There are people who would rather eat bugs than apologize. For many (including me), it’s difficult to admit a mistake: an ego buster, big time. But most of us manage to swallow humble pie and do it after wishy-washy procrastinations, shuffling of feet, and acknowledging to ourselves that we were, in fact, wrong.
But what if we feel we are right and, in spite of that, hurt someone? This complication makes matters worse ten times over. Those who are married, in committed relationships, have children (in other words, everyone) know what I mean. It’s a tricky situation, but I have found a way that works for me. I’ll simply say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” with an emphasis on the last three words. I’m not confessing to a wrongdoing I don’t feel or taking responsibility for unjustified guilt. I’m merely recognizing that someone is in distress and I empathize. Usually the other person responds in kind and the two of us are able to kiss and make up.
I find the most difficult sorry scenario has nothing to do with mistakes and the consequence of right or wrong. It has to do with the tragedies that come with living. When a friend is very sick, for instance, or his/her mother died, a simple sorry doesn’t seem enough, and I’m always afraid of saying the wrong thing. In the past I have gone out of my way to avoid someone who is suffering, and I’m sure others have done the same to me. Needless to say, avoidance isn’t the best way of handling this because sooner or later I’ll run into so and so and besides, it doesn’t help them or make me feel good about myself.
I read that most people don’t care if you stumble with condolences because there isn’t a right way to express concern. Just letting those in pain (physical or emotional) know you’re thinking about them, is all they want to hear.
I realized this recently when a relative’s wife died, and I had to make the inevitable phone call. I felt certain I’d botch things up, and kick myself later. But after reminding myself it’s about him, not me, I dialed his number. As it turned out, he was glad to hear from me, and grateful I took the time to merely say, “I’m sorry,” and tell him that he’s been in my thoughts. He even asked me about my son who is struggling with a mental illness. Through his grief, he felt able to let me know he cared about me, too, and I realized we all have a need to connect through the good and bad times and are not alone if we take the step and reach out.