A Noble Apology/ Clean your side of the street
A noble apology from you is needed even if you’ve already said “I am sorry.” “I am sorry” simply is not sufficient.
It’s needed even if the person who acted out has already softened, even if you are both tired of fighting, even if you think your moving forward is your noble practice of forgiveness. All of these reasons do not account for the work of understanding, integration and actual reconciliation.
A noble apology from you is needed even when the other is “wrong.”
Cleaning your side of the street is doing the exact thing you are asking of another- owning your part, no matter how shamefully unskillful, no matter how seemingly miniscule.
Even if you actually did nothing wrong, you can:
- Acknowledge that whatever you did unwittingly hurt another
- Learn from this new information and decide if this is a relationship that can grow to operate within both of your core value systems
- Make hard decisions for yourself if the other person doesn’t align with your core values
1. Gift to the one who was hurt:
- They are suffering. Perhaps they are really stuck trying to understand why you treated them unfairly or exactly what happened to cause your reaction. Many go so far as to deeply, sometimes unconsciously, feel they are bad or something is wrong with them.
- They don’t feel emotional safe with you (i.e. “My feelings don’t matter to the one I care about; etc”)– and won’t continue to share freely with you.
- They don’t feel you respect them (i.e. honor their reality and their emotional intelligence; “I am dismissed as too sensitive, too unstable, etc”) – as evidenced by them reaching to teach you about their experience and your poor response.
2. Gift to the one who made a mistake:
- The self-respect and control of taking of full responsibility for one’s behavior.
- The sanity of responding to the unfolding reality that just gave you new information about the impact of yourself.
3. Gift to the relationship:
- To prevent bitterness, resentment, and unfinished business to snowball and erupt into the next heavy conversation- likely with the consequences intensifying.
- To grow from your weakness, no matter this relationship or the next. If it’s your work, it will follow you to your bed and grave.
4. Recognizing we have no control how another person will respond to our whole-hearted apology, we apologize as a testament to our ongoing commitment to the next right thing.
This apology as laid out is extremely idealistic. It will never happen exactly like this, but it’s a helpful map of the nuts and bolts of why you aren’t getting through to each other or why you keep having the same argument. Try your best. If you get overwhelmed, slow down and try going through this section by section with the person you are trying to connect with.
How to Start
The one who wants to make amends for their role should make it known they would like to apologize and ask to set aside plenty of quality time to make a whole-hearted apology. Even if you have made several smaller apologies along the way, it is essential to create a sacred ceremony of sorts to tie all your small apologies together into a larger, crystal-clear message that you’ve learned all of your important lessons. A noble apology honors the wish for both of you to get true closure and permanently put this behind both of you (unless you repeat the same behavior- then it absolutely will be brought back up again- and needs to).
Ask if there is a good time to talk and make a plan- likely not at night when you both are tired or when you only have a small window of time. Nothing needs to be settled now if you either of you are not calm. It’s okay to go to bed (feeling) angry- it’s not okay to go to bed (being) mean. Furthermore, if you push someone who is not ready to talk and needs space to diffuse more damage can occur.
That being said, going too many days refusing to address a hurt or stonewalling is cruel and you should not tolerate this.
Pick a neutral location that is not associated with past arguments.
Start from your limited perspective
I want to give you an apology you deserve for what I did when I ___________ .
I shouldn’t have because ___________ (i.e. I expect better of myself; you’ve told me before this is hurtful, etc)
I imagine that it hurt you because I’m guessing you felt __________ .
I am really sorry.
Will you tell me your exact hurts and why each hurt affected you so much? I promise to put myself in your shoes and try to listen from that place only for right now. Then, I will repeat what you said back to you to make sure I truly understand each hurt as you’ve expressed it- not only as I imagined it.
Exact hurts are then expressed one by one. Don’t go on to the next hurt until each one is processed to completion.
One by one, you summarize the entirety and heart of each hurt as it was told to you. Afterward each individual summary, ask:
- Did I say it right?
- Is there more you want to add about this particular hurt?
- If so, summarize that addition and check if you got it all and if they want to add more again.
Reflection – Connecting the Dots – Accountability
Now that I understand better how my actions affected you, I want to try to understand better why I did what I did.
The story I (made up in my head and) was telling myself (at the time, that led me to act that way) was ____________ . [This is taken from Dr. Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability.]
Some of the reasons I acted like that most recently was because I was (i.e. tired, jealous, didn’t know what I was feeling and felt out of control, stressed from something else, etc) __________.
I realize I’ve acted like that in a similar way before when _________.
Some of the reasons I respond in general like that are because I __________ (i.e. learned early on by my parents that _________; was really hurt when someone else who________; never really had a mentor that role modeled both nurturing and selfhood; have a bad habit of __________; etc).
What are your thoughts and insights about why I acted this way?
Next time, when _________ happens, I will do better by ________ .
I want to do better for you so you will have/feel ____________.
I want to do better for me because I want to have/feel ______________ .
Patient & Complete Resolution
Is there anything more you want to add (about the current topic only)?
What else can I do to make it right in the future?
What can I do right now to help you feel better?
Now that you really understand, you can give a real apology
- Without destructive negativity:
- Saying: “but………” (then pointing out the other’s faults and mistakes and blaming your actions on their behavior).
- Lazy Guilt: “So, I’m just a failure”
- Lazy Accountability: “This is your issue, not mine”
- Passive Aggression: “Fine, I am sorry. Is that what you want?”
- Defeatist Mentality (when you haven’t actually made all the changes asked): “When will it be enough- it’s never enough. It will never be enough.”
