When to apologize

When to apologize

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” sang Elton John, and indeed there are times in one’s life when apologizing just does not come naturally. Conflicts occur between friends, families and loved ones, and while the most natural action to take is to apologize and move on, it is not so simple. Human beings are complex creatures with varying egos, and few choose to take responsibility for misbehavior, choosing to let their arrogance guide them while they systematically worsen a problem by ignoring it. There are others, however, who seem to apologize for every issue, regardless of whether it is their fault or not, a sign of low self-esteem and desire to be the martyr. Balancing the scales and deciding when and when not to apologize serves as a deciding factor which will help evaluate a relationship, or terminate it.

Arguments occur all the time between parties, and it is natural that in heated situations, boundaries of decency and propriety in the verbal context might be crossed. In these situations, it is always a good idea to halt the argument and take stock of what is being said. It has been famously stated that words hurt more than physical wounds, and can destroy otherwise healthy relationships. Maintaining silence and stopping the outpouring of unnecessary negativity will help mend burning bridges. Apologizing first will help in this case as you are taking responsibility for the problem, and will hopefully facilitate a similar response from the other person.

Some relationships take an unhealthy turn when issues are classified as being “trivial”, and therefore remain unresolved. Quarrels over apparently minor matters can easily become nasty when the lack of apology makes one or both parties feel bitter towards one another. It is necessary for both parties to acknowledge the problem and move on from it, having successfully closed the negative chapter.

There are situations, however, where apologies should not be made. These situations involve violent relationships, situations where one party has been blatantly disrespectful without provocation, or when someone is a serial offender, i.e. has repeated the same mistake without remorse or regard for your feelings.

If you are subjected to an act of violence, it is not your fault, you are not responsible for it, and therefore, you should not apologize for it. If an individual shows blatant disregard for your feelings and right to privacy, security and respect, it is up to them to own up to the error. In a number of situations, some of which involve close relationships with family members, there are people within this close circle who have a habit of continually insulting or provoking a person, perhaps bringing up some difference such as the color of their skin, lack of educational qualifications, poor life choices etc. In these situations, it is important to not only acknowledge that boundaries of propriety are being crossed and that you deserve respect from everybody, including family members; but to also to understand that you do not owe anybody an apology for not following their ideas as to what kind of person you should be.

Apologizing is an act of humility, and should be extended when you feel responsible for an error. If you do apologize, be sincere about it, as false apologies are easily seen through and may aggravate the very problem you are trying to resolve. Do not feel like you need to say sorry on behalf of anybody, as you are not in charge of, or responsible for the mistakes of others. Taking on the burden of the mistakes of others will reduce your own credibility and turn you into an easy scapegoat in future situations. Therefore, apologize only if you feel truly responsible for a problem, and wish to save a relationship.

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