Saying sorry

Or how to do it properly …

I didn’t learn how to make a proper apology till very late in life. I’ve been rubbish at it for most of my life, doing the equivalent of that small child being forced to say “I’m sorry” – even when I’ve truly felt it and meant it. Now just saying “I’m sorry” is better than making no apology at all, but it’s still a long way from doing it properly.

Saying sorry properly is a skill, an art even. I believe that a proper apology must not have any caveats, ideally it expresses that you understand why and how your actions or behaviour caused hurt or upset. The other important aspect of a proper apology is that it’s also necessary you actively intend not to repeat that behaviour or action… or what’s the point? If you’ve no intention of changing, you might as well be that small child blurting out the forced words.

Something I’ve wondered is if this life skill is taught? No, I’m not suggesting that this is yet another task to delegate to overloaded teachers, but whether it’s something parents routinely do? I was never taught how to say sorry – other than the small child blurt out; I also never witnessed either of my parents demonstrate that type of apology. I know I didn’t pass any skill in that area to my daughter, as I didn’t learn it till she was an adult and had left home. I believe it’s one of the many skills she’s learned herself.

The thing is, I was brought up by nannies (it was common overseas), and my mother was brought up likewise, although much of her older childhood was spent in boarding school where she resided year round. So I learned many of my parenting skills from the parents of my friends. I saw how they did things differently to my parents (and grandparents) and filed that knowledge away in my subconscious for later use. There was a hole in the apologising skill area, as I never observed an apology being made – probably as they are usually a private matter.

Yet, the first proper apology I made was made in public. Not in front of a vast audience, but I didn’t wait until we were alone before doing it. I knew it needed to be given as soon as I was face-to-face with the person concerned, and as the offence had been committed publicly, it would be cowardly to do so in private. It was the first apology which gave me a sense of peace & closure after making it. Looking back, one regret I do have is my rubbish apologies.

What do you think constitutes a proper apology? Do you think this is a skill to actively teach our children, or is leading by example preferable and/or more effective?

© Debra Carey, 2021

8 thoughts on “Saying sorry

Add yours

  1. Good questions for which I have no immediate answer. I guess a good apology is sincere and truthful. Not placing blame on the other person? I’ll keep thinking on this.

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  2. I believe we lead by example and I have always tried to give a meaningful apology on those times when I am/say/do something wrong. I have, within the last three or four years as I have become aware, apologized to the kids for things I did when they were young which I realize now could have been harmful to them (not physically harmful). Fortunately they have accepted my apology.

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  3. Ally, I agree – sincere & truthful would indeed make an apology a good one, as would a lack of blaming. You may not be entirely surprised to hear that this one has been bubbling away in my drafts folder for positively ages, as I thought on the subject, while drafting & re-drafting over again.

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  4. Janet, I’ve been mulling over this subject for positively ages and the “lead by example” question was a late addition, but I think you’re so right about it being necessary. I’d not thought about apologising to my daughter about things I got wrong, so thank you 🙂

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  5. You’ve really touched a (positive) vein with this one, Deb. My wife and I have had long conversations on this topic as it relates to our upbringings. Neither of our parents ever displayed any kind of later remorse for bad behavior on either of their parts (the later icy cold wars lasted for days). The only apologies I ever heard growing up were the innocuous type such as when one accidentally spilled, knocked over, broke, stepped-on, etc. Emotional apologies were non-existent, which made my own in later life very similar to how you describe your own: awkward! I like to think I finally developed a sincere way of making them, but I do wish I had been given a “roadmap” of sorts earlier. – Marty

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  6. Marty, interesting that you share my experience of this. I’m rapidly coming to the view that’s it’s really a terrifically important life skill.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience Janet. I’m going to take that opportunity when we can meet again in person x

    Liked by 1 person

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