Saying Sorry When You’ve Done Nothing Wrong


“Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value
your relationship more than your ego.”

When someone tells us that something we’ve done or said has somehow hurt or offended them, our natural instinct is to defend ourselves. And while it is easier to apologize for something that we have clearly made a mistake for, as I’ve recently witnessed, some people will flat out say, “the hell I’m gonna apologize! I didn’t do anything!”

And while it may be completely true that we didn’t do anything intentionally to cause another discomfort or pain, an apology isn’t taking the blame for that pain and discomfort. I repeat: An apology IS NOT taking the blame for the other person’s pain and discomfort. An apology is an expression of compassion, acknowledging that the other person has been hurt. It’s about respecting that they feel pained. Yet so many people automatically connect apologizing with being at fault.  This even stands true when the person that has been hurt flat out tells you it’s your fault. Assuming you did not intentionally hurt that person, even if you know it isn’t your fault, being confronted about our actions hurts and not much helps take the feeling away that their accusation is personal- as if you are under attack and falsely accused of something you didn’t do.

etiquette-for-apologizingSo why apologize?

  • We apologize because we appreciate making things right over making someone take the blame.
  • We apologize not for what we have done but because we are compassionate enough human beings to not completely invalidate someone else’s emotions for the sake of being right.
  • We apologize because we are mature enough to realize that sometimes our actions affect other people more than they affect ourselves.
  • We apologize because we recognize that feeling sorry for someone and feeling regret about something are two very different things, requiring two very different emotions.
  • We apologize because we value the relationship more than our ego.
  • We apologize because we know the cost of not apologizing has negative long-term affects on our emotional and social well-being.
  • We apologize because even if the other person does not accept our apology, we have “cleansed” ourselves from wrong-doing and have allowed the other an opportunity to take some responsibility towards the healing from their pain.

In adult-world, it’s called “taking the high road” or choosing peace over contempt. Taking this path requires courage, bravery, a strong sense of confidence, and identity.

In all cultures and religions around the planet, one theme always remains consistent: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Especially when we are not aware that we have somehow caused another some kind of pain, it is important to acknowledge their pain. To not do so risks the end of important or potential relationships. It also prevents us from possibly learning something about ourselves (that we unintentionally have the power to hurt other people and thus have the power to make things right).

high road
Yes, you have the power to make the world a better place, and all with a simple 2 letter word: “I’m sorry”.
Or, if you really want to make it clear that you didn’t mean to cause any such feelings/harm, you could add a few words clarifying that you had no intention of causing them any pain.

A common theme I heard from some people on the side of not apologizing was that the people being “hurt” were just being dramatic, or trying to be “superior”. It is very tempting and all too easy for us to attempt to play the role of “God” and ensure that they do not get to be superior to us, and that they are not allowed to play drama queen. We believe we are showing “tough love” in that we are helping them deal with the harsh realities of life – that it’s hard and we don’t always get the apology we think we deserve. We might even think that we are showing them who’s boss- falsely believing that an apology from us is a confession of our own weakness or cowardice.

lion truthI love the quote, “The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself”. I’m not talking about drastic scenarios here. I’m still talking about low-key stuff. If it’s an obvious offense, it required alternate actions, but in cases like these, if the person claiming they’ve been hurt is saying they’re hurt, they are entitled to those feelings. Why are they hurt? How were they hurt? Are they just drama queens trying to get some attention? That doesn’t matter as much as the separation it has caused. And that’s where the apology serves it’s purpose. The great thing about an apology is, if it’s done right the first time, it doesn’t have to be done again. Do it and get it over with. The rest (healing) is largely on their shoulders now.

If I had one piece of take-home advice, it would be this: You can apologize and still be right in what you’ve done or said (or didn’t do and didn’t say), and still allow the other person to feel the way they feel. Just because they feel a certain way doesn’t assume you are the bad guy.

Lastly, remember that while some of us need to learn how to apologize, many also need to learn how to forgive. Both equally difficult, but equally possible.

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