Kate James is a highly regarded speaker, meditation coach and author of multiple wellness books including her latest – Building Resilience.
Here is an excerpt from her new book which outlines the power of apologising.
Learn to Apologise
We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes can affect others. Learning to apologise, and knowing when we need to, is a crucial part of developing our sense of accountability. Bouncing back from guilt and shame, even if we’re having difficulty owning up to those emotions, relies on our ability to apologise to those we’ve hurt or mistreated.
Apologising doesn’t mean swallowing your pride or submitting to another person’s will. There’s enormous dignity and power in reaching out and being vulnerable with someone you care about. Instead of burying feelings of remorse and ill-ease, choosing to bring them to the surface and put them into action can feel incredibly empowering, and will add to your sense of self-worth.
Learning to apologise is difficult. Facing up to our mistakes doesn’t come naturally, and often we attempt to exonerate ourselves by projecting culpability. For example, the phrase ‘I’m sorry for what I said’ is very different to the phrase ‘I’m sorry that what I said upset you.’
The former means you’re accepting responsibility and asking for forgiveness. The latter means you’re implying that the other party should accept some responsibility. In terms of its function as a genuine apology, the latter does not meet the criteria.
Learn this difference. Consider how an apology has different forms and meanings when phrased in a way that serves one party over another.
Understand that it takes a great deal of humility and maturity to make the first move, but be assured there is rarely ever a loss in turning to someone with the courage and strength of character to say ‘I did the wrong thing. I apologise.’
Think of how you’ve appreciated a genuine apology in the past, and consider how it changed your opinion of the person who offered it. Apologising with heartfelt sincerity can strengthen relationships and ultimately enhance respect and trust between two parties.
Now unlearn it
On the flipside of learning to apologise for our missteps and wrongdoings is the compulsion to say sorry for no reason at all. Many of us struggle with the constant urge to apologise for absolutely nothing, which in turn erodes at our self-esteem.
Making a determined effort to avoid needless apologising will enhance your sense of self-worth and increase your confidence.
When you feel the need to apologise in this way, rethink it.
- When we have a question for someone, particularly at work, many of us open with ‘Sorry, can I just ask you something?’ Examine what it is you’re sorry for. We all have questions. We all require people to answer them. There is no wrongdoing here.
- Too often we fall into the trap of apologising for the way we look. We say things like ‘Sorry, my hair’s a mess,’ or ‘Sorry, I look so tired today.’ What are you sorry for, exactly? As editor and lexicographer Erin McKean once so poignantly wrote, ‘you don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Prettiness is not the rent you pay to occupy space.’
- We all have the compulsion to apologise for circumstances beyond our control. Recall a time someone bumped into you in the street or knocked your drink at a crowded event. You may have felt inclined to say ‘Sorry!’ even if the incident was entirely the other person’s fault. In situations such as these, apologising can be a way of building a connection and demonstrating forgiveness, but try to be mindful – don’t just apologise by default.
We pre-emptively apologise as a means to neutralise tension or conflict before they arise. This is an unfounded defence mechanism as most of the things we apologise for are unlikely to ever become sources of conflict.
Challenge yourself to one full day (a work day, preferably) without saying sorry. Really analyse the moments in which you feel compelled to apologise. Understand that this is learned behaviour and you can climb out of it. You do not owe the world an apology for existing. You never have.
Kate James is a successful coach, meditation teacher, speaker and writer. Kate helps her clients discover their values and innate strengths and guides them toward purposeful, meaningful lives. She is the author of Change How You Think & Be Happier Now, Be Mindful and Simplify Your Life, Believe in Yourself and Do What You Love and The Mindfulness Journal.