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Admitting that we were wrong takes great strength. It involves a swallowing of pride and a willingness to be honest and vulnerable. The power of apologizing can be initiated with one little sentence… “I’m sorry.” Although it is small in stature, it is mighty in its ability to convey a depth of feeling and a sincere desire for reconciliation.

Heart centered apologies help to restore communication by promoting emotional intimacy

When we say, “I’m sorry,” we are choosing to stand in the open with our integrity completely exposed. We are simultaneously conceding our guilt and expressing, through this acknowledgement, our desire to eschew pride in the hope of asking for a pardon.

An apology won’t solve the conflict or erase the wounding. However, it can soften the pain and it often has the power to stop the emotional bleeding. It’s a start. We fess up. We take responsibility by speaking the truth. “I messed up.” “I made a mistake.” “I was wrong.” Repeated sincerely over time, these potent words can prime the pump of trust, provided that the actions that follow match them in depth and breadth.

The Health Benefits of Apologizing

Scientific studies are validating the health-promoting benefits that can result from apologizing. Based on the hypothesis that recovery from stress is health-protective, researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted a study to determine whether recovery from anger could be diffused with apologies. Participants performed a task involving verbal harassment and apologies. The results showed that “subjects displayed faster blood pressure recovery when they received a genuine apology, but recovered more slowly when they received a pseudo-apology or no apology.”

This study validates what we have found to be true when receiving an “empty” apology. An apology that feels obligatory, superficial, or insincere may be worse than not receiving an apology at all. In his book, The Common Man,  author G.K. Chesterton explained it this way, “A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”

A heartfelt apology can be a health-restoring tonic that proves to be a powerful medicine for our physical and emotional well-being. In the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center tested the influence of apology on cardiovascular reactivity and recovery. In this study, half of the participants received an apology from the experimenter for his/her harassing remarks during the task. They found that in response to the apology, participants displayed healthful, high frequency, heart rate variability compared to those who did not receive an apology.

The positive effect of apologizing is seen in personal as well as in business relationships. Behavioral economic research has shown that a willingness to forgive is strongly influenced by direct, person-to-person apologies. A field experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham, UK, tested the effect of how businesses react to dissatisfied customers. They found that customers of an online store who received a verbal apology forgave twice as often compared to those receiving just a monetary compensation.

Speaking our remorse to another in the form of an apology can help to reset and rebuild a relationship. When we receive an apology, it validates our hurt feelings. Because we feel seen, heard, and respected, we are then more readily willing to listen to the feelings and requests of the offender in return.

Researchers from the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Bonn, Germany, found that empathy related brain regions showed increased activation when participants received an apology. The activation of reciprocal empathy lays the foundation for and increases the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Remorse is a Powerful Teacher

Remorse is genuine sorrow that we feel in this moment for pain we have caused in the past. Initially, this sorrow is fueled by self-blame, shame, and humiliation. Remorse, however, is a tough taskmaster who will not allow us to wallow indefinitely in self-pity. It requires us to question our past choices and values in order to create a more healthful present and future. We can learn from our mistakes. Remorse is a highly effective teacher because it points us in the direction of positive, internal change and personal growth.

Heart centered apologies help to restore communication by promoting emotional intimacy and decreasing emotional isolation. We honestly and directly admit our wrongdoing, making a “no excuses” clear commitment to take full responsibility for our actions. Contingent on our humble willingness to learn from our mistakes, our remorse can be experienced as a vital component of an internal strength training process in which we learn to show up, stand up, and tell the truth.

From Remorse to Apology

Before asking another for forgiveness, we must plant the seeds of self-forgiveness in our own hearts. Remind yourself that mistakes require correction and not condemnation. Recognize that the depth of remorse that you are feeling is a direct reflection of your deep capacity for love, integrity, and caring.

Attend to your own home/heart work before apologizing to another. Sit yourself down and go within. Try this two minute healing, guided meditation.

Take time to understand what caused your hurtful behavior. If you need additional assistance, seek support from a trusted friend or clergy, or speak with a counselor.

Remorse that is expressed directly from you to the person who you hurt is most beneficial and effective. Sending a proxy will not suffice. Offering an apology in the form of a letter, a poem or flowers may serve to initiate the healing process, but nothing can take the place of an in-person, heart-to-heart exchange.

When apologizing, do your best to keep it simple, direct, and sincere. Begin by acknowledging the hurt that you have caused, without including any justifications for your hurtful behavior. Don’t defend yourself or your actions. Remember that the apology is for the other person. At this point it doesn’t matter if the offense was intentional or not, because the end result was the same. As Benjamin Franklin wisely cautioned, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

Be sure to state your willingness to make any amends necessary. You might ask, “What can I do to make it right between us?”

Speak your gratitude for being given this opportunity to apologize and also your desire to be given another chance.

Growing Forward From Mistake to Motivation

As with most healthful, lifestyle practices that we undertake, first we must UNDO what has not worked, in order to REDO what will. A sincere apology can jump start the process to finish any unfinished, emotional business in our relationships. It requires honesty, accountability and a desire, not merely for closure, but for communion. Fueled by integrity, compassion, respect and commitment, we can learn how to name our mistakes and make amends. Learning how to apologize from the heart will allow our mistakes to be alchemized into mercy, reconciliation and reconnection.

What have you learned from offering or receiving an apology?


Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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