How to Offer the Best Apology of Your Life

Yes, you'll need to apologize — and yes, you'll need a strong self-worth to pull off a meaningful mea culpa

Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Amanda Nunes verbally blasted fellow fighter Ronda Rousey in December after she beat her to defend the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title — essentially telling Rousey to hurry up and retire. Late last week, she offered a written public apology via Instagram.

“Let me take a moment to explain myself,” Nunes posted. “I was overwhelmed with adrenaline, emotion and hurt at the time. I held so much in during the weeks prior to my fight with Ronda … I want to apologize to Ronda … [She] is an amazing athlete and has done so much for this sport, especially for the women.”

The need to give and receive apologies will be with us until our last breath.

“I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language. When the words are part of a wholehearted apology, they are the greatest gift we can give to the hurt party, to the relationship, and to ourselves. Yet the complicated dance between the offender and the offended often goes badly. And thanks to the poor example of so many celebrities and people in the public eye who apologize badly, offhandedly, or not at all — it’s no wonder our kids are failing in this regard, too.

Apologies matter, said Dr. Harriet Lerner, a relationship expert and author of “The Dance of Anger” and “Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts.” Too often, we mess up our apologies. For parents, it’s important to understand how to apologize to others in order to ensure our kids have a good example to follow.

LifeZette spoke to Lerner about the importance of an apology at the right time — and what kids take from this when parents end up apologizing to them.

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Question: Why are the words “I’m sorry” so powerful?
Answer: We all unwittingly hurt others — just as we are hurt by them. The need to give and receive apologies will be with us until our very last breath. A heartfelt apology can make the hurt party feel safe and soothed in the relationship, knowing that we care about their feelings and we will take full responsibility for our mistakes and insensitivities, while promising to make an honest effort to avoid a repeat performance. Without the possibility of apology and reparation, human relationships would feel impossibly tragic.

Q: Why does apologizing take so much courage?
A: It doesn’t take courage to apologize for a small thing. If you spill red wine on your friend’s carpet, it’s easy to give a genuine “sorry,” and offer to pay the cleaning bill. But many of our insensitivities are not small. It’s one thing to forget to return your friend’s Tupperware — and another to neglect her when she’s having a crisis. For large hurts, “I’m sorry,” is only the first step in a longer process in which we may need to put aside our defensiveness, open our hearts, and really listen to what the hurt party is telling us on more than one occasion.

Related: Most Valuable Gift from Parents to Kids

Listening without defensiveness takes courage and intention. No apology has meaning if we haven’t listened carefully to the hurt party’s anger and pain.

Q: In a parent-child relationship, why are apologies so important?
A: Children have a strong sense of justice and need to have their reality validated. They suffer when parents don’t have the clarity and maturity to take responsibility for their mistakes — we all make them — and offer a clear, direct apology when one is due.

Q: How does a meaningful apology restore trust between parent and child?
A: It does so in the same way that a meaningful apology restores trust between any two people. In the case of a parent and child, it is the parent’s apology to the child that matters. It validates children’s sense of reality and affirms that yes, their feelings make sense, we get it, and we take full responsibility for our words and actions — for our failure to speak and act. It opens the space to heal disconnections, rather than leaving the child to try to make sense of it all.

Q: Does apologizing ever mean parents are surrendering authority to their kids?
A: Absolutely not. In positions of leadership — whether at home or in the workplace — the good apology earns us respect in the eyes of others, even when we fear the opposite. A child loses respect for a parent who lacks the maturity, objectivity and integrity to take responsibility for mistakes and say something as simple as, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

A child also loses respect for a parent who can’t listen to their anger or hurt and say, “I get it. Your feelings make sense. I was wrong, and I’ll try my best to not do that again.”

Parents tend to respond to a child’s apology by canceling it out, by offering a criticism or correction.

Q: How can parents teach their kids to apologize effectively and genuinely?
A: First, parents need to be good apologizers so they are modeling this behavior for their child. If we can’t apologize well to our children, how can we expect them to learn to apologize to us? Offering a good apology means parents learn to recognize blame-reversing, obfuscating, or empty apologies that we easily slide into.

Second, the parents need to respond to a child’s apology by saying, “Thank you for the apology.” And stop there. Parents tend to respond to a child’s apology by canceling it out, by offering a criticism or little correction. (“I don’t think that was very sincere” or “Maybe next time you can apologize without my having to ask you,” or “I think you need to think more about how you treated your brother and how you made him feel.”)

Of course, there may be more to discuss — but save it for a different conversation. If you want to teach your child to apologize, say the magic five words, “Thank you for the apology.” Then bite your tongue.

Related: Is ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ Any Good for Kids?

Q: Why are some people better at apologizing than others?
A: People who have a good sense of self-worth, and who are in relationships built on a solid foundation of love and respect — rather than endless corrosive criticism — are best able to apologize.

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