I’m sorry.” Such lovely syllables requiring so little of us, yet so HUGE in their impact. Admitting mistakes and apologizing can be difficult — even for adults, so how can we help our tweens and teens more deeply appreciate the power of apologies?
Lately, I feel as if I am a broken record with my teen son. No matter what daily dramatic social dilemma he recounts after school, I hear my stressed voice whispering: “If you had just apologized immediately, you could have saved yourself so much grief.”
His anger was apparent in his reddened face recently as he ranted about a scolding from his English teacher (undeservedly, he says) for omitting the date on an assignment. He was filled with righteous indignation the other day following a heated scuffle after an accidental tripping of an uncoordinated bully in P.E. class. And, I can attest to the intensity of a virtual kitchen death match which ensued when his older brother discovered his Aqua Man shirt was worn without permission. So much hostility and anger, and so much resistance to resolve it peacefully!
As a professional counselor, I understand well how unresolved conflict can fester. Relationships become fractured and strained. Sometimes we turn our anger inward, resulting in depression and anxiety. Or, the anger is directed outwardly in the form of violence, abuse, or misbehavior.
“We must learn to use our symptoms as signs that lead us to issues. Issues can be resolved; symptoms cannot. If we resolve the issues, the symptoms will no longer have a reason to be,” says clinical psychologist Henry Cloud in his book, “Changes That Heal.”
Often, an apology and submission is a step toward resolving such issues and restoring relationships. Apologies are especially challenging for my son in his present state of emotional development. The very thought of submission (which causes his eyes to roll) makes him feel vulnerable, given the invisible armor he feels he must pile on daily for high school.
Apologies are important, because, without them, our anger builds and pushes us to demand justice, according to Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, authors of “The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Areas of Your Relationship.”
“When one’s sense of right is violated, that person will experience anger. He or she will feel wronged and resentful at the person who has violated their trust,” they write.
In their book, they propose genuine forgiveness to remove the barrier created by the offense. It is forgiveness which re-opens the door to trust.
The conscience, these psychologists say, is like a five-gallon container strapped to your back. Each time you wrong someone, a gallon of liquid is poured into the container. The weight of even a few gallons quickly grows uncomfortable. Yet, the great news is that the container can be emptied simply through apology.
Thomas and Chapman remind us “something within us cries out for reconciliation when wrongdoing has fractured a relationship…Genuine forgiveness removes the barrier that was created by the offense and opens the door to restoring trust over time.” They suggest five steps in order to offer a genuine apology:
• Give voice to your regret: “I am sorry.”
• Accept responsibility: “I was wrong.”
• Make restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
• Express repentance: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
• Request forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”
Upon stringing together the first letter of each step, I noticed the acronym GAMER emerges. If you are parenting a tween or teen, perhaps this fun discovery will mean something to you as it does to me! “Gamer” is definitely an identity my X-Box obsessed son embraces, and I plan to tack this list to the refrigerator as a reminder of the power of apology not just for him, but for all of us. Let’s face it: our kids need to see us modeling these steps.
Learning the art of apology is a lifelong process, but knowing that improving this skill can heal relationship fractures, lighten our load, and make every day more joyful, is more than enough reason to pursue it with passion.
Chapman, Gary and Jennifer Thomas. 2008. “The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships.” Northfield Publishing.
Cloud, Henry. 1993. “Changes That Heal.” Zondervan.
©2011 Community News Group
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