“I’m sorry.” How do you say “I’m sorry” in a way that will ensure someone to forgive you? Sometimes…most of the time, you cannot. There are two sides to an apology: the first half is the person making the apology, and the other half is the one the apology is given to. Just like you cannot force someone to apologize to you, you also cannot force someone to accept your apology and respond the way you like. Being able to surrender to this fact is a hard pill to swallow.
Often times, we apologize for something in the hopes of being forgiven and being able to move on from that point. Unfortunately, the truth is that you can apologize all you want, but in the end, you can never say the “right thing” to get someone to forgive you and accept your apology. There are no right words: all you can do is say you are sorry, ask forgiveness, step back, and let the other person decide if they will accept your apology.
If you attend any twelve-step program, you will quickly see this in their mantra:
God grant me the serenity to…
…accept the things I cannot change,
…courage to change the things I can,
…and wisdom to know the difference…
The difficulty that most of us have is that we think we have some power over people, that we have the strength or the words to make a difference. We do not view it as power, but we do tend to believe that we can talk enough, or say the right words, or cry enough, or beg enough, or make promises enough to be forgiven. Maybe it can work that way sometimes, but not always. We especially do not have that power when trust has been betrayed. Sometimes we have to accept that the ball is in someone else’s court when we apologize. Sometimes we have to let that person have space and decide if they want to accept the apology.
So how should you say you are sorry?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change –
You cannot undo what has been done. Accept that.
God, grant me …courage to change the things I can –
You cannot make someone forgive you. You cannot make them take you back. There are no right words. There are no right actions. Say you are sorry. Say what actions you are willing to take to ensure it will not happen again. Then back off.
God, grant me…the wisdom to know the difference.
It is easy to recognize the difference. When someone else is involved, you can only do your part which is to apologize. You can apologize, you can say how you will ensure it will not happen again…and then you wait.
If you are person who always wants to feel in control, this is going to be hard. But the reality is that it is no harder than to keep trying to push the other person to forgive you, which only ends in your frustration and their resentment.
Serenity prayer by –Reinhold Niebuhr – http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/special/serenity.html