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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Apologies and the 7 reasons for non-apologists

Apologising is hard, also for me. I really don’t like it when I’m wrong. It is even worse to admit that I was wrong. Not in the office anymore since a brutal lesson from one of the senior audit partners. I still pity my colleagues in the adjacent rooms when David shouted at me. David said that I was my own worst enemy and he was absolutely right. It was one of my most valuable lessons ever. Admitting your mistakes is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Beating around the bush – which I then did – is a sign of weakness. I will never ever forget David’s lesson. I took it to heart.

In private life, it’s much more difficult to admit that you were wrong as it usually affects the delicate balance of powers in a relationship – or so we think. Each relationship (e.g., husband/wife, parent/child) is like a pair of scales (NL: weegschaal). Admitting mistakes puts weight to one’s scale and the other scale lifts up – or benefits. Yet this is our perception, it’s not the view of the one who is hearing – or expecting to hear – the apology.

Considering the above, some people may never apologise. In my blog of August 15, I mentioned an PsychologyToday article stating 5 reasons why some people will never apologise. Remarkably, my reason above is not even (explicitly) mentioned in these 5 while I think it is a very common reason.

For non-apologists, saying “I’m sorry” carries psychological ramifications that run far deeper than the words themselves imply; it elicits fundamental fears (either conscious or unconscious) they desperately want to avoid:

1. Admissions of wrong doing are incredibly threatening for non-apologists because they have trouble separating their actions from their character.

2. Apologising might open the door to guilt for most of us, but for non-apologists, it can open the door instead to shame.

3. While most of us consider apologies as opportunities to resolve interpersonal conflict, non-apologists may fear their apology will only open the floodgates to further accusations and conflict.

4. Non-apologists fear that by apologising, they would assume full responsibility and relieve the other party of any culpability.

5. By refusing to apologise, non-apologists are trying to manage their emotions. They are often comfortable with anger, irritability, and emotional distance, and experience emotional closeness and vulnerability to be extremely threatening.

and I use this opportunity to add two of own reasons:

6. Apologies seemingly affect the interpersonal and delicate balance of powers in relationships of various kind (e.g., husband/wife, parent/child).

7. Postponement of apologies easily leads to further delay. Delay becomes avoidance as apologies appear to be no longer relevant given time elapsed. (NL: “mosterd na de maaltijd”, “oude koeien uit sloot halen”, “van uitstel komt afstel”).  

All of the above does not imply that the other person has forgotten that the apology is overdue. Yet apologising is not about forgetting but about forgiving. Like in Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter:

“But I think it’s about forgiveness, 
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore”.

The Heart Of The Matter (1989) by Don Henley / the Eagles
artist, artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2, Wiki-3

Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise.


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