The Art of the Genuine Apology

A key theme in the aftermath of the “Heaven and Hell” documentary has been the importance of acknowledgement; particularly from people who have harmed us. There are so many stories from child survivors of abuse at Centrepoint, about adults, often parents, not being able to acknowledge the impact that their actions and decision making has had on the following generation. So many stories of children feeling they have had to carry the shame, of adults being angry and defensive when an acknowledgment and apology has been sought. And it is all understandable, however painful, right? For starters, defensiveness in the face of accusation (or feeling accused) is the natural first response of all humans. And then there is the guilt, and the equally natural response to avoid discomfort. If anything, acknowledgement of a harm that we have either advertently, or inadvertently had a part in, goes against everything that feels ‘natural’ to us. Yet, showing up and counteracting these intrinsic tendencies is exactly what is needed for genuine healing of relationships to take place.

Acknowledgment is closely linked, possibly inextricably, to apology. Tricky things, apologies.

Made genuinely, they can be hugely healing, both for the offender and the offended. But they are often done badly, and can have significantly negative impacts on relationships. I don’t think I’m a very good apologiser. I either apologise too much, for things I don’t need to, or I do the classic “I’m sorry you’re feeling…” which isn’t an apology at all, apparently. I’m still stuck on that one, as I am usually genuinely sorry that the person feels that way, but I don’t always feel responsible for those feelings occurring. So I’m still a bit confused about it all.

Rather than blather on about my own confusion, I thought I’d share the views of people who are a lot more sorted out than I am in this field; and the material for this blog comes from Brenē Brown’s interview with Harriet Lerner

While I’m at it, I’ll mention Harriet's book “Why won’t you apologize? Healing big betrayals and everyday hurts” - perhaps a must read for all people connected, however tenuously, to the harm caused by the Centrepoint experience.

While this material focuses on the apology itself, inherent within the material is the power and importance of acknowledgment. I’ve found this material useful both for m