wife comforts her husband, showing support with an embrace

When I was a freshman in college, one of the season's most popular movies was Love Story. The most famous line from the movie was, "Love is never having to say you're sorry." This platitude ended up being put onto greeting cards, t-shirts, and generally became a part of our culture.

I distinctly remember thinking, "Well, I must not be in love, because I always have to say, 'I'm sorry'". Then I thought, "Well, maybe Dyslexia is always having to say you're sorry".

Thankfully, neither platitude is true. And yet, I suspect many dyslexics feel this way. If you think about it, almost by definition dyslexia means that "you fail to meet others' expectations". Clearly, we often don't meet our own expectations. But probably more painful is the feeling that we are letting others down: our parents, our teachers, and our girlfriends/boyfriends.

Because of this, I so routinely apologized that the apology became automatic. Often times, I was saying it before I even thought about it. This happens to a lot of people.

However, as dyslexics we just get more practice. This process has two major effects. First, people do not take our apologies seriously because they don't seem genuine. Secondly, this process hurts our self image because we know that the apologies are not genuine. They come out of feelings of inadequacy and failure.

To make things worse, apologizing implies the intention of trying to change the behavior. If you are remorseful for doing something, you don't want to do it again. I don't know about you, but I ended up often apologizing for things that I wasn't going to be able to changeand sometimes for things I really didn't want to change.

For example, I often call people by the wrong name. It is a strange part of my dyslexia. I am thinking the right name but the wrong the name comes out of my mouth. I have tried dozens of methods to try to stop this. I can't do it. Yet, I feel obligated to apologize to people because it is rude.

Today, I would like to talk about when it makes sense to apologize and how to offer a sincere apology.

Owning our mistakes and apologizing can be one of the most powerful parts of an intimate relationship. I believe it makes sense to apologize when you have done real harm to another person, particularly if it was conscious, and when you're willing to make a sincere effort not to do it again.

Just because someone else is hurt or disappointed is not a good enough reason to apologize. This is particularly true if the person you are hurting is yourself. It makes no sense to apologize to someone else if you fail a spelling test