Why “I’m Sorry” is Useless: How to Really Apologize

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By Ariel Minter

It recently dawned on me that saying “I’m sorry” could very well be the most useless phrase in the English language. 

I have said my fair share of Sorries. This little word can be used in many different settings, as there are four main types of apologies. 

I’m Sorry. I screwed up. This was probably the original apology. The good ol’ fashioned “I messed up big time and I really hope you understand how sorry I actually am.” This is the kind of sorry that is spoken when the person owns up to their mess and genuinely hope the words make some sort of an impact. 

I’m Sorry. I regret that this hurt you. At Passion Provokers, we teach our clients about boundaries and how they can apologize. I’ve written many blogs on the ownership of feelings (remember, you CHOOSE how you feel and no one can make you feel anything), so this type of sorry is where we coach clients to use the word regret. Why? Because, in this situation, you’re not at fault, but you can use regret for the situation or someone else’s feelings without being responsible for them. An example of this would be if your partner is frustrated with you about a recent boundary. You can regret that they feel that way and communicate that with them, but you are ultimately not responsible for their feelings (this doesn’t give you license to be a jerk). 

I’m Sorry. I understand and sympathize. This apology is most commonly used when someone has suffered some form of a loss. When you communicate this, you are speaking to their hurt and extending your understanding of how difficult it is. 

I’m Sorry. #SorryNotSorry. Remember that time in 6th grade when Lisa stole your favorite pen and you confronted her about it, then the teacher made her apologize to you? Yeah, Lisa wasn’t all that sorry. Probably just sorry she got caught. 

A verbal apology is powerful, important, and indisputably transformational. So, when did it become so useless? The phrase has been a dime-a-dozen for quite some time. It’s not so much that people don’t mean it when they say it, but it has become a social phrase that is supposed to make the wrong okay. Words are powerful, but a brushed over “Sorry” isn’t going to take away the hurt or pain from whatever created the need for the phrase in the first place. It’s an automatic response we have been trained to say from the moment we began learning to speak, like answering “I’m good, how are you?” when someone asks you how you are doing. 

I brought this up to my husband yesterday. He quickly added that “I love you” was the same. And I would have to agree with him. It is important to keep your privacy sacred by only sharing intimate things with those closest to you, but does the same not apply to words? Of course I do not mean stop saying you’re sorry or that you love someone. But, if you say it all too often they start to lose their meaning. 

I’m Sorry is completely useless. Apologies aren’t. Here are some simple steps on how to approach your next apology:

1. Take accountability for you part in it. This means taking full ownership of the wrong that was committed. I am a firm believer that anything after “but” is bull. No, you can’t say “I’m sorry, but I had no other choice” or “I’m sorry, but I thought I was doing the right thing.” I mean it, everything after “but” is bull. If you find yourself unable to phrase an apology without the “but”, you’re probably not ready to apologize because you aren’t taking ownership. 

2. Acknowledge the hurt you caused. Explain how you feel (an easy way to do this is to use The Feeling Wheel) and how you imagine they felt when it happened. For example, “Yesterday, when I made that sarcastic comment about your work ethic, I was wrong. It was disrespectful of me…..”

3. And on that note, make a verbal commitment (and a mental plan) to not do it again in the future. “….in the future, I will be more aware of how my sarcasm can be disrespectful. I won’t do that again.” 

Number three is what makes the biggest difference between a useless “sorry” and an authentic apology. Your behavior is unlikely to change overnight, and it is very likely that something similar could happen again. However, if you are actively conscious about your commitment, you will be more aware of your words and actions, so the behavior will eventually stop.  

Do you think “I’m Sorry” is useless? Have you ever experienced the difference between an “I’m Sorry” and an authentic apology? I’d love to hear from you! And what about “I love you” (more on this soon)? I may use your comments for the follow-up blog about the phrase “I love you.” 



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Ariel is one of the authors of the Passion Provoker blogs. She also created the Passion Provokers website. She is 23 years old and became coach certified in 2010. She is passionate about using her words and thoughts in order to “get the point across…in a raw way.” If you are interested in contacting Ariel about web design or would like to feature one of her blogs on your website, you may contact her at [email protected].


The Woodcutter: How to Embrace the Present

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By Jami Keller

Long ago, there was once a wise Woodcutter who lived in a small village. He would go out each day looking for wood to bring back to village, prepare it for carpentry, and sell it to his fellow Villagers. While out on one of of his wood finding exhibitions, he sees the most beautiful stallion he has ever seen in a nearby field. Oddly, the stallion boldly comes towards him without fear. As the Woodcutter continued on his work, the stallion continued to follow him all the way back to the village. 

Over the next several weeks, the stallion allows him to ride him, and soon he makes his daily trips with his new friend. The horse becomes a great help, and the Woodcutter is soon able to triple the amount of wood he can prepare in a day. 

