Several years ago the dairy industry launched an ad campaign with the slogan: Milk, it does the body good. There are certainly health benefits to drinking a glass of milk, especially after a workout, and when we feel better physically, we often feel better and do better psychologically and spiritually as well. Doing ourselves well, however, is not something that we should do only on the physical side. It can also work in the reverse. There are things we can do in the spiritual, psychological, and emotional dimensions that can be good for us physically (as well as spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally). One very important thing we can do is become better at apologizing.
Apologizing is never an easy thing to do and yet it is a core ethical and religious practice. James, one of the leaders of the early Christian church, put its importance this way: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed [James 5:16].” The point here is that apologizing (after you’ve committed a wrong) heals you. It also helps repair and heal damaged (or even broken) relationships.
Apologizing can help heal you physically and emotionally. Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., has written on the physical benefits of apologizing. When we refuse to apologize but know we should, we are more likely to overeat, have headaches and stomach aches, and lose sleep. On the emotional and spiritual side, when we apologize, we begin the process of releasing feelings of shame and guilt. Apologizing for something we did wrong also helps us grow in humility, which helps prevent us from committing additional wrongs against that same person (or persons). Finally, apologizing helps to heal the broken relationship itself. It helps the offended person reframe their view of us and rethink, in a more positive manner, how he/she/they might interact with us in the future.
So, if apologizing is a healthy thing to do, how do we do it? Well, a simple outline can be applied to any situation. First, tell the person you are sorry: “I am sorry I ____.” Second, state a hope that forgiveness might come: “I hope you will forgive me.” Third, offer to repair whatever you can repair: “I will buy you a new ____” or “I will develop a habit of taking out the garbage,” etc. Finally, end with a thank you, either: “Thank you for forgiving me” (if you were forgiven) or “Thank you for listening to my apology” (if you are not forgiven—they might forgive you later).
A significant reason for holding to the four point model I just shared is that it can help us avoid three common mistakes we might make, mistakes that would render our apology a non-apology. So, for instance, avoid the word “but,” lest you end up being a butt. As an example: “I am sorry I shouted at you but you were just saying things you knew would push my buttons.” That is not an apology. The word “but” de-emphasizes the first half of the sentence in order to make the point in the second half. When we catch ourselves using “but” in this way, we are being butts and merely continuing the disagreement. Another thing to avoid is to avoid apologizing for the other person. For example: “I’m sorry you feel hurt/offended/angry.” That’s not an apology. An apology includes ownership for something we did to hurt, offend, or anger. A third thing not to do is be iffy about it. For example: “I’m sorry if I upset you.” We know if we’ve upset another person. Being “iffy” about something we know merely continues the hurt and pain and is not apology.
Apologizing might not come easy, but it can benefit our health physically as well as spiritually. It can also repair and even build relationships. Our apologies can benefit other people that way too! So, if the holidays didn’t go as you intended or you have recently misstepped, then offer that apology! It will heal you and those around you.