A few years ago I stumbled upon a book called ‘Why won’t you apologise’ a book about the art of apology and how bad most people are at it. Harriett Lerner, a Clinical Psychologist and author of the book, breaks down the do’s and don’ts of a good apology and how to approach conversations where we hope the other will right the wrongs they have done to us. Hilchot teshuvah teaches us that the sins committed between people will not be atoned on Yom Kippur unless the work has been done to repair the relationship. Or in other words, God can’t accept an apology on our behalf. At this time of year where we are encouraged to analyse our relationships and make amends, Lerner’s book offers crucial food for thought and advice on how to go about those conversations. She gives insight as to where so many of us mess up our apologies.
Here are Lerner’s ‘5 ways to ruin an apology’:
- Following up your apology with a ‘but’. A ‘but’ in an apology can undo the sincerity of what you are apologising for, invalidate the person’s experience and cause hurt once again.
- ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. Apologising for a person’s feelings is not apologising for your actions that caused them to feel that way.
- The mystified apology – ‘look what you’re making him do’. A child snatches a toy and the other child starts a tantrum and is hitting their head against the floor – ‘look what you’re making them do’; the apology is not for the toy snatching but for the actions of the other child.
- Intrusive apology – eg. apologising to a victim in order to alleviate your own guilt, but they may be threatened by your re-appearance in their life.
- An apology that demands forgiveness.
How do we grapple with our apologies at this time of year? A proper apology can heal relationships while a poor apology, even when our hearts are in the right place, can have the opposite effect.
Gmar chatimah tova.