Saying "I'm sorry," has as much potential to cause damage as it does to heal. Think about the last time you heard an apology that you knew wasn't genuine.
"I'm sorry, okay!"
We all know that one. That's the patronizing apology. The one someone throws at you like a pissed off heckler throws a tomato at a villain on the way to the gallows.
All it does is make you even more hopeless.
Or what about the apology that someone gives out too soon. It might be genuine, but they're apologizing and they really don't know why.
This is the apology that you run away from. The one that makes you resent the apologizer because you're not ready to let go of being angry or hurt.
Then it's your fault.
My personal favorites are apologies so blatantly patronizing that they make the person receiving the apology feel like a magician's assistant, pinned to a wall hoping the knives you're throwing don't make it to her heart.
"I'm sorry you feel like I hurt you."
I'm sorry you're stupid.
Just don't. Don't ever, ever, ever say the words "I'm sorry," before the words "you feel." It never works.
Apologies are hard. It's sort of like baking your own sourdough bread. The expert bakers make it look so easy.
Yeah, just throw some flour and water in a jar and let it sit there until the next day when you throw in more water and flour. Then do it again for a couple of days until the water flour mixture smells like a perfect beer and throw it in the oven with some more water and flour. No grandma's secret cooking magic required.
Simple as that.
It seems like apologies should be easy too. Just apologize. When you've done something wrong. Just say I'm sorry.
If it was that easy, we wouldn't fumble over it so much.
Apologies are meaningless unless they've got the substance they need, which requires two steps.
1. Don't apologize until the person receiving your apology knows you understand why they're upset.
It doesn't matter how well you get it. If the person to whom you're apologizing doesn't know you get it, then you don't get it.
Easiest way to accomplish this? Just ask. "Do I get it?" Do I understand how I hurt you? If they say yes, then you've completed the first task.
2. Don't apologize unless you're authentic about it. This is not an excuse to avoid an apology because you don't think you've done something wrong. If you go through the first step, you'll probably see where your mistake was.
We all do things to hurt each other without meaning to. Avoiding a heartfelt apology because you don't want to admit fault is a good way to make things worse.
Just because you didn't mean to hurt him when you compared him to your last boyfriend, doesn't mean you don't need to make it right.
What it does mean is that you shouldn't apologize if you're going to roll your eyes while you're doing it.
Either the person asking for the apology needs a reality check, or you do.
It's probably you.
So here's a recipe for you to remember when you're unclear about the best way to apologize to someone you love:
Empathy + Authenticity = Apology.
It's that simple.