Monday, February 8, 2016

Now Say You're Sorry

I've never been very good at apologies. Just ask my mom. It's not her fault. Goodness knows, she tried, but she had her work cut out for her with me as her firstborn.

And the Big Sister of the Year Award goes to...well, not me!

In our family, I was the big sister, and my little brother Danny suffered because of me. Whenever my mood soured or I was hurt, I lashed out at my Danny. 

One time when we were playing, I slipped, and I landed with a smack on the concrete floor. Guess what I did? First I cried, next I jumped up, and whacked Danny. He started to wail. 

"What did you do THAT for?" he asked.

"Because I got hurt!" 

Whenever I was mean to Danny, Mom would have me go through the standard apology routine.

"Give your brother a hug." Ugh. I would give him the lamest of hugs.

"Now say you're sorry."


"Say it like you mean it."

It was no use. This would go on all day, if I didn't at least pretend to act remorseful, so I mustered up a little more oomph in my voice, feigning sincerity, and offered up the most apologetic "I'm really sorry, Danny," that I could.

What did it mean, saying I was sorry? Those were simply the magic words that allowed me to escape my mother's scorn, and enabled me to hightail it out of the room so I wouldn't have to see the look I so deserved in my brother's eyes. 

I'm not sure when I realized the critical step in a sincere apology is to own your actions, but I believe it was during the last ten years of my teaching career. To resolve conflicts between kids, it was necessary for them to take ownership for what happened. I would require each of them to start their sentences with "I ________(lied to, hit, tripped, or whatever they did to) so-and-so."

This was no easy task because our first response when we feel we have been wronged is to defend our actions or to blame the other person. I would have to step in several times during these discussions to remind my students I wanted to hear what each of them had done, and not what they thought the other had done. 

It's much easier to find out who needs to apologize for what when offenders take ownership for their wrongdoings. And it was much easier for me to understand this concept when I was the mediator, than it is when I'm the offender.

What? Me, an offender STILL? Yes, me. 

My husband Chuck has pretty tender feelings, and I tend to run over them slipshod, like the proverbial bull in the china shop. I know; it's hard to believe. We newlyweds who are head-over-heels in love with each other still have discussions where someone's feelings get hurt, and someone needs to apologize. It happens. And more often than not, I am the offender, and Chuck is my victim. 

I thought I was doing a pretty good job with my apologies. I had the basics down. I was letting Chuck know that I had only done what I thought was within my rights, and that I was sorry that his feelings had gotten hurt while I was just doing what I thought I was justified in doing.

I had been forgetting one important detail that I actually understood really well as a mediating teacher, and I had forgotten as a new wife, and that is this: as the offender, I need to take ownership for my actions.





I hate to admit fault. It's just so embarrassing. It's time to own up to the glaring fact that I am, in fact, not perfect. You guys, this is so hard for me. Humility is just not my strong suit. 

You know what is easy for me to do? I can say I'm sorry, and I do it often. But what I am sorry for doesn't help the situation. Essentially what I have done all my life is say I'm sorry for the wrong things.

I'm sorry I got caught doing something wrong.

I'm sorry your feelings got hurt.

I'm sorry I got in trouble.

I'm sorry you are mad at me.

I'm sorry you are so sensitive.

But all I've really managed to say really is this: 

"I'm sorry I have to tell you I'm sorry because I really don't know how to apologize. I suck at apologies really, and this will have to do.”

Well, a couple days ago, this started to sink in because Chuck modeled it for me so perfectly. What we were arguing about doesn't matter; basically, he told me, "When I did [that thing, whatever it was] it hurt your feelings. I am really sorry I did [that thing] because it made you sad, and I won't do that again."

It is so simple, really. A sincere apology has three parts, as I see it now.

First, we have to own what we did. Lay it out there for the offended partner to see you recognize the part you played in the situation. 

Secondly, say you're sorry. Give a sincere apology, not the kind of huffy sorry you offered as a scolded child. Offer your loved one the words that will begin to heal the hurt between you. 