The villagers come to the woodcutter to praise him for this great blessing that is this horse. They in fact benefit from this as well, in the form of cheaper wood and better building materials. The Villagers began visiting regularly to admire the stallion, and to each compliment the Woodcutter would respond “I don’t know, is it a good thing or a bad thing? I like the horse and having the companionship, plus the advantages that this horse brings to us all.” The Villagers would often agree to his face in admiration, and later question his response. Of course it was a good thing! It was nothing but great, was it not? 

The Woodcutter must have been a man who had vision. Vision is having a bigger picture of himself, and those around him, in order to realize the value of good communication. This was useful to him in that he was able to understand his role and value in the community. To gain this vision, he first had to see the value in all living things. 

The Woodcutter did not let his feelings rule his life, but was able to feel the full measure of feelings and navigate his choices with full awareness of his feelings. He was able to actively choose to not let what happened to him dictate his outlook on life. He was aware that his happiness was dependent on his own choices, not strokes of (what the Villagers thought were) luck. 

News spread about this horse, and one day the King came to visit. The King was so impressed with this majestic animal that he offered the Woodcutter half of the gold in the kingdom because “This stallion needs to be the stud of my stables.” The Woodcutter was shocked and told the King “Your Majesty, I am honored that you like the horse, but I regret to tell you that I can not sell you the horse. He is a friend, and not a possession that I have the right to sell.” The King was very impressed that a villager could turn down such an offer while having a respectable reason to do so. The King agreed with the Woodcutter and went on his way. 

The Villagers were were angry and frustrated. “Why would you not take the gold? We could have all been rich. What is wrong with you? You are a fool!”  The Woodcutter responded. “I do not know, is it a good thing or bad thing? I have kept my honor and my friend the horse.” 

Time passed and one day the Woodcutter went out to collect wood and found that the horse was missing. The Villagers noticed and confronted the woodcutter: “Not only do you not have the gold the King offered you, now you have no horse!” The Woodcutter replied, once again, “I do not know, is it a good thing or a bad thing?” The Villagers walked away shaking their heads mumbling that the Woodcutter may not be fit to be in their village. 

When this kind of loss happens, there has to be a foundation of joy in our hearts that prevails even when there would be no reason for joy. These lessons are never easy, and require a level of wisdom that not everyone will allow themselves to achieve. 

Not long afterword, the horse reappeared, along with 20 other horses. The stallion had gone out and won the leadership as the heard of horses. Now, the Woodcutter had 21 horses and was scrambling to care for them. Word spread like it does in a community, and most of the village came to help and witness the unusual circumstance. The Villagers went to the Woodcutter, hats in hands, hopeful to benefit from the new fortune. 

“Forgive us most wise Woodcutter, this is a huge blessing to you and all of us.” The Woodcutter, who now was responsible for feeding and shoveling up after the horses, told them once again: “I don’t know, is this a good thing or a bad thing? I am glad to have my horse back but this is overwhelming.” 

Because of the value of the horses and the need for them to be trained, the Woodcutters only son began training the horses with him. Tragically, the Woodcutters son was thrown off a horse and broke both his legs. It was unlikely that he would walk again or be able to continue to Woodcutters lineage. The Villagers brought food and helped with chores, while giving their condolences about this terrible thing. The villagers kept telling him how unlucky his son was, and how unlucky it would be to not see his name continue. The Woodcutter was full of gratitude that his son lived, and replied to the villagers comments by saying “I don’t know, is it a good thing or a bad thing?” 

The Woodcutter gives us insight for when tragedy happens. Finding hope in these times is often the difference between becoming bitter and working towards being fully present. The loss of the ability to walk, especially in this long ago time, was vital to all life. The son would need care for as long as he could not walk, and the Woodcutter was willing and ready to do this care with gratitude for the service; Loving what is means being present to the miracle of all life. 




Shortly after his sons accident, the King returns to the village. He is there to recruit all the able bodied young men to fight in a gruesome war. Most do not return from the war, and those that did were never the same. Many mothers and fathers of the sons who did not make it would often visit the Woodcutter’s son, always commenting on how lucky the Woodcutter was to still have his son. The Woodcutter and his son lived their lives as an example of what is truly good. They continued to have many hardships, but also had much success.

I’ve been telling this story for many years, and each time I am reminded of just how well it captures several of Passion Provokers core beliefs, to name a few:

1. The Villagers in our lives rarely know what is really going on and almost always have their own agenda. Be wary of the Villagers in your life, because they will always have an opinion that is based on their needs, not necessarily yours. 

2. No matter how positive or negative something may seem, you always have a choice in how you feel and respond. 

3. Be present to all the relationships you have, because love is the only reason for life.