When "I'm Sorry" Isn't Enough

Asking for forgiveness isn't easy—but it always helps, right? Unfortunately, your apology may be worth less than you think. Learn to do it right.

Why Apologies Are Important

Could You Be Raising a Sociopath?

Once I requested a sixteen year old to apologize for hurtful remarks he made towards his math teacher. He looked me square in the eyes and said "no." When I asked why, given that we had both agreed his words were inappropriate and hurtful, his response was that he really didn't feel sorry for his actions, and so therefore his apology would be (in his words,) "fake". His mother quickly interjected, agreeing with him. She informed me that she did not see why her son was being asked to make an apology when he didn't feel sorry for his actions.

In a 2006 research study conducted on the human brain with a focus on congruency between language and actions, Aziz-Zadeh and her fellow researchers, discovered through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, that there was a clear congruence in the premotor cortex of the left hemisphere between visually presented actions and actions described by language.

So what does this mean?

It means that in the event an unapologetic adolescent is made to apologize for unfavorable actions towards others, it brings him a step closer towards his feelings matching with his actions. For parents who insist on taking the laissez faire approach, they run the risk of their teen never coming to terms that their actions were indeed wrong, even worse such parents may be unintentionally raising a sociopath. People who commit hurtful actions towards others, with an intellectual understanding of how badly the lives of the people on the receiving end will be affected, but they simply feel no sorrow for their actions. This is why advocacy groups will usually demand an apology for hurtful comments or actions made by a public figure of some sort; hurtful comments or actions usually directed towards a specific segment of the population.

While a public apology may seem trivial, it has a powerful effect on the person making the apology, as it internally puts the apologizer at odds with his or her beliefs. The human brain is designed to be congruent, and when people engage in behavior that contradicts their values, they experience inner turmoil until they have come to terms with the behavior. This process usually involves rationalizing and justifying their reasons for the behavior, and sometimes the process of rationalization can be deceitful, or honest. In the case of the sixteen year old, apologizing to his math teacher was the last thing he wanted to do, considering that he believed the teacher had been deserving of his insults. For parents to understand, the process of helping your youth develop a genuine sense of empathy is just that - "a process." Most adolescents given the assignment of apologizing for inappropriate actions or remarks, will usually start out by telling themselves that they are just doing this, because they are being made to. Overtime, based on the responses they receive, there may very well be little opportunity to give apologies, as they will learn to become genuinely mindful and caring about how their words and actions affect others.

Ultimately, the spirit of insisting apologies goes beyond the concept of right and wrong, but promoting a genuine sense of empathy with youth.


When "I'm Sorry" Isn't Enough