How We Apologize

While I was searching for information about the various ways in which people communicate love, I also found something about the ways in which people apologize. It’s another thing I’ve been thinking about recently — I think people need to do and hear different things sometimes in order to really accept an apology.

As I took the assessment (which was part of Gary Chapman‘s “5 Love Languages”), I realized that regret is key to whether I want to accept an apology — does the person regret what they did or said and how it made me feel? A number of the responses didn’t feel right to me — continually asking for forgiveness, or asking how to “make it up” to them, as though trying to re-do something could change what had already happened. It was interesting to gain new insight into how my mind and my emotions work.

I’ve just finished the assessment, and the results are almost exactly in line with what I had noticed about myself as I was taking it. Of the twenty questions, 13 of the apologies I chose dealt with “expressing regret,” and 7 dealt with “accepting responsibility.” In none of the situtations were “making restitution,” “genuinely repenting,” or “requesting apology” what I wanted to hear. Offering something of monetary value, or promising not to do it again, or asking for forgiveness — none of that changes the fact, or even necessarily acknowledges the fact, that I was hurt and that my hurt is due directly to the person’s words or actions. As the assessment put it, I want to hear an “expression of sorrow for causing [me] pain.”

I don’t usually put much stock into online assessments and such, but this one (and the one on the rather cheesily named “Languages of Love”) feels valuable. Some of the apology options felt so wrong to me — to the point that I think they’d make the situation worse — but I can definitely see people apologizing in that way, and I can even see how those other responses could be exactly what a different person might need to hear in order to fully believe and accept an apology.

Communication is so key in relationships — not just romantic relationships, but all kinds of relationships — but it so often feels as though I’m not making any headway. And perhaps it’s because we communicate differently and value different things in apologies. I wonder whether communication would be more effective if this were more commonly known — if it were added to introductions after names, pronouns (because honestly, preferred pronouns should be standard practice), and astrological signs (because I’ve recently been spending a fair amount of time with people who place a great deal of importantance on their sun signs, as well as their moons and risings).

“Hello, I’m Ryan. I use masculine pronouns, although I also accept gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their and ze/hir. I’m a Pisces (with a Taurus rising and a Pisces moon). My apology language is ‘expressing regret,’ and my love language is ‘words of affirmation.'”

I still think that the phrasing of the terms “apology language” and “love language” is awkward, but in a way, that little introduction sums me up right there in four sentences. It’s almost like the Meyers-Briggs test (back in high school, we all took the test and for at least a week after we got the results, we referred to our personality types constantly), only a lot simpler and easier to apply directly. It might be a shortcut to understanding people that could save people a lot of heartache, confusion, and hurt feelings.


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