Recently, a friend encouraged me to write a therapy book called, “How NOT-TO-BE Dysfunctional.” Since I was confronted this past weekend with dysfunctional, irresponsible adults that boiled my blood, and then broke my heart, I decided to do a series focusing on how to navigate conflict with a good apology.
Today’s Lesson: How To Say Sorry in 3 Steps
Want to NOT be dysfunctional?
Learn how to apologize. Oh, it’s hard. Really hard. But it’s mostly hard the first few years you say it regularly. It gets easier the more quickly you do it when needed, and the more sincerely you learn to say it. At least this is what I’m telling myself, and what I’ve heard from master apologizers.
When something is under your care to do, or take care of, and you don’t do this thing, or take care of it – accept FULL responsibility for it. It can be as small as arriving minutes late to a meeting, or as hard as hurting your best friend’s feelings. Of course you can provide the reason WHY you didn’t do, or care for this thing the way you should have. But this reason is SECOND to the fact that you screwed up! Imagine: your reason is the back-up singer, and the fact that you failed is front and famous.
People don’t need to hear, “I’m sorry” to forgive, but it sure can make it easier TO forgive when they do. We all want more forgiveness in our lives because forgiveness allows love to come back in and rule our world when shit storms tried to take over. Saying you’re sorry helps nourish relationships, but feeding people a bad apology makes them feel sick!
In therapy, I teach kids how to feed people “The Sorry Sandwich.” It’s the recipe I made for a basic, good apology. It goes something like this:
- The 1st piece of bread is saying, “I’m sorry” – sincerely, without out sass, or sluggishness. Say it like you mean it. And say it slow.
- The meat is the good stuff – tell the person WHAT you did wrong, or what you did poorly. Tell them WHY this was wrong or bad. *Hint: try to get some inkling of this before you put your foot in your mouth. Saying you’re sorry without knowing what you did wrong is a real kick in the teeth to the other person.
- The final piece of bread is to ASK for for forgiveness. (Unfortunately, I think this request has slowly been on the decline in our fast-paced world.) When you ASK for someone’s forgiveness you create a BID FOR CONNECTION. Your request is an invitation to the other person to join you again on the path of friendship. You allow the hurt person to exercise their freedom of choice again, which can be very healing.
If you want that sandwich w/ a side of chips and a drink – like you really want it to be satisfying for the relationship, repair with whatever “restitution” possible!
Keep in mind, you’d be sensitive to only OFFER your attempt to repair, then WAIT again for the other party to give you the green light. Don’t force fixing things because you feel guilty. Remember, trying to fix it with the person is another invitation. If you really want to fix it, and fix it tangibly, you will allow the other person to describe what is the most helpful way for you to right your wrong.
After you’ve provided the sorry sandwich, give the other person time to digest a bit before you make the offer to repair your damage. TIP: Just don’t wait too long or it will seem like you don’t care about doing the work.
Remember, they say there’s always 3 sides to the story: yours, mine, and the truth.
One of the most dysfunctional things a person can do in any relationship is to try to kill, ignore, or suppress conflict. Conflict is an opportunity to understand another person’s perspective, and let that understanding sharpen each of your point of views.
Not everyone holds this philosophy on conflict. For one, it’s natural to not like negative emotions, much less negativity in relationships. So it comes easily to want to avert our eyes, and walk away from hard, or uncomfortable things. One of the greatest pitfalls I’ve suffered from in my own life, and pitfalls I see from others in therapy is this: Someone tries to wrestle their way through conflict. Conflict is the problem, and this person wants to make the other person they are fighting with SUBMIT, and RELINQUISH his/her own perspective in order to SOLVE the conflict. Doing this, results in argumentative conflict that can only see right and wrong. This style of conflict turns your loved one into your “opponent” or your “enemy” because it leads to either a win-lose, or lose-lose solution.
In argumentative conflict, Person A cannot accept Person B’s perspective. Person A’s imagination — or really, their lack of empathy, is so short-sided, that they spend all of the time in conflict trying to convince or cajole Person B OUT of his/her perspective into theirs – INSTEAD of FOCUSING on Person B’s FEELINGS, or point of view.
Conflict really is more like a place than a person.
You want to walk your way out of it with whoever you are in conflict with. You both want to leave the conflict with stronger muscles than before because of all the work you’ve done, instead of burns and gashes from trying to fight and battling it out.
Part of resolving conflict peacefully means saying you’re sorry. If you want to be dysfunctional NEVER take the entire blame on yourself, always talk about the reason WHY you didn’t fulfill your responsibility, instead of just admitting that you messed up and letting that truth hang out in the air for a moment or two. Parsing out percentages of blame is also not the way to go. (Believe me).
If you DON’T want to be dysfunctional, you can start by using phrases like this:
a) I really dropped the ball when I _______.
b) _______ was totally my fault.
c) You’re right, I did ______ , I should have ______ , and wished I would have ______ instead.
Make sure you’re holding onto all 3 perspectives (yours, theirs, the truth), remaining humble in heart long enough to accept that because you are human, you have blind spots! Something may very well be true, even if you don’t see it yet! And those things that are true or real, are the other person’s feelings just as much as your own.
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