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Should you apologise?

The scenario

A friend of mine recently got very angry with someone she was close to.

Telling me about it afterwards, she said, with some regret, ‘I shouldn’t have sounded off like that. But I’m not going to apologise.’

What was going on?

A few minutes reflection after our conversation helped me see that there were two factors at play here:

  • how she felt
  • how she expressed herself.

She felt deeply hurt. I wouldn’t want her to apologise for that. It’s part of being human.

She let her hurt come out as blame and criticism directed at the other person, rather than an expression of her feelings. She might well want to apologise for this, since it was not how she liked to be in her relationships.

(And incidentally, I imagine he would feel guilty or defensive and either retaliate or else clam up and walk away. Neither of these reactions would give my friend get the understanding she was longing for.)

An alternative

So if she wanted to heal the breach, she might decide to apologise for the way she spoke, but not for her feelings.

She might say something like: ‘I’m regretting the way I spoke to you. At the same time, I do want you to know that when you didn’t call me (or whatever act of omission or commission had triggered her upset) I felt both anxious and hurt – and this came out as anger.’

It might take courage to a) admit that we’ve behaved in a way that we regret, and b) to be vulnerable and to express our feelings without holding the other person responsible for them.

But if we can do both those things, we stand a good chance of preserving the relationship. An apology doesn’t have to mean that we lose our sense of self.