JUNE 8, 2009 1:43PM

Five Good Reasons to Apologize

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I used to be the Queen of I'm Not Sorry-Land.

I perfected my not-apologizing skills through many years of practice, with friends, family and even strangers. Over time, I discovered just how easy not-apologizing can seem to be.

Until I discovered just how damaging that stubbornness and self-righteousness can be -- to my health and to my relationships.

Even contemplating an apology can drive us to cringe, squirm, feel nauseous, take a shot of whiskey beforehand. We would rather avoid our "victim" altogether, preferring to sever all ties, than come to grips with our mistake and utter those dreaded words, "I'm sorry."

We have our pride, after all. We don't want to admit we made a mistake. It's humiliating to admit when we're wrong. We would have to take responsibility. We don't want to regret our action. We don't want to look weak.

Some people are big apologizers -- they apologize for everything, even things they haven't done. They feel they have done everything wrong. These people may suffer from low self-esteem, and blame themselves for all that is wrong in their universe and beyond.

Some people would "rather die" than apologize. They refuse to apologize under any circumstances. They feel they have done nothing wrong. These people may suffer from excessively high self-esteem, and blame themselves for nothing in their own universe and beyond.

The good news is that scientists have now discovered that a good old-fashioned sincere apology, based on something you really did that may have hurt another person -- big or small, intentional or not -- can be not just good for your soul but also good for your overall well-being. And for the soul and well-being of the person we hurt.

(Ain't scientists grand? They're always discovering new things. How did we know anything before so many people started getting PhDs?)

There are many good reasons to apologize but I'm going to stick to my five favorites.

#1 - It can free us from the burden of our mistakes.

Let's face it -- no one is perfect. We all have our flaws, and no matter how hard we try, we are going to make mistakes. And some of those mistakes are going to hurt other people.

If we recognize that we have hurt someone else, but refuse to apologize, maybe even holding onto the idea that the other person is responsible for us having hurt them, that it really was their fault anyway, or that it doesn't matter, then we are not doing anyone a lick of good.

Asking for forgiveness can clear the air, open up communication, help resolve a problem, fix a mistake and begin some important emotional and even physical healing within a relationship and ourselves.

#2 - It can free up other people to apologize.
Admitting our mistakes and revealing our own weaknesses can help free up others to do the same. They may find their own courage to apologize, and continue to spread the benefits to others.

There is nothing worse than two people who absolutely refuse to apologize to each other. Sometimes family members go for years, even decades, not speaking to each other, and causing stress for others in the family. Each is waiting for the other to apologize.

Sometimes one person will apologize and the other will refuse to accept the apology or to apologize in return. These unfortunate people are trapped in their own pride, ego and I'm Not Sorry-Land.
#3 - We can heal and the other person can heal.
Not apologizing means sweeping some dirt under the rug and pretending it isn't there. But we all know that the problem will reappear at some other time, in some other way.

Apologizing starts the clean-up process, and that leads to healing of pain from the past. An apology lets people lay down that hurt and walk away from it.

A 2002 study showed that heart rate, blood pressure and facial tension decreased in victims of a wrong when they even imagined receiving an apology. The health benefits of a real apology have to be enormous.

There's a reason why Step Eight in Alcoholic Anonymous' 12 Step Program is to apologize to everyone people have harmed, and to make amends.
#4 - We sleep better. And the other person sleeps better.
Apologizing can bring balance back into our life. Even if we don't want to admit it to ourselves, having hurt someone can weigh on our conscience.

We can spend many a sleepless night struggling with this, just determined not to recognize our mistake and certainly not to apologize.

When we finally get up the nerve to extend that white flag, to say I'm sorry, we have an easier time drifting off into unencumbered, life-enhancing and healing sleep.

Apologizing can also help restore the other person's sense of worth and self-esteem. They know that we cared enough to recognize and acknowledge their pain. This knowledge can help bring the peace that a good night's sleep relies on.
#5 - We gain greater self-knowledge and self-control.
As painful and even humiliating as an apology can feel, the process can bring us closer to ourselves. And this has to be a good thing.

We know that we are fallible and capable of making mistakes. This knowledge can help us better control our emotions -- the ones that lead us to hurt others -- and help boost our own self-esteem in a balanced and healthy way.

And the next time we make a mistake, and hurt someone else, we know that we have the strength and courage to say we're sorry.

Who knows? If we all sincerely apologized when we made a mistake, or even inadvertently upset someone through thoughtlessness, maybe the world -- our own tiny piece of it and the world at large -- would be a better place.

A few extra sources:

Health Benefits of a Sincere Apology, WebMD
The Power of Apologizing, Earthling Communication.comweb stats

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I am one of the low self-esteem apologize for everythingers. My husband doesn't apologize. He will admit he's wrong if I confront him with it but he doesn't volunteer. This has been one of the biggest problems in our marriage.
I agree that apologies are important for so many reasons.
Persuasive point of view. On that theme, I read a hilarious but thought-provoking book a couple of years ago called Eating Crow, about a reforemd misanthropist who decides to try to bring about peace in the world by apologizing on hehalf of every nation to every other.
It's probably true that women tend to apologize more than men, LHL; we don't have to struggle against all that testosterone, after all. My mother told me she always apologized to my father, especially before bed, so that she wouldn't have it on her mind. I couldn't just have that as a blanket policy; the apology would have to be sincere, not just an expedient way to get past an argument.

Thanks, Kathy!

And thanks, Naqib's Daughter. If Eating Crow would bring peace to the world, I'd be happy to do it, too. Even if it was on someone else's behalf...