Out of anger, frustration or a lack of sensitivity, we sometimes say or do things that are hurtful to others regardless of our intention. Now although this is not by any means to let women off the hook, the “we” I’m talking about here are men.
Look, blame it on a raucous national election, COVID-19 fatigue, putting your foot in your mouth, encountering a jerk, etc., a sincere apology is a lost art in times like these. We spew (or write) it out suspecting that it was hurtful, shrug our shoulders and move on as if it was no big deal.
So why do some men (okay, and women too) have such a tough time apologizing? Dr. Tim Sharp, chief happiness officer at The Happiness Institute, explains why:
“For some, conceding that they’re fallible can evoke a deep psychological anxiety regarding the risks or the consequences associated with loss or failure. It isn’t necessarily because they don’t like to be wrong, but because it’s seen as an inherent character fault.”
Sharp says that for non-apologists, the irrational need to always be “perfect” rules their ego and they feel their screw-ups are unforgivable. “Their difficulty in admitting failure largely comes from the unrealistic expectation that ‘I should get it right all the time,’” he says.
What makes it so hard for many men to apologize? Josh Gressel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Francisco shares some reasons why:
1) Admitting I’m wrong. If I admit I’m wrong, that I made a mistake, it means I’m somehow lesser in some way: less competent, less intelligent, less together.
2) “Yes butting.” This sounds like, “Yes I yelled at you, but only because you did ________ to me.” A variation on #1, it seems to stem from a man not being able to take clear responsibility for what he did wrong.
3) Vulnerability. For me to say “I’m sorry” is for me to be vulnerable in the moment in front of you, to make myself open to you. For a man, this can feel very threatening and it can get conflated with being weak.
4) Men are often not as focused on emotional nuances as their wives and partners, so their internal response to her “ouch!” is often “What’s the big deal?”
What follows now are some tips for making effective apologies:
Be clear about what you may need to apologize for: Test your instincts. Read the body language reactions to what you just did or said. If they say, “it’s no big deal,” it just may be a big deal. So ask for feedback from a person who may have witnessed your behavior.
Expect nothing: Apologies must be sincere and unconditional. Expectations of reciprocity, mutual concession, or forgiveness undermine your apology. The person you hurt is astute enough to know if your apology is sincere or fake.
Apologize for mistakes, not intentions. Apologizing for accidents can help; apologizing for something done intentionally, and which you’d likely do again in similar circumstances, isn’t likely to work.
Offer no excuses. When we consider ourselves responsible for the pain of others, we sometimes say, “I didn’t mean to,” or “That was not my intention.” Any assurances that their pain wasn’t a primary objective of your actions are in vain.
Take full responsibility. Acknowledge that you are 100% responsible for your own actions which you now regret. Allocating responsibility to others defeats the purpose of the apology, especially when you allocate some of it to the person you’re apologizing to.
In the end, fellas, understand that a sincere apology can remove the guilt of having done something you realize was wrong. It enables you to restore the relationship and you both can then move on. An apology can be liberating.
Oh, and lest I forget, never apologize like I did recently in a manner that was sheer cowardice – I texted my apology to the person I hurt.
Really, I did!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org