“Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.” – Tyron Edwards
It is often said that a true and sincere apology is made up of three, distinct parts: verbal recognition, an authentic understanding of personal responsibility, and a genuine effort to make things right. Ah, if only it were so easy. In reality, admitting when we are wrong can be (for some of us) as difficult as abstract algebra. The art of apologizing seems pretty straightforward, but when we break it down, we see that there are numerous types of apology – some sincere, some habitual, and some subconsciously devised to protect our precious little egos. Let us take a quick look at some of the most common types of apology.
Different Types of Apology
- Apologizing to be polite.
“Pardon me, excuse me, I’m so sorry.” Most of us are extremely familiar with this type of apology – we run into someone at the grocery store and quickly apologize, or show common courtesy with a quick apology after accidentally cutting someone off mid-conversation. However, there are those who apologize gratuitously. They do so to gain approval; apologizing becomes insincere, just a go-to interjection. Excessively apologizing is often utilized as a method of avoiding confrontation and conflict.
- Apologizing from a place of guilt.
Apologies that come from a place of guilt do not come from a place of authentic caring, but rather from a need to assuage our own discomfort. When we make a mistake, we tend to feel less badly if we are quickly forgiven. The main motivation behind many admissions of a guilt is a need to feel better about oneself. In apologies that stem from a place of guilt, there is little real resolution or emotional connection. Additionally, guilt-driven apologies tend to happen somewhat far down the line; long after the offense itself has been committed. This type of apology will only occur when conscience overwhelms ego.
- Apologizing from a place of love.
Apologizing from a place of love is completely voluntary, and comes from a place of authentic empathy. This type of apology is often cathartic because it is so sincere, and backed by a genuine desire to right all wrongs. When apologies come from a place of love, they usually have much more to do with healing the other involved party than they do with selfish or guilt-driven motives. Those making this kind of apology are essentially saying, “I know I screwed up, and I want to make things right. Your happiness is important to me.”
- Apologizing without actually apologizing.
This kind of apology lacks any significant sincerity, and comes from a place of pure obligation. In most cases, this kind of apology is merely intended to hinder any potential escalation of conflict. Apologizing without actually apologizing might look like saying, “I’m sorry if you felt I was being unfair,” or, “I’m sorry if you got hurt.” The use of the word ‘if’ immediately discredits the feelings of the other party, and takes the blame off of the apologizer. In essence, the individual who is making this kind of apology is saying, “I really don’t think I was being unfair, but if you felt that I was, I will apologize out of obligation.”
- Apologizing to placate.
When one apologizes to placate or appease, he or she is unwittingly attempting to control the emotions of the other party. For example, a sex addicted man may have an affair with his secretary, and apologetically confess to his wife before she has the opportunity to find out on her own. He is not necessarily sincere in his apology; he is trying to assuage the situation, and nip her potential anger in the bud. He is apologizing out of fear – if she finds out for herself, she may be even more angry than if he just outright confesses. Apologizing merely to conciliate a situation means nothing, and the behavior is liable to continue.
- Apologizing to save face.
This type of apology often occurs in the public eye, most frequently when a celebrity or other public figure makes an obvious mistake. Perhaps a politician makes an unfavorable remark about women, which is in turn met with a public outcry. This politician might then make a public apology – not so much because he is sincerely sorry, but because he wants the media attention to die down as quickly as possible. He wants to attempt to save his reputation, and an apology seems like a viable way to do so. This type of apology will never resolve the underlying problem. The politician may continue mistreating women – he will just be more careful about what he says in a public setting.
Making amends is similar to apologizing from a place of love, but it is taken one step further. When an individual makes amends, not only is the apology heartfelt and sincere, but it is backed by a genuine effort to change damaging behavior. For example, the alcoholic husband may go on a bender, and make an authentic apology to his wife the next day. He may truly experience a sense of empathy, and apologize from a place of validity and devotion. However, unless he checks himself into treatment or begins seriously attending AA meetings, he may find himself at the bar again the next day. This does not mean his apology bears no weight – it means that it is just that… an apology. An amends is backed by action.
Making amends is an important part of recovery, because those of us who are recovering from a chemical or behavioral addiction have inevitably hurt those we love – likely unintentionally, but all the same. True recovery revolves around a dedication to long-term change. When we make amends to our loved ones, we are not only acknowledging the hurt we have caused, but committing to continuously working on remedying our damaging behavioral patterns. No matter how heartfelt an apology is, it is devoid of significance unless backed by an effort to improve.