Human beings are complicated creatures. We feel, hurt, love, and struggle to understand both the world around us and our fellow humans. This process is made more challenging by mental and emotional issues, substance abuse, and the circumstances of our lives. We may take our work home to our spouses, take out our frustrations on people who care about us, or do wrong by others. Owning up to these mistakes can often be very difficult, however, doing so allows us to mature emotionally.
The Psychology of Apologizing
Owning up to our mistakes can be difficult for a variety of different reasons. Psychologists and academics note several key aspects of owning up to our faults and mistakes that can cause us discomfort.
- Confirmation Bias – Confirmation bias makes it difficult for us to admit fault or wrongdoing because it causes us to only consider evidence that directly supports our prior beliefs and perceptions. When applied to human interaction, this can make apologizing difficult. If a friend says that you upset them or did them wrong, you may have the intuitive knee-jerk reaction, where you are either absolved of guilt or were the wronged party yourself.
- Cognitive Dissonance – Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two opposing beliefs. In human interactions, this can cause problems when you refuse to accept a friend or loved one’s version of events. They may see an action you committed in a harsher light than you do, and so you internalize your version of events despite having been told differently.
Both of these intuitive psychological responses can make it difficult to admit fault. However, in order for us to mature emotionally and to work on ourselves, we must find it within ourselves to admit when we are wrong and reject these emotional impulses.
What Makes it so Hard to Apologize?
Rebellion, persistence, and going against the grain are all hardwired into both our culture and our brains. American Social Psychologist Carol Tavris writes in her book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” that “Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when the self-concept — I’m smart, I’m kind, I’m convinced this belief is true — is threatened by evidence that we did something that wasn’t smart, that we did something that hurt another person, that the belief isn’t true.”
Other psychologists have noted that our ego and our tendency to try and maintain power within our relationship dynamics makes it even harder to apologize and admit fault. In 2012, the European Journal of Social Psychology published a study that found that refusing to apologize can have immediate psychological benefits to the accused. Refusing to apologize may feel intuitively good as it allows us to maintain power in a given situation and boost our ego in the process.
However, these immediate gains can easily have diminished returns. If you routinely refuse to admit fault, you may end up pushing away loved ones in the process. Learning how and when to say sorry is something that many people struggle with, but it is possible.
Steps to Saying Sorry
As we go through our adult lives, we are inevitably going to wrong others and cause people harm. Making mistakes is a part of being an adult and entering the workforce. There are key steps we can take to avoid invalidating a person’s lived experience, even though doing so may give us an ego boost in the process.
- Active listening – If a friend or loved one is trying to explain to you how you hurt their feelings, try to avoid the intuitive response of entering “defense mode” where you try to explain your side or rationalize your behavior. Active listening is a process where you absorb what is being said and take all issues and concerns into account. It is also important to try and avoid passive listening, which is when you are allowing the person to speak but just waiting for your turn to respond instead of absorbing what they are saying
- Avoid intuitive invalidation – “Defense mode” may be an intuitive response for many of us. When confronted with an issue, you might feel that your knee-jerk response is to feel attacked. This may cause you to try and shut down what the other person is saying, which can exacerbate the issue at hand and prevent it from getting resolved. Listening, learning, apologizing, and working on the behavior can prevent it from happening again in the future.
Appropriate Apologies and Overapoligizing
The whole of this article is not to say that we should over apologize and say we are sorry every time something happens. This can also cause its fair share of problems. Knowing when you are genuinely in the wrong or if you are apologizing as an intuitive response even though you are the wronged party takes some time to iron out.
Human interactions are complicated. When struggling with our mental and emotional health, sometimes we make mistakes and hurt those closest to us. The first challenge to true emotional maturation and growth is knowing when to apologize. Sometimes it helps to just listen and absorb what your friend or loved one is saying. Avoiding these uncomfortable situations may give us an ego boost at the moment, but over time, this can strain our personal relationships. Talking about these issues with loved ones and family members can be difficult, that’s why we at Achieve Concierge are here to help you grow. Our team of professionals tailor treatment plans to each one of our members so they can grow and learn to love themselves. If your interpersonal relationships are strained, reach out to us for help today. Our members have a variety of treatment options to choose from. You can reach us by phone today at +1 (858) 221-0344.