It’s not Enough to Apologize

Photo by Anna Dudkova on Unsplash

I’m sorry.

I’m really sorry.

I’m really sorry. I’m going to better and make sure I never hurt you that way again.

Apologies– sincere apologies that are actual apologies and not illusions of it– are necessary to give when you’ve wronged someone. It’s important that you’re not just like “I’m sorry that you feel that way”– deflecting the blame of your mistakes on the person you owe an apology to is not apologizing.

Even if you do feel bad and make a sincere apology where you are regretful of your actions, that is only the first step toward mending and maintaining a relationship. A meaningful apology is just the bare minimum, if you intend to continue the relationship.

For healthy relationships, it’s not enough to just say “sorry” and be forgiven. Keep in mind, forgiving does not equal forgetting. Forgiving means that one chooses not to have malintent or hold grudges against the person who has wronged them, regardless of whether or not that person has expressed remorse. If the relationship is a healthy one, hopefully the person who has wronged has apologized.

But a misconception that I’ve recently realized people to have is that forgiving means moving on, that everything is fixed. I’ve especially seen this from many men in my life and my friends’ lives.

That’s far from the case.

You can’t take away the hurt you caused someone by expressing your regret and remorse. A stubborn stain you leave on a wall isn’t removed by you simply wishing it wasn’t there. You need to work on fixing the damage continuously and consciously. You need to scrub at it continuously, even if the progress is not always linear.

Perhaps it’s not about removing the stain– once you do something, it’s permanent. There is no taking back the fact that you have done that specific action, said that specific thing. But perhaps it’s about making up for that stain, and some more.

For example, let’s say that a girlfriend cheats on her boyfriend. The former should apologize, obviously, and it’s possible that the boyfriend will forgive her and choose to continue the relationship. But trust doesn’t come automatically in tune with an apology and remorse. It doesn’t come with taking away what she did– the reality of her action is permanent. There is no going back in time and erasing it so it doesn’t exist in the present or future. It will always be true, it will always be a moment in history.

So it’s not about her doing the impossible. It’s about her being aware of her stain and painting elements of trust to compete with the mark that she has broken it. It’s about her efforts– it’s about, at the end– her sincerity– how she values the relationship, how she values, most importantly, the person.

Her mistakes are not just about her and her feeling uncomfortable and wallowing in self-pity– it’s about her acknowledging and validating the person she has wronged first and foremost. She needs to remember that it’s not her comfort she should be prioritizing– it’s her boyfriend’s. (Of course though, this isn’t to say that the girlfriend is supposed to allow herself to be treated by trash by her boyfriend– she still deserves basic human dignity and respect of her boundaries).

When you apologize sincerely, it should entail your actions meeting your words. If you’re genuine and value the relationship, an apology entails regular effort and action.

It means that you don’t dismiss their feelings and accuse them of “being negative” for bringing up their hurt again– like I said, the hurt you caused someone doesn’t just go away with words of apology. It’s not enough to feel bad. It’s about making things better, being willing to change, and being courageous enough to confront yourself and hold yourself accountable. You must hold yourself accountable and learn from your mistakes to grow. You must acknowledge your flaws to grow– if you don’t, how are you going to realize where to start from, what you need to work on?

Being truly remorseful means that if the person you’ve wronged brings up their hurt again after they’ve said they’d forgiven you, you listen. You remember that it’s not your discomfort you should be using as a reason to not have the conversation– it’s your fault in the first place that it is taking place. It’s not about your comfort– remember that the person you’ve wronged is continuously uncomfortable because of what you did. If you hadn’t done wrong toward them, then they wouldn’t have to suffer in the first place. You’ve responsible, so you’d better act like it instead of trying to make yourself the victim of your own mistake.

Remember, being forgiven is a privilege in the first place. You’re not entitled to that forgiveness. And even bigger of a privilege is if the person who wrong decides to give you another chance at the relationship you have with them. And second of all, remember that forgiveness isn’t about your feelings and protecting and coddling your ego. Rather, it’s about having the spine to acknowledge your mistakes, even if it’s painful to do so. It means being willing to understand and being expressive of that will. It means that you don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations.

I know that it’s a common thing for men– and people who aren’t men, too– to want to fix things. And it’s only natural that you or anyone want to fix things as soon as you possibly can.

But in real life, you don’t fix things. You mend to them, and you grow new things about the broken ones. You even use the pieces of the broken things to plant the seeds of new growth. What many who want to quickly “fix” things need to understand in addition is that it’s not a one-and-done deal to make things better. You can’t expect the person you hurt to just be hurt once and then not be affected in other times and aspects of their life by what you did to them.

Being authentically apologetic means that you’re there now in ways that you previously failed to be there– and it’s making sure that the other person knows it. It’s about showing, not just telling. It’s about acting, not just talking. It’s about growing, not just being. It’s about respecting, not just loving.

It’s about trying.

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