Why 'Sorry' Does Seem To Be The Hardest Word

Nov 20, 2018

The anticipation of holiday gatherings can be a tense time for some. Unresolved disputes among family members or friends can make for difficult times together during what is supposed to be a festive time of year. But what if one short phrase could help dissipate some of that tension?

"I'm sorry."

It is a short phrase, but it's long on meaning. And for many reasons, it is one of the most difficult things for people to say to each other. Why is that?

Central Texas life and relationship coaches Junice and Rock Rockman are certified by an International Coaching Federation- accredited program. They say a sincere apology requires vulnerability on the part of the person offering the apology.

"It requires humility," Rock says. "And most people just don't want to humble themselves enough to say 'I'm wrong. I'm sorry' because 'humility' is too close to 'humiliation.'"

Rock and Junice  compiled a list of what they believe should be in a sincere apology. Among those elements: reflecting back what the other person says, expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting and acccepting forgiveness.

OK, those are the ingredients of an effective apology. But Junice and Rock say there are also some elements that should be avoided in an apology. Those include: making excuses for what happened (aka, the defensive apology); faking an apology; avoiding saying "I" when making an apology; and over-apologizing or apologizing too dramatically.

Junice says the holidays can be an especially sensitive time of year when it comes to unspoken apologies. If family members or friends cannot or will not apologize for past wrongs, she says, there is still room for resolution.

"One of the quickest ways to reduce suffering around that is to begin to release our judgment around it," she says. "Letting go of the need of the validation of them to see if your way – that's a part of expecting that apology and then letting go of the need to judge them around it. They said what they said; they did what they did. But this is something I'm not going to get from them, but I want to give myself closure."

Listen to the Rockmans' conversation with KUT about apologies and relationships: