One One Hand: You’ve heard it thrice already before breakfast: I’m Sorry. You hear it in line for coffee, you hear it when you open the door for someone. An arm brushes against you unexpectedly at work or the yogi next to you scoots their mat a few inches to the right to make space in a crowded class. The problem with our over-apologizing isn’t just that it cuts away at our self respect and prevents a barrier between us and full ownership of our lives, it’s that an abundance of apologies creates a “boy who cried wolf” scenario in which our true apologies are cheapened and seen as less than genuine. How many times have we said we’re sorry when it’s really just been a lackluster way of protecting ourselves or making friends? If we’re known as a constant sorry-sayer, it doesn’t matter how genuinely sorry we are or how terrible we feel – our sorry is not trustworthy and is deemed inauthentic. “Sorry” has become cheap, and for someone as sensitive as you are, it becomes a way to shine a little bit less in the world.
On The Other Hand: You screwed up – majorly. Maybe it was a missed deadline. Maybe you forgot about important plans. Maybe you slept through your alarm clock or lost a pair of borrowed earrings. Maybe it was even worse. Whatever the case, you are deeply sorry – yet don’t know how to accurately portray how sincere you really are without coming across as flippant, disingenuous, or just another sorry-monster. We’ve covered the ins and outs of breaking out of over-apologizing – saying sorry as a placeholder or a shield. But what about those times when you actually are sorry?
The Balance: You cannot control the amount of other people’s sorrys that plague your day, but what you can do, as a sensitive and aware human being, is subtly shift the way you apologize and be the slow-yet-steady change you wish to see in the world. The act of saying “sorry” holds a lot more weight to someone as tuned into their soul as you are than others may realize. Here are a few strategies on how to say sorry for those of us who get hit the deepest by our own mistakes, and want to make our apologies last longer than just five little letters:
Fess up completely.
When we are in the wrong, it’s tempting to lean on stories, excuses, or even little white lies in hopes of getting us in the clear quicker. However legitimate (or convincing, in the case of little white lies) your story, the act has already been done, the opportunity has been lost, and you might have let someone down. An explanation might be necessary, but not if it’s in hopes of defending yourself. As for the omission of truths? Well, for you, a sensitive soul, those little white lies will build up inside you – and over time, morph into a weighty guilt that is way harder to shake than telling the truth ever would be.
Go for quality, not quantity.
When you’re truly sorry for something you did, the best thing to do first is accept full responsibility – but keep it concise. Long, drawn-out apologies can seem inauthentic and water down your true intentions. Acknowledge your faux pas, acknowledge the fact that you fell below your usual standards for yourself, then turn your focus onto the other person (friend, boss, lover, whoever). Look the other person in the eye and listen to all they have to say. Prepare to be met with at least a little bit of anger, frustration, or sadness. You might get a lecture and your impulse might be to go into defense mode. But being fully present, fully accepting of both the other person’s perceptions and emotions, as well as your own inherently beautifully flawed humanity, is one of the noblest, strongest things you can do to move forward in an effective way.
Offer Your Service.
Are you able to fix the situation? Get on it. Ask if there is anything you can do to help the situation – and offer clear-cut suggestions to show that you’re not just asking because you think you should. Is there something you can replace? Go find it. Is there an additional apology you can make to someone else? Go make it. Is there an errand you can run or a call you can make, or something unrelated yet needed that the other person values? Figure out what it is and make it happen. Being of service after a screw-up not only helps others feel good again, it helps you feel useful and proactive instead of ashamed and defeated.
Make A Prevention Plan.
Ever heard that hindsight comes right after we need it most? Not necessarily. Forgive yourself first and foremost, then take at least one active step to prevent your mistake from happening again. Find yourself sleeping through your alarm when you’ve had a long day/week/month? Schedule a free wake-up call online. Work mostly off of memory or your phone’s calendar? Maybe an old-school, handheld Day Planner is what will help you stay organized. Did your mistake involve more of a slip of the tongue or an offensive remark? Start practicing extreme compassion and empathy in every single one of your interactions throughout the day. Constantly ask yourself what would make you feel good, how you would want to be treated, how you would want someone to breach a difficult topic to you. Basically, be the kindest, most thoughtful person you know. The way you are wired might be different than others, but the simple act of exercising empathy on a day-to-day basis could be the thing that saves you from a major misstep in the future. And if it doesn’t? You know what to do to make your apology count.