Why Is Saying Sorry So Hard?

Oct 20, 2023 | Articles

When it comes to relationships, saying sorry is one of the most important skills you can learn.

Question: how many of you were brought up in an environment where a genuine apology was not only discussed but exemplified? For those who did, I commend your exceptional upbringing. For others, I share the same narrative.

It’s a curious paradox, isn’t it? Apologies are essential in relationships, yet many struggle to offer them sincerely.

Reflecting on my own relationship hiccups, I can see that most of the breakdowns weren’t due to the initial conflicts, but rather the post-conflict absence of apologies.

But what stops us from apologizing? Here are some answers:

1. Defensiveness and the shame spiral

Feeling wrong “feels bad.” The emphasis here is on the sensation of “feeling wrong.” When someone informs us that we’ve hurt them, our defensiveness acts as a shield, protecting us from the discomfort of admitting our fault. It prevents us from confronting feelings of shame, which can leave us staggered.

Living in a world that encourages us to shun unpleasant feelings, it’s not surprising that many of us struggle with managing uncomfortable emotions within ourselves.

2. Preserving self-worth

Accepting my faults could imply that I’m a bad person. This is a pattern I’ve often noticed in people who tend to avoid apologies. Their self-worth and value are entangled in their self-perception. If they acknowledge their mistakes, it’s as if they’re confirming their deepest fear: “I’m just not good enough.” Their self-esteem is precariously balanced, and an apology might just be the gust that tips them over.

If self-worth isn’t seen from a broader vantage point, it’s unlikely someone will be able to extend the apology.

3. Stunted emotional maturity

Age does not equal wisdom.

I used to believe that getting older implied growing wiser. However, my entrance into the professional world led to a startling revelation: emotional maturity isn’t merely a byproduct of time, but rather results from intentional self-reflection, a sincere desire for personal growth, and the courage to confront one’s own shortcomings.

Emotional maturity is not a birthright granted with each passing year, but rather the product of diligent effort.

It’s also important to relate that saying sorry is more than just saying the words. It requires emotional courage, a willingness to admit mistakes, and maturity that extends beyond age.

Overcoming the barriers that prevent us from apologizing — defensiveness, self-worth, and a lack of emotional maturity — requires consistent self-reflection, a sincere desire to improve, and the courage to face ourselves.

Now, what will it take for you to finally offer that apology?

Kiran Narang is a seasoned coach and dedicated family enterprise advisor dedicated to empowering the next generation of family business successors. Her unique insights into personal identity and familial dynamics are honed from a decade-long tenure as a probation officer. This experience grants her the ability to guide individuals through the complex maze of family dynamics with both empathy and assertiveness. Kiran currently applies her deep understanding in navigating the intricacies of family enterprise at Next Step Advisors.

About the Author, Kiran Narang

About the Author, Kiran Narang

Author, Family Enterprise Advisor, Family Executive Coach

Kiran Narang has more than two decades of experience as a coach, mentor, and forum facilitator. Her genuine curiosity and supportive style allow her to provide effective support to individuals and families, assisting in succession planning, personal coaching, and next-generation career development.

Kiran’s foundational skills were developed during her 10 years as a Probation Officer in Vancouver, British Columbia where she acquired valuable skills in interpersonal relationship dynamics, counseling techniques, and forum facilitation.

Kiran has been mentored by David Bentall, the founder of Next Step Advisors, for the last several years where she has been actively involved in facilitating family meetings, developing next-generation career plans, recruiting board members, and providing individual coaching services.

Kiran holds a B.A.(Hons.) in Sociology and certifications in Family Enterprise Advising (FEA), Professional Coaching, and Positive Psychology.