Why is Saying “I’m Sorry” So Hard?



“If someone were to ask whether communications skills or meekness is most important to a marriage, I’d answer meekness, hands down. You can be a superb communicator but still never have the humility to ask, ‘Is it I?”

_John Bytheway  When Times Are Tough:5 Scriptures That Will Help You Get Through Almost Anything


Why is it so difficult or even impossible for some people to apologize? She was supposed to meet you for dinner at 7 and arrives at 8:15 without a word or even a hint of guilt or responsibility! All you need to move on, enjoy your evening is a simple apology that might sound like this…”Oh, God I am so sorry to be late and not to have called. I got busy at the office and just lost track of time! Thank you for waiting, and hope you will accept my apology.” But…nada.


There is a term for people who literally cannot apologize. They are known as “Non-Apologists” and they share some common traits. The first is the belief that what they do is who they are. They cannot separate their actions from their character. Somewhere in their childhood and youth, adults didn’t separate their actions from who they were and the message that they hear when they make even a simple mistake is “You are a screw-up” rather than “You made a mistake.” The impact can be lifelong and make having a healthy relationship impossible unless some work is done to rearrange those messages.


For Non-Apologists, the fear looms large that if they even crack open the door of guilt, they will be consumed by shame. Many actually fear it at the level of life-threatening. Even though this isn’t true, they believe it at a cellular level.  So, they say nothing believing it will just go away.


Guilt is a healthy emotion and is what motivates us to change something that needs to be changed. That feeling we get of discomfort when we make a mistake can be a clue that we need to take a look at that behavior and do something differently next time. Shame on the other hand is like black tar that we can’t get off. It is so overwhelming when we experience it, we are frozen and unable to do anything to change the behavior because it isn’t about the behavior. Shame tells us that is about who we are. 


“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” is a line from the 1970’s classic movie, “Love Story” starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. Though the film was great,  the line is total crap! If you want a relationship, saying “I’m sorry.” then moving through it with a person who is capable of accepting apologies is the only option. When we clear up our mistakes, respect and love the other person as a flawed (not shameful) human being, we can expect the same safety from them the next time we too behave like a human and make our inevitable mistakes.


If you find yourself unable to say “I’m sorry” and any of this resonates with you, know that there are wonderful caring people who can help you get through this so that you too can have the love you have always deserved. 

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