You’re Apologizing Wrong

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Written By Gracielle Dedo

Why Are You So Defensive?

Something that’s always puzzled me remains the fact that despite one’s age, we as humans are wildly defensive of ourselves in situations where we mess up. It’s an innate stress response, a defense, even if there is no explicit offense. What prompted my writing of this post, was an incident that occurred in my living room approximately an hour ago. It’s my younger sister’s birthday at the end of the week. Her present, a new desk is hiding in the garage. Earlier today my mother sought my brother out to see if he would assist her to lug the enormous box out from her car. Hours later, I sat on the couch, my mother by my side. All the while my brother cleaned the dishes and my younger sister found herself completely engaged in creating homemade icing for a dozen scones.

Unprompted, my brother says relatively loudly, “So, whose desk is that?” Silence. I turn to my Mom and bestow her a panicked but unpleasant smile. A desperate facial expression emerges as she tries to signal for my brother to be quiet. Too late. My little sister is already asking questions. “Well, happy birthday, that was your big present.” Although my sibling is delighted with the gift, and rushes to hug my now upset mother who despises when gifts are revealed early, my brother begins to freak out. My mom is distressed but doesn’t yell or scold him too harshly, merely advises him he’s rather uncommunicative and needs to use context clues somewhat better. Subsequently, I notice it, that instantly recognizable moment of fight or flight.

In this situation, he could have performed three things. Either apologize and calmly move on, flip out and force the blame onto someone other than himself, or leave in embarrassment. He picked the second, and I found myself as the one on the receiving end of the blame. After I had laughed at the situation, I became his target. Comparatively soon he angrily demanded to be told why he was not informed that this was her present. Stating that this is in no way his fault because he didn’t know. While it’s significant to take from this example, that we are only human, his choice of words was not intended to ruin the birthday surprise. But his choice of words after to direct the blame to someone else was optional. Why do imperfect beings become so defensive when in these situations? I had not observed a word to him, merely agreeing with my mother that he wasn’t very smart for an adult. Yet he chose to fight. 

Not Everyone is Out to Get You

There is an innate reaction to criticism. One that insists that the other person who brought up a subject matter is automatically mad at you. Is this something we grasp being brought up as kids? Is it something that is seared into our brain from bad parenting? Or is it solely a personality trait that’s common?

I’ve perceived this when I am with friends and someone accidentally spills a drink on the carpet or makes a mess. Their initial reaction is to apologize profusely and look at you with fear in their eyes. I directly tell them I’m not mad. If I had been the one to do it at their house, I would hope they would be as calm as I am in that situation. It’s substantial to note that there are people out there who are potentially criticizing you in these types of “what if” examples, out of spite. Even then, you are apologizing wrong.

Own it, and Move On

My brother failed to say, “I didn’t know, I’m sorry,” owning the fact that he messed up. It is then that the apology is accepted (most of the time) and the individuals can move on. Not stressing over it. Although damage is nevertheless inflicted, feelings are not wounded and there is a mutual understanding of the accidental nature. By refusing to apologize or manipulating the occurrence to seem like someone else’s fault, it shows an immature thought process. One that lacks the composure to pick and decide its battles.

It’s recognizable really, next time you find yourself in a position of panic when you mess up, assess two things. Whose fault is it really and will putting up a fight actually gain you anything practical? Logically, what represents the chances that yelling and suddenly hurling insults like a child will establish you to look like the good guy? Isn’t an honest and calm apology a good effort nine out of ten times? If you are to find yourself on the opposing end, the individual who is supposed to be upset, asks yourself these two questions: Was this intentional, and is this person in front of me embarrassed?

It is possible that is the root of this, embarrassment, the cause of this defense mechanism. Let the other person know that what they did, if harmless in the long run, of course, could have happened to anybody. Really dwell on the fact that although you may be troubled with the situation, that you are not mad with that person as an individual. Conflict can be absolutely averted.

Use your empathy no matter which side of this you find yourself at length. How does the person whose rug you just spilled grape juice on feel? Try to recognize why they may be agitated. The same goes for the other person; the stain wasn’t intentional. Chances are the one who caused the damage now feels crushed, and their mind has told them to either blame you, an external source, or just start crying on the spot. Stop apologizing wrong and learn to empathize with the accuser.