Last month we launched our Feminine Consciousness series with integrative L.A. doctor, Dr. Habib Sadeghi and co-authors of The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World, Amy Stanton and Catherine Connors. The series dissects classically feminine qualities that are often framed as weaknesses and helps us re-embody these traits from a place of power.
For this installment, Amy and Dr. Sadeghi are exploring the art of apologizing and making a strong case for why empowered people should do it more often. Can the art of a good apology deepen our relationships and show true maturity? The answer is yes, and here’s the surprising reasons why…
At a young age, we’re told to say, I’m sorry. For everything. For big things, for little things, and for all things in between (I’m sorry I lied to you, I’m sorry I said not-so-nice things behind your back, I’m sorry I ate the cookies even though you told me not to, I’m sorry you fell and hurt your knee, and on and on). From early on, apologizing becomes a way of acknowledging wrong-doing and resolving conflicts.
While this may have been instilled in us at a young age, as an adult woman, the messages are literally a 180-degree shift from where we started. Now, self-help books, advice columns and business coaches are consistently sending us a clear message: Don’t apologize. Why, after all of these years of learning to apologize, are we told not to apologize? Because it makes us seem weak.
It’s true that some women have been known to over-apologize. Sometimes we take responsibility for things even if they aren’t our doing or our fault. We may be putting someone else’s needs and feelings ahead of our own. We are apologizing for things that we simply don’t need to. We’re asked why we apologize for so many things and start every sentence with, Sorry – it’s true, this does seem extreme.But wait, apologizing is another underrated traditionally “feminine” behavior that can actually be our superpower.
Dr Sadeghi, talk to us about your definition of an apology...
Dr. Sadeghi: To apologize to someone is to give them more than just our words. To properly apologize, we must give the other person our commitment that whatever it was on our part that created the situation won’t happen again. The best apology is a change in behavior.
Without that commitment, there is no moving forward. Trust is lost, and the relationship is weakened. This goes for all kinds of relationships whether familial, friendships, intimate, work-related and so on. Without apologizing properly and committing to a new action, our credibility is damaged and the integrity of our relationships is weakened.
A proper apology has a formula that includes three step:
You must acknowledge to yourself that you either offended someone in some way or broke part of whatever the agreement was between the two of you. Next, you must take full responsibility by saying so to the other person. No excuses. Lastly, you declare your commitment to make the necessary changes so that whatever it was that happened doesn’t happen again. That way, there is no baggage, and everyone can move forward.
Without ‘real’ apologizing in a relationship there can be no mutual respect. It becomes increasingly unworkable until it dissolves because people in relationship with us need to know that we have integrity and that they can depend on us. Without a real commitment to some kind of changed behavior to back up the apologetic words we speak, no one will take us seriously.
Are there physical benefits of apologizing?
Dr. Sadeghi: Apologizing brings peace back onto a relationship, and that means far less stress for both people. Naturally, less stress means a better quality of life and improved health all the way around since stress has been implicated as a risk factor in every major and minor illness.
What does it mean to apologize with power?
Amy: As Catherine and I talk about in The Feminine Revolution, apologizing can actually be powerful. Apologizing can help us build bridges, resolve situations, move things forward. And we can be leading that charge. We can actually take control of situations by apologizing. Let’s take a closer look.
We create a distinction between a necessary apology — a situation where there is clear wrong-doing and a clear need to take responsibility, and a symbolic apology — a situation where an apology puts the person apologizing in a submissive and deferential position (for example, “I’m sorry I’m running late” or “I’m sorry to bother you”).
Believe it or not, either of these types of apologies can be powerful. By owning situations where we did something wrong, we’re stepping up and taking responsibility – this is powerful. By demonstrating our consideration and reverence for others, we’re using our feminine powers to finesse a situation. In both cases, we are in control. We are the ones moving things forward and creating alignment and peace.
That said, we’re not big proponents of apologizing unless we truly mean it. So, saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” doesn’t really get us anywhere because we aren’t taking responsibility. It seems like a token response versus from the heart and ultimately puts it on the other person versus using a true apology to own it and make things better. The most important part of an apology is the meaning behind it and the action following it (i.e., changed behavior as Dr. Sadeghi mentions above).
When we apologize with good reason and true intention, we are the ones holding the power.
What are the emotional benefits of a good apology?
Dr. Sadeghi: Owning up to what we do wrong relieves us of the burden of guilt, anger, or self-righteousness that generates an intense amount of stress. Without these things weighing down on us our sense of wellbeing improves tremendously, and our lives return to balance. By apologizing, we also earn the other person’s respect which, in spite of what we might have done wrong, can actually end up improving the quality of the relationship because the other person recognizes our maturity and level of self-awareness. In short, we enjoy relationships that are workable.
Amy: As Dr. Sadeghi says, we are relieved. We feel this physically and emotionally, down to our bones. We feel unburdened. And we feel powerful and aligned because things move forward as a result of our actions.
What are tips for apologizing with power?
Amy: From The Feminine Revolution, co-written by Amy and Catherine Connors:
Make your real apologies count. There is such a thing as a good apology: it’s one that takes responsibility. The classic “I’m sorry if you felt that way” just doesn’t work if some real harm has been done, because it declines responsibility for the action itself and instead puts the onus on the other person’s feelings.
Be generous with your symbolic apologies. These have meaning precisely because they signal respect and communicate awareness of others’ boundaries and integrity, and that’s a good thing. So do say sorry if you bump someone in the Starbuck’s line or are interrupting a conversation. It will be appreciated.
Mean it when you say it.
There is such a thing as over-apologizing. If you begin every sentence with “sorry,” your real sorries won’t carry as much weight. And if you’re really not sorry for a given action, that’s fine too—skip it. An insincere apology isn’t a good apology either. Your real apologies will carry more weight if you only issue them when you mean them.