Should I apologize for being scary?

Why it's so hard to apologize

Actually, the rules of the game are easy: If I made a mistake, I apologize for it. No matter whether with partners, friends or other people. However, things often look different in a conflict. While we throw around meaningless phrases like sorry at every opportunity, sentences like “I'm sorry” are difficult to say when we are having a serious conflict. Not at all for some people. Have we forgotten how to apologize properly?

Stephanie Hollstein, psychological consultant from Düsseldorf, is convinced of this development: “This is due to the increasing elbow mentality in our society,” she says. Many people lack empathy to perceive the problems and needs of others in a conflict. “These people focus only on themselves,” says Hollstein. Only your own feelings count.

The fear of admitting mistakes

But it's not just a lack of empathy that gets in the way of a sincere apology. Often it is also about low self-esteem. “Anyone who apologizes is admitting that they have made a mistake,” says Stephanie Hollstein. This is not a problem for self-confident people. You are above your misstep. But for insecure people, this admission is another scratch on the already bad self-image. Therefore they try desperately to be right and take refuge in justifications or counter-accusations. Everything with the aim of not having to admit a mistake. Because from their perspective, apologizing is tantamount to self-humiliation. But the opposite is the case: "Who asks for forgiveness shows greatness," says Hollstein.

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This problem is not about rationality. “The decision about one's own conflict strategy is made subconsciously,” explains Hollstein. The respective consequences are weighed up in order to find the best strategy from your own point of view. Even breaking contact can seem more promising than an apology from this point of view.

People cannot be changed

The causes of this behavior often lie in childhood. If conflicts in the family have been swept under the rug or not resolved, these experiences also have an impact on the culture of conflict as an adult. For example, someone who was always right as a child has never learned to deal with headwinds. Those who lack confidence in childhood will struggle with it later. That cannot be changed overnight. But how can conflicts then best be resolved?

The first step towards this is acceptance. Instead of insisting on a 180-degree turnaround, Hollstein advises lowering one's own expectations. Not least because our perception in a conflict is always subjective. Instead of insisting on an apology, question the other person's behavior. What are the causes of his * her actions? Why does he * she think he * she is right? Accusations should be avoided. Instead, requests and I-messages should be conveyed: “I feel hurt” instead of “You are a ruthless egoist” and “Please try to put yourself in my shoes next time” instead of “Don't do this again”. This also prevents escalation.

Avoid future conflicts

But whether you're sorry or not - mistakes can't really be made up for anyway. “An apology doesn't undo the mistake,” says Stephanie Hollstein. While it's important to show remorse after a mistake, it's more about avoiding similar arguments in the future. In the case of small things, it may be enough to avoid potential conflict situations.

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However, this will hardly work for major problems associated with mental injuries. Then only talking helps. Without hard reproaches, but calmly and at eye level. If necessary with a neutral mediator. If that doesn't work either, there aren't many options left. "At some point you should question the relationship with the person," says Stephanie Hollstein. Namely when the same hurtful conflicts arise again and again despite all the conversations.

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