It’s hard to admit when we’ve done something wrong and hurt another person in the process. Really hard. In fact, it’s easier to point our finger at another source than to own up to our role in the matter.
Have you ever noticed this tendency in yourself? You know you’ve got to apologize because it’s clear that your actions or words wounded someone. So you look around for some courage and come up instead with something like: “I’m sorry for what I did, but if you’d known what my day was like…” “I’m sorry if my words offended you, if I’d known you would take them that way…” “I’m sorry I messed up, but there was this circumstance that got in my way and…”
Why do we do this? Why do we follow an admission of guilt with an explanation?
It’s shame. As Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, “In organizations, schools, and families, blaming and finger-pointing are often symptoms of shame.”
We want to save face, both with the person we wronged and with ourselves. But the problem is, when we offer an “I’m sorry, but…” we give all the power to shame. We let it control the interaction.
We think that shifting the blame will also shift the shame. It doesn’t.
The sad result of pointing the finger at what we can’t control instead of being willing to take an open-eyed look at what we could have controlled is that the guilt (and its shame) is still with us. And the one we wounded still hurts. They’ve been forced to accept that we care more about protecting ourselves than mending the rift – because most likely they’re aware of what we’re doing. And they’ve been robbed of the chance to forgive us for what we did that hurt them.
When we say a simple “I’m sorry. I was wrong when I…” we offer an opportunity for forgiveness to be extended.
Yes, it’s hard. Very hard. But the next time I’m in a position where I have to admit my guilt in hurting someone else, I want to say a simple “I’m sorry” with only an explanation of what I’m sorry for and not an explanation of what I want to blame it on. I want to be known as a person who takes responsibility, for both the good and the bad. And I want to teach my children to be that kind of person too.
When have you had the courage to give an apology straight up, no blame-shifting explanations? How did it turn out?
Photo credit: “It Could Be You” by Stuart Richards on Flickr made available under CC license