Friday, November 6, 2009

Psychologically speaking, who really benefits from an apology?

Each day, people around the world experience altercations with others, whether it be a spouse, family member, friend, or even a stranger. In the event of an apology between the parties involved, however, who is the actual benefactor?

Having been the “good” Catholic schoolgirl at one point in my life, it’s understandable that the first answer in my head is easily “the recipient of the apology.” After all, a common mantra drilled into our heads while growing up is that we must say we are sorry when we hurt someone. It’s supposed to make them feel better, right?

Is the act of apologizing, however, something that is really intended to make the wronged person feel better? Or, is it the one delivering the apology that actually benefits, considering that it is their conscious being cleansed through the very act?

It seems to me that, in some cases, a verbal apology could very well be considered a selfish act.

Yes. Selfish.

This concept may be illustrated through the following: a friend of mine who is divorced received an apology from her ex-husband after several years with no contact between the two of them.

Granted, in the conventional way of thinking, the man certainly owed her an apology. He had betrayed her, cheated on her, and abused her.

The question remains, though…did he really take her psychological well being into consideration when approaching her with an “I’m sorry”? Did he even think about the effect this apology may have on her and her life? Did he once again commit a selfish act against her when he failed to think about how the apology would affect her?

If this man truly had her best interest at heart, he would have chosen to stay away.

His apology had the opposite effect that our old childhood mantra would predict…instead of making her feel better, she was tossed right back into the throes of sadness.

When I think about it, my friend exerted so much energy and effort to get through the divorce and all the emotional mazes divorce brings with it. After years of counseling, heartache, and trauma, she made peace with the situation. She was forced to create her own closure on the event, as he had offered nothing in that area. Until the point at which her ex briefly re-entered her life, she was healthy and doing quite well.

Instead of taking the time to consider what stage my friend was at in her life, her ex placed more value upon lifting the burden of guilt off his shoulders.

Approaching someone so many years after an intense emotional altercation to say “I’m sorry” may not have the effect one would think. If the person wronged has moved on in their life, sometimes it may be more respectful to leave them alone instead of causing the other person to dredge up hurtful memories of the past and, once again, deal with them.

In the case of my friend, I believe her ex’s “I’m sorry” was actually beneficial for himself. I mean, his conscience is cleared. He can now move on without showing any regard for the wake left behind him.

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