- Stonewalling: Shutting down, ignoring, showing contempt, or not talking for too many days
- No one can tell another person the intention of that person’s behavior- only that person knows their own intention. But, there is an impact and that can be different than your intention. You must take the focused time to accept the impact of your behavior, even if the other has made faulty assumptions.
- Using validation:
- First, understand their storyline, their chain of thought, their plot points. Validate that their storyline makes sense to you- just as it was told to you and with all the information you know about this person’s past.
- Validating is NOT agreeing. Validating is committing to making another person feel you heard what they said- that’s it. Nothing more.
- For example: “So, you’re saying you were afraid there was a monster under your bed and you heard a noise- and then you concluded there indeed was a monster under your bed. I remember you telling me that you have always been afraid of the dark because something bad once happened in the dark.”
- Later you will be given an opportunity to ingest the conversation with the nuisance of your truths.
- It’s important to understand- and be willing to acknowledge- that what’s actually at play is a fragile ego (as is true for almost every single person because the hallmark of ego is it’s fragility) when you are threatened by acknowledging your paradoxical complexity and mistaken humanity, especially when interacting with others and receiving their feedback.
- Sometimes you’re just 100% wrong- it’s not 50-50. Sometimes you’re only 15% wrong (and the other is 85% to blame) and still you need to apologize for your part.
Thank you for taking so much time to help me understand you and myself better. I am sincerely sorry that I hurt you. I really want to do better for both of us.
Commitment to Change
I will continue to think about what you’ve shared today. Please tell me if I am ever missing the mark. I promise to try to hear you without defensiveness. I understand it may take a while for me to truly learn. I will never stop trying because I care about you, because I don’t want you to stop trying to make changes I’ve asked when it’s difficult, and because I simply want to grow as a person (with or without you).
Right now, I will demonstrate with action that I get it. I will _________ to show you I understand what new behaviors you need from me and that I am ready to begin right now- I’ve already wasted time and you’ve suffered in that waiting.
If you the other is someone who responds well to touch, ask “May I hold you?”
Now, I’d like to share an understanding and apology I need from you. Are you ready to listen?
Now that you’ve both taken the time to excavate and process and heal your wounds with each other, there’s one last step.
You now also need to apologize to the important people for whom you acted out publicly in front of as well as to the other’s support system if they are also part of your support system. Your friends and family (and kids) are equally entitled to this next part of your apology, as is the person you harmed. Your being and your relationship exists in a community- not a silo.
A noble apology means full understanding, full accountability.
Your acting out may have embarrassed the person you care about. Your acting out may have resulted in the person you care about- who took the high road- to not call you out in front of everyone they way you deserved and may have appeared to have been in the wrong when they weren’t. Your acting out may have ruined what was meant to be a beautiful experience for everyone. You need to acknowledge that your acting out- if not repaired with your support system, too- may lessen others’ respect and faith in you. These people are the very ones to whom you and/or the one you care about will go to for perspective and council when the next difficulty arises.
To have others watch you harm someone they love is heartbreaking and teaches those watching or connected that it’s okay to treat people this way. It’s your job to do better once you know better. We are each other’s role models. There should be nothing but respect if you do the work of admitting you messed up royally. It happens to the best of us. And regardless of others’ response, it’s still the next right thing.
Positive Sentiment Override
If you elect for conjoint counseling, understand things usually get heated before finding resolution. They say “what is hysterical, is historical.” This means that whatever is causing a big reaction or big feelings in you or the other likely stems from a wound that came before you two coming together. Stay curious and trust the process of working with your and the other’s shadows.
You will need to cultivate what John and Julie Schwarz Gottman call “Positive Sentiment Override”– the general and expansive feeling of fondness about the other. Therefore, if you have stalled out on having a deep and productive conversation, consider pausing. Instead, plan a date to come back to this work of reconciling and in the meantime add to the friendship. Prioritize enough quality time, just the two of you, doing something you both find to be joyful and easy. This is how you reconnect to what you liked about each other. Relationship hygiene needs to be tended to regularly to foster bonding- not just during or after a fight. A strong friendship can withstand and weather so very much.
Studies have shown that about 70-93% of communication is non-verbal. Communication is holistic and complex, relying not just on words but also on its delivery through physical cues/gestures, tone, and timing. Moreover, research by Cohen and Tronick on the attachment between mothers and their babies has proven that mothers actually get wrong- misidentifying and incorrectly tending to- their baby’s needs about 70% of the time.
This means the most primal, intimate, intuitive attachment is riddled with miscalculations. Therefore, the true hold of any bond requires “repairs.” Constant and unending repairs. Thankfully, this is not daunting when your understanding of reality accepts this truth. Quite the opposite- it is both merciful and humbling. So choosing to stand to grow inside this truth takes courage and a lifetime’s work.
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
And a final note. Sometimes the most self-kind and healing wisdom is recognizing when another is unable or unwilling to participate in this form of reflection and insight. Moreover, many are not always primed for this work given their genetics, temperament, childhood attachment style and past experiences/trauma- through no fault of their own. I suggest you ask yourself if your hope for change is bigger than your gratitude for this relationship as it is right now, as Nick Viall puts it.
Do not betray your gorgeous intelligence and your body’s common sense when you feel the stress of being out of alignment. If someone is being unkind and hurting you, you must stand up for yourself. This includes removing yourself if need be. You cannot do the hard, underbelly of work that a mature relationship requires alone.
But, you must always be in relationship with yourself.