How to be sorry—the right way

Have you ever done things that you regret or that you feel sorry for? Have you done bad things or things that are socially unacceptable and wish you could undo them. Well, I have. And I have seen other people. Maybe you said something like “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”. But isn’t that just a really easy way out of the feeling of guilt. I think an apology or asking for forgiveness is somewhat egotistical. There are—in my opinion—better ways to deal with such a situation.

It’s simple: Repair the damage you caused. I think when you do something that causes damage and then simply say that you are sorry, it is more about your own feelings or the fear about consequences. But the apology should be about the other person’s feelings or situation. What exactly does the other person benefit from your apology. I propose the following options instead:

  • Make concrete suggestions how you can repair the damage. But don’t be superficial like “the next round is on me”. Do something that really repairs it.
  • Say how you will change in the future and present concrete believable steps to bring that about. “I will concentrate more” or “I will try harder” is not concrete.
  • Ask what you can do. But don’t ask what you can do to be forgiven. Ask what you can do to alleviate the pain you’ve caused.
  • Don’t repair the damage just to reach a certain goal of yours. Do it even if it has no positive consequences for you.
  • If you can’t repair the damage, because it is irreversible, try to compensate it.
  • If compensation is also not possible, you can substitute the reparation with doing good things for others.
  • If the damage is too large for you to repair, you can still try your best to bring some improvement or to prevent others makeing the same mistakes. This can, by compounding, in fact outweigh the damage in the long run.
  • Show what you do to the person you’ve hurt. When you have the possibility of doing your good deeds in secret, it might feel more noble. But in fact, the other person might hold some grudge and this feeling is further hurting him/her. If (s)he sees your good intentions (without any ulterior motives) (s)he might be able to let go of her grudge.

In general: Apologies focus on the past. I think it is more important to focus on the future. All the steps above are future based. Since you can’t change the past, the only thing you can do, is make the future better.

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