Lastly, recognize that the offending behavior needs to stop. None of us changes overnight, but all of us can make improvements. 

I'm sorry I was so mean when I was little. Thanks for forgiving me, and loving me anyway.

If I could have a Mulligan on my childhood, I would go back to my Danny and say, "I am sorry I hit you. That I blamed you. That I was mean. That I made you watch Dark Shadows with me. That I switched our gifts from Santa Claus before the family woke up that Christmas long ago.  I am owning that I wasn’t very nice when we were little." I would give him the biggest hug, and tell him again that I am sorry. Because I really am. And I would promise to not do those things any more. And I would tell him how lucky I am to have him for a younger brother. And I would tell him I love him. I do. I love you, Dan.

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to learn how to apologize properly.

If I could have a do-over on this first year of our marriage, I would say to my Chuck, "I recognize that I have been insensitive. That I haven’t owned my actions that hurt you. And I am so sorry that the things I’ve done made you sad. In the future, I will I will show you how important you are to me by respecting your feelings, and by treating you with love and kindness. I am so lucky to be your wife. I love you, Chuck."

So, there you have it. I'm still learning how to adult. From now on, this grown-up will own what she's done. She will offer the sincerest of apologies, and not repeat the offensive act.

I did it. I'm sorry. I won't do it again. 

It's that simple.


  1. I appreciate this meditation. Apologies can be very hard--even still, even now. I have very clear memories of being made by my mother to apologize to my sister (and vice versa). I like the strategy you developed with your students, though, as you note, it gets more complicated as grownups, learning to apologize for the right things. You've hit some powerful notes here.

    1. (I'm reposting this today because I am still figuring out how to reply in the correct spot on my blog. Ugh.)

      Hearing from you has made my morning. Thank you so much for stopping by to read, and to give me some encouragement, as well. You are one of my favorite folk! Big hugs...

  2. I used to sneak up behind my sister and bite her. So weird what we do to each other as children. As adults too, although actual biting isn't usually involved. An ex used to apologize to me by saying, "I'm sorry for whatever you think I did," which was pretty much just his way of saying he wasn't sorry at all, and I was crazy, but could we have sex anyway? Oh dear, can I say that here? So yes, we have to own it or it isn't an apology at all. Well said, Denise.

    1. Hah! It's like bad lipreading, relationship style.

  3. Thanks, Deb. Your ex's motives, and his apologies...ew. It starkly reminds me how wrong it is to not own our part in a misunderstanding.

  4. I was pretty horrible to my little brother, too...and come to think of it, i'm not sure i've ever properly apologized for it. Sooooo, thanks for that. ;)

    Seriously, though...this is a beautiful reminder that it's not about me. Thank you.

    1. Christine, thank YOU. I do believe it'should natural for siblings to have quarrels. I just remember some of my actions as deplorable, and needing my apology. Thanks again for taking the time to leave a blogment.

  5. Both apologizing and forgiving can be powerful experiences, but so many of us have a hard time that we forget that getting it right can really change relationships. Thanks for this reminder to pay attention.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comment. And thanks for stopping by Randomocity! It's been fun getting to know you through our blogging group!

  6. Okay, my emotions were a waveform reading this. Some parts were so funny and honest and others sad and thoughtful. As the "Danny" to my big sister you should know those second sibs can be pretty forgiving folks. You made me laugh remembering my sister and those "forced apologies" and in hindsight, I just knew that back then she didn't want a younger sister ad had I been in her shoes, I'm sure I would have ruled her with an iron fist.

    Anyway, I much enjoyed this beautiful, wry, transparent piece.

    1. Tonia, thankfully, second sibs ARE pretty forgiving folks, as you said. I'm sorry you had to suffer at the hands of an older sister, too. Let me just apologize for the behavior of all the big sisters of the world. ;-) Thanks for your blogment...always a delight!


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