When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough

The insult was sharp. It hurt. It had come from a friend and I mentioned my hurt. She looked at me, shrugged and said “Sorry!” in a voice that indicated it was a learned response, not something she felt. And sure enough, a week later she did the same thing.

“Before you say ‘Sorry,'” I said, “I need to hear what you are going to do so this doesn’t happen again.” She was puzzled. “I said ‘Sorry'” she said. “What else can I do?”

76dcbbb3cc36cc94e8671814fe17107bAn apology is not a self-absolution. It’s the first step, not the last.  If you don’t want to change your behavior, you can be sorry for hurting someone’s feelings, but unless your behavior changes, you may wind up friendless.

An apology doesn’t guarantee reconciliation, either. Don’t know what else to say? Ask the person what specifically you did to hurt them. Ask about their hurt—was it connected to something you’ve done before? Was it something from their past that was brought up? Asking questions is a great way to move an apology from words into action.

Ask what your friend would like to see you do or say to repair the damage you did. There may not be anything specific, but just asking shows your willingness to admit you inflicted pain and that you want to make a change.

If you can’t take the action, discuss what you can do. If your friend asks too much, talk about that.

Your behavior identifies you. You can choose and act in ways that identify you as a good friend, someone who is willing to admit a mistake and work your way past it. Or you can shrug and say, “Sorry” and assume the rest is up to the people you know you.

—Quinn McDonald knows the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. And knows how wide that distance can be.

18 thoughts on “When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough

  1. Oh, poor Quinn! You HAVE been through the wringer lately, and must feel like the island of civility in a sea of rudeness. I hope you have a happier week!

    • I live a very public life as an instructor. I don’t think of it as being “through the wringer” so much as noticing how difficult every day life can be for sensitive people. I like to write about common experiences.

  2. Oh, I love this post and I love, “An apology is not a self-absolution. It’s the first step, not the last.” I feel that when many people apologize, there is no meaning behind it and the same behavior will continue in the future. For me, an apology without sincerity and future correction is meaningless. And you’re right…there is a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

    Another wonderful post Quinn!

  3. Quinn…..what a deep post. I enjoyed reading every word, and did some serious reflecting. Thank you for sharing your wonderful wisdom. ((((Sending hugs and Kisses))))

  4. I was brutal to a friend last year – I really came close to having the friendship end and she and I are truly like sisters. My only excuse is that I deal with a psych disorder that magnifies things beyond World War III, and I recognized that a few months later. I reached out to her and we have repaired the relationship and it is truly back to where it was before. My apology was sincere. I explained what had happened but took full responsibility. Yes, my illness was in control but it was still my responsibility.

    The type of apology I really dislike, though I’ve used it myself, is “If I’ve offended you, I’m sorry.” If the person is upset, you HAVE offended that person. Thus when you say that the apology is meaningless. I try to watch my usage of that phrase.
    Forgiveness is my goal, but sometimes it truly isn’t – there are those whom I cannot forgive for things they have done. I can forget what’s been done or said on most occasions. Even if the person doesn’t care if I forgive them, it at least brings ME some peace.

    An excellent post as usual

    • I’ve said many times that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. I have forgiven many people, but sometimes reconciliation is simply not possible. I applaud you for working hard on helping the relationship heal. It’s a hard road you have traveled.

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