apologies

Apologizing to someone is not new to me as I have felt the need to do it mainly. However, the reasons must have changed over a period. My need to be liked by everyone has gradually turned to a fear of hurting the other, and I see them as opposite sides of the same coin. Lately, my actions have harmed the closed ones, and they have called me out several times for hurting them. Instead of feeling empowered by the tools of Calling-in and Apologizing, I felt discouraged and upset. Even the acknowledgment of causing potential harm to someone makes me feel guilty in the first place. Hence, keeping aside the apologies that I made after learning the tools, my previous apologies have come from a space of remorse and shame instead of holding myself accountable.

In both the apologies, it was hard for me to think of the incident repeatedly as I was constantly blaming myself for causing the situation in the first place, irrespective of the degree of harm. Apologies had turned from a conversation to a never-ending project, and I felt burdened by it. The pattern is similar to my conflict resolution approach, which stands the least in my Emotional and Social Intelligence because there is the confrontation of the incident involved. In these apologies, I was confronting myself and holding myself accountable in conversation with the other person.

In Apology A, there was a fear of causing a dent in the relationship. I was about to surface something that the other person might not have noticed or did not want to recognize. In Apology B, there was a fear of losing an already lost relationship.

I was looking forward to a possible start of a new or rekindled relationship with this apology and hence, apologizing with an agenda instead of holding myself accountable. I recognized Affective/Emotional Empathy in both the apologies as I felt the pain they must have gone through the harm that I caused. Although it was difficult for me to describe the incident in my head, it was relatively easy to cite the potential damage I generated as I could feel it in my emotions.

During the apologies

I became aware of waiting for that "right moment" to come in both the apologies, and there wasn't any. In Apology A, it was difficult for me to initiate the conversation as I had a voice-tone shift from energetic to severe and uncontrolled emotional regulation. The other person was curious to know what act I had done that I felt the need to apologize, so they prepared themselves for what was coming next. That gave both of us a pause before this confrontational conversation could happen. During the apology, I could see their expression shift during the proceeding from curiousness to calmness and agreement. That gave me a sense of relief as I am aware that I take energy from the other person in the conversation. I acknowledged inside that my lack of emotional self-control is playing its role.

I used the technique of Pausing, giving myself space, and continuing with what I had to say. They shared that they accept my apology and that this action had not caused any harm to them. However, this apology called them to describe another action of mine that had caused damage to them.

This method of apology created a space for us to talk about our relationship and its strength. That broke my notion that such a conversation could cause a dent in a healthy relationship. I also recognized that it was difficult for me to hold this apology.

I usually would turn the conversation to my intent behind my action, which puts me in a positive light. I must be doing it because it gives me a sense of Referent Power that I cannot say something that hurts someone else, and I usually have good intentions behind my actions. I called to attention by the end of the conversation how it made me feel, leading to the other person sharing their reflections.

An apology must be consensual. One cannot impose an apology on someone else.

In Apology B, my inhibition of using the method of apologizing by Mia Mingus was that in the process, I could name potential harm that the other person might not have even thought. Hence, it surfaced a hidden wound in the first place, leading to a more harmful conversation. The degree of harm was a lot more, and the other person had started to repair it independently. Still, I brought the acknowledgment of my actions causing damage back into their knowledge. Mia Mingus aptly says that apology must be consensual. One cannot impose their apology on someone else, which made me step back from the conversation. During the conversation, I felt rejected, discouraged, and remorseful. For the first time, I noticed that the other person had opened to me about how they also feel the need to unpack things. I felt anger and frustration from the other side. That is not the feeling that they had conveyed before concerning this harmful incident. They also did not share the need for an apology.

The repair could not happen at all because of the following factors:

  1. Bad track record – All my apologies that I had conveyed to them before had solely focused on my intent - "I did not mean to do it," not referring to my actions causing damage.

  2. Inconsistency – I had not apologized for any other harm that I may have caused earlier in the relationship.

  3. The difference in the quality of relationship before and after – My actions had a severe dent in the relationship, but I had not acknowledged it or refused to believe it.

  4. Timing – I was apologizing for my actions that had happened almost a year ago.

The other person is also aware of the harm that the incidents have caused to my mental health, and hence they preferred to call off the process. They called me out that I am trying to apologize for my actions to get closure about which they are not wrong. I am sure the window of apology was closed for me as the person said that they would contact me that week, but they did not.

After the apologies

"I am sorry that I hurt you" vs. "I am sorry that I said ____. I understand that this must have caused you / affected you ___. I recognize my pattern of ___, and I will make sure that I am aware of this the next time and not repeat." was a critical acknowledgment for me. I would not give much thought to what particular action of mine has caused harm vs. "I am harmful."

An intentional focus on the incident, my words and actions changed the whole narrative of the conversation for the other person and me. It changed my understanding of the incident from "I am guilty" to what are the things that I could improve upon to cause less harm to people in my surroundings as Tran rightly says that we live in a dangerous world, to begin.

I have learned through experience that causing harm to someone and then apologizing for it is not a linear process as you never know what part of your action can cause damage to the other person. I recognize that the most challenging part for me in this process was to realize my action that may have impacted the other person in the first place, and in most cases, I do not even reach that start level. I see similarities in Apology A and B regarding what is going on for me concerning my feelings.

I noticed similarities between apologizing and confronting the other person as they both talk of holding either myself or others accountable.

The commonality is how the apology is designed by

  • naming the hurt,

  • the impact,

  • taking responsibility,

  • and committing to not harming again.

I also feel that my self-esteem drops to the lowest while apologizing to the other person as I entirely blame myself for the harmful act that I have committed. I struggle to maintain it as I need to work upon my emotional self-control. Tools that I have learned to regulate my emotions are Pausing and Calling to. Although I feel that Calling to is the least harmful tool that I can use, and it is in my comfort zone.

I look forward to using it for holding courageous conversations in the future.

"How to Apologize" tools


Feel free to contact and connect on LinkedIn. I really appreciate your time, reflection, comments, and feedback.

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