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  • Writer's pictureRachel Pierman

Is it too late to apologize?

The other day, my daughter and I were driving along and a song by Timbaland popped up on the radio; "Apologize". In it he sings, "It's too late to apologize". We both started singing, we do this a lot in the car, sometimes we even hit the right notes! When the song ended, I turned to my daughter and asked, "What do you think?

"I think you were a bit off key mum"...."No!" I said! "Is it ever too late to apologise?" After a few moments she replied, "Well, it depends on where the apology is coming from"... "Go on", I inquired. 'Well, if the person is apologising, only because they want to get something from you, then yes, it is too late to apologise, because it's not a genuine apology, and you'll pick up on it. But if that person is apologising from a genuine place of feeling regret for something they have done, then, no, I don't think it's too late to apologise ever'". I thought this was a balanced viewpoint, but what stops people from saying sorry in the first place?

In the song, he references that it's 'too late'. I presume the person apologising took their sweet time making the apology and that's what upset him the most, maybe even more than what the person did! If we have something we know we need to apologize for and we don't come forward, what is it that stops us? I believe we should always face our problems. Suppressed emotions become toxic in the body, they always turn into something else, maybe bitterness or anger, depression or deep regret. That nagging issue just won't go away. So I think if you don't say sorry, you not only (potentially) hurt the other person, but you keep hurting yourself too.

So if we're feeling stuck, how do we approach the apology? Firstly, by putting our ego ("well, she said this, then I did that, and I want to win" etc) aside and secondly by releasing our fear of the outcome. If someone is owed an apology, do it for them first, and then it will also benefit you. It will free you from the chains YOU surround yourself with. But just imagine how wonderful it would be if you said sorry and the person accepted your apology. Imagine that lightness you would BOTH feel.

An apology for bad behaviour is not as trivial as it may seem. AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and other recovery programmes have an apology included in their steps to recovery. Step Eight and Step Nine are called "making amends" for behaving in ways that go against your values and standards. They state this should be a face-to-face interaction, but what I find interesting is they term it 'making amends'. So what’s the difference between 'making amends' and 'offering an apology'?

Amends are actions taken that demonstrate your new way of life and behaviour going forward, whereas apologies are words. Empty apologies are words that ring hollow when we repeatedly break our promises. So, to truly make amends, we have to offer more than words. They also say in the steps that we 'shouldn't be apologizing just to assuage our guilt'. As my daughter said, if this is the reason, the apology is disingenuous. A true apology should be made when we feel genuine remorse for the person we have hurt.

I mentioned earlier that perhaps one of the reasons we don't apologise is because we fear how the other person will react to our apology. One of the steps in a recovery programme is accepting that the person to whom you are apologising may listen, but may not accept your apology. This is a consequence you may have to live with. But I think we have to ask ourselves, what's worse; living with what you have done and never expressing remorse, or living with what you have done but at least trying to apologise?' The former in my mind has to be worse.

When we apologise to the person we have hurt, it can, in some cases, help that person to heal in their journey. You have done what you can, and in time, this will surely make a difference, perhaps when time moves on and they can step back from the pain, your apology will have a positive effect on the person, even though it may not be immediate. But it's not just the person you're apologising to who can move forward and heal, by taking these actions, it helps us to separate ourselves from our behaviour (or the event that led us to behave negatively toward the person we are apologising to). It can help us to move out of the shame we have lived in, shame that feeds the cycle of our bad behaviour. Maybe then we will stop self-sabotaging.

So in summery, I don't think it is ever too late to apologise if the apology is genuine and backed up with changed behaviour. From the perspective of the person being apologised to; this doesn't mean that you enter back into the same situation or relationship with the person apologising, but I do think it will help you a little to hear the apology and maybe some credit can be given to the person who is trying to make amends and for the respect they are showing you now, the respect they didn't have for you when they hurt you. If you are the person apologising after some time, kudos to you for at least attempting an apology, no matter how late, it's better than nothing if it's genuine.

But, dear reader, if you are a person who never receives an apology from the person who hurt you deeply, the best thing to do is to release the resentment you feel, and in effect, forgive them yourself. This doesn't mean that you have to tell the person you forgive them, but by forgiving someone for their actions you can move on eventually. In the end, whilst it's nice to receive an apology, the person who hurt you knew what they were doing when they were doing it, an apology won't change that. So, although it is nice to receive an apology, and there should be one which in time would help re build a bridge, you still can't go back in time and erase what happened. You will still have to do the same work and healing to get over the trauma. So keep doing you, do the work anyway to help yourself get over the pain.

One of my favourite quotes is that everything in life is a lesson or a blessing. It's only in times of strife in our lives that we learn. When things are going smoothly we don't need to learn any lessons, but when things go wrong, that's when we learn resilience and forgiveness and we can change our behaviour so that we protect ourselves from a similar situation again. Try and see hurt and pain as a gift, I know this is very difficult. But we grow and learn through pain. When we get back up again, we realise we have learned resilience. When we're not bitter, we should be proud that we still have our hearts open to others, and the most important thing to remember is that usually the person who has caused you pain, pain that you did not deserve, is a person who is also in pain themselves and hurting themselves in the process of hurting others.

The famous phrase, 'hurt people hurt people' has truth to it. This doesn't excuse their behaviour, but most people who behave irresponsibly time and time again (in an unprovoked way) are often suffering from childhood traumas they have not healed. We hold a mirror to people in our lives, we show the person opposite us how they need to improve, and what they need to learn. They in turn show us where we can change. Some people choose to change their behaviour, apologise, learn and grow and become much better versions of themselves. Others don't and continue to make the same mistakes. Make sure you're always in the former camp because we all make mistakes, it's how you recover from them that's the key to better relationships and a happier life.

I believe it's never too late to say sorry or grow as a person. Choose your path and count the blessings, because there are lots if you choose to look for them.

Much love


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