“I’m sorry” are two small words that can have quite an impact. When you sincerely apologize for your mistakes, it shows that you’re a mature individual who can take responsibility for your own actions. It tells the people that you’re apologizing to that you actually care about how they feel and the hurt you may have caused them. For most of us, saying “I’m sorry” is something we likely learned in childhood. And yet for some people, a genuine “sorry” doesn’t seem to exist in their vocabulary. If you have a friend who never says “I’m sorry,” you know how frustrating that can be.
Is an apology really that hard?
According to Jessica Moore, a Dynamic Emotional Integration consultant (a kind of emotional healer), for some people, yes. Like many behaviors, not saying “I’m sorry” is something a person likely learned early on in life.
In general, feelings of shame are uncomfortable. According to Moore, the wincing, the bowed head, and the “curled-in body language of shame” provides a check on our ego (or sense of self). These emotions and reactions then cause the ego to contract.
But if someone has a hard time admitting their faults, they may have adapted a habit of repressing or avoiding these uncomfortable emotions. As a result, they “banish the emotions that keep the ego in check,” which can result in self-centeredness or an inflated sense of self-importance.
If you’re thinking this screams narcissism, you’re not wrong. At an extreme, Moore says, this habit can lead to narcissistic tendencies in some people. But even when this habit of repressing shame is “mild,” it can still negatively impact your relationships. “This lowers a person’s ability to empathize,” Moore said. As you probably know, empathy is one of the keys to any healthy and nurturing relationship.
Psychotherapist Emily Mendez agrees that people who have trouble apologizing tend to have issues with feeling shame. According to her, when a non-apologist admits they’re wrong, it can make them feel like they’re a bad person. “They see an apology as a threat to their self-esteem or self-worth,” she told HelloGiggles.
It’s completely understandable for someone to want to avoid feelings of shame — it’s uncomfortable. In a perfect world, no one would do anything wrong, so there wouldn’t be any need for apologies. But that’s not the world we live in.
When someone says or does something hurtful to you, especially a close friend, you want to hear them say that they’re sorry. You want them to acknowledge that they hurt you. When they don’t, it can leave you feeling like they don’t care. How can you forgive and move forward when you feel like your feelings don’t matter?
So what should you do if your friend is a classic non-apologist?
Like most relationship issues, it really comes down to open and honest communication. Talk to your friend, let them know how you feel, and be sure to use “I” statements. For example, “I feel hurt that you never apologized for saying that to me the other day. I would like an apology.”
According to Mendez, using “I” statements can help your friend better understand your perspective. It’s also more effective than coming at them with a “You” statement like, “You never apologized to me the other day.” If you approach the situation in an accusatory way, they’re more likely to get defensive and you’re less likely to get the apology you’re looking for.
But if you’ve had a few conversations about it and nothing has changed, licensed marriage and family therapist Kati Morton tells HelloGiggles you might have to decide whether or not this is something you can live with.
“Everyone plays a role in a fight. People who cannot admit when they were wrong and apologize for it, may not be people you want in your life,” Morton said. “Sure, there may be situations when you are the only one who needs to apologize. But if they never say sorry and you notice it’s a pattern, it might be best to distance yourself from them. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a one-sided relationship where you are the only one putting in any effort.”
Just keep in mind that this habit isn’t going to change overnight. So be patient with your friend. If they’re a true friend, they’ll learn to say “sorry.” They might just need a little reminder first.