In our busy, often stressful lives, most of us at times have lapses of judgment, are careless, thoughtless or do other things to inadvertently hurt others in small or large ways. Every one of these incidents presents an opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Looking around our world, it seems quite apparent that we could all benefit from a more frequent practice of both apology and forgiveness. Apologizing and forgiving often go hand in hand. They can occur as two sides of a coin, an interaction between offender and offended. In this article I’m going to focus more on the side of the apology, and I’ll begin with a challenge.
The I’m Sorry Challenge
Called the “I’m sorry challenge,” it’s one week in length – to start. The task is for you to tune into your communications and interactions from the perspective of apology and forgiveness. As you tune in, notice any way in which you somehow hurt, offend, diminish or rudely or carelessly treat another person. As soon as you catch yourself, stop immediately, say “I’m sorry” and offer an apology. Then see what happens. Also notice how you feel differently in the moment and throughout the rest of the day.
Making an Apology
It takes courage and humility to make an apology. When you apologize, you’re taking responsibility for your actions, you’re offering an expression of sorrow, regret or contrition. You’re saying, “You know what, I screwed up, I’m sorry about that.” or “I’m sorry I hurt you.” An apology in this context doesn’t mean trying to defend your actions or blame them on someone or something else. It’s just a sincere statement to let the other person know you feel bad about what’s happened, and that you want to clean it up.
Though an apology is addressed to someone else, the act of apologizing is first for you. An apology allows you to clear out feelings of guilt, regret or shame that may otherwise linger and fester in your consciousness. It’s a way of clearing the air, clearing out negative or hurt feelings that might diminish your interactions and levels of connection or intimacy with the other. You apologize so that you can enjoy more open, authentic and clear communications.
I seem to have opportunities to do that on a fairly frequent basis. Recently with my wife, I made an offhand comment thinking that it would be funny. But when it tumbled out of my mouth, I instantly knew that in that particular situation it wasn’t funny. My perception was confirmed by a look of hurt on her face, and I knew I’d made a mistake. I also knew that there was the potential for that little hurt or a small resentment to come between us and affect our communication.
So I apologized immediately, I said, “Honey look, I’m sorry. That comment was supposed to be funny, but obviously it wasn’t. I didn’t mean to be hurtful, I apologize.” In this situation I apologized to clear things up. I wanted to know that I had done what I could to make sure that there were no hurt feelings, that there was nothing that might affect the closeness, communication and natural flow our relationship. After I made my apology, I also said, “Please forgive me.” The good news is that she did. And as the hurt look on her face relaxed into a smile once again, I knew we were back on track for clear communications.
A sincere apology often comes with a request for forgiveness, either explicitly spoken or unspoken and implicit. When you apologize to someone it doesn’t obligate them to forgive you. Neither should you make an apology with the expectation of being forgiven. Whether the other person chooses to respond in kind to the apology and opportunity to forgive is another matter. Apologizing for something you did is your choice. Forgiving you for the incident or offense is the choice of the other. But either way, you’ve taken the step to clear things up.
When someone offers a sincere apology and asks to be forgiven – whether it’s explicit or implicit – I’d recommend that you accept and do so. The purpose of forgiving is to let go of resentment, blame, anger, shame, guilt or anything else that might dampen your life force and spirit or bind you to the past. Even if someone never apologizes to you for a hurtful incident or experience, you can still forgive. You can choose to let go of any negative emotion or feeling, because forgiveness is really not for the other person. Forgiveness is for you to release anything that might hold you back, limit you or prevent you from having the freedom and joy that you want.
Now back to the “I’m sorry challenge.” Take it on for one week from the time you read this. See what happens in your relationships with others, and in the way you feel about yourself. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you like the results, keep it up and turn the challenge into your own regular practice. Then share your experience in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading and happy apologizing!
This article is based on an excerpt from one of the chapters in my upcoming book, “The Forgiveness Handbook.” It will be available soon in the Amazon Kindle Store. I’ll let you know when it’s ready for download!
Are you ready to free yourself of some resentment from the past, or give up some level of guilt or shame? Would you like to feel more lighthearted, creative and clear? If yes, I invite you to get my free Forgiveness Jump Start Kit, with useful worksheets and a step by step forgiveness process. When you join Forgiveness Club by entering your name and email address in the form in the right hand sidebar, I’ll send you an immediate download link. Then you can use it to be more forgiven and free!