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Why you want an apology and Why it's not enough

When you ask someone to apologize, s/he usually collapses and says how sorry they are or gets defensive. Neither response satisfies you.

Most often in asking for an apology, you are really wanting to know that the other person understands what they did that triggered pain for you and that they don't want to do it again.  Shaming someone is the high cost way that attempts to achieve the same result.  (One we have all likely experienced).

A student of mine, Ignacio, recently made this comment, "When I have done something that my partner feels hurt over, what seems to help the most is repeating to her exactly what she said I did and how it affected her."

What happens for Ignacio's partner when he does this is that she starts to feel emotionally safe again hearing that he has understood her experience and how he contributed to it.

To complete this conversation, Ignacio and his partner could talk about what needs were up for both of them in the moment and what each of them could do differently in the future to prevent the painful trigger from arising.

For example, let's imagine that the trigger event was that upon arriving home, Ignacio went directly to the bedroom and didn't greet his partner.  After asking each other about  needs, they realize that she has a need for connection and he has need for rest and grounding.  To meet these needs, he could offer to greet her upon arriving home and she could agree to wait a half hour before handing off the baby, a list of to do's, or starting a conversation, etc.

Another distinction to make here is that Ignacio doesn't "take responsibility", (another thing you might be looking for with an apology), by saying how bad and wrong he was, but rather by saying what he is committed to doing differently in the future.

Ignacio's partner takes responsibility for her reaction by identifying the need underneath it and making a specific request around getting it met.

Putting it all together, here are the basic stepss.

1.  Express what specific behavior triggered you and make a connecting request. Here are some examples of possible connecting requests:

Could you tell me what you are hearing me say?

It really helps me feel connected to know you understand what triggered me, could you tell me what you're hearing triggered me and how I felt when that happened?

I am looking for clarity, not wanting to blame or shame, could you tell me what you are hearing you did that triggered me?

2.    Identify the needs that were up for both of you in that moment.

3.    Brainstorm what you could each do differently to meets those needs in a future situation.

4.    Make a commitment to try something new and check-in about how its working. This week, notice the different forms of apology you experience or watch in other interactions.  Identify when and how an apology moves into the energy of shame and blame and when it creates connection.

***click here for a list of feelings and universal needs

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2 Responses

  1. Feb 19, 2009
    Lori Horan

    Request for future gem:

    Can you do a gem on the subject of respect?

    I have felt and have heard others feel the topic of

    "not feeling respected" by another.

    How would you handle that?

  2. Nov 16, 2013
    Susana Raine

    Hi LaShelle,
    This Gem is particularly helpful to me right now as I struggle to express some pain to my brother. He was triggered by what I said, and would "like an apology." Love, me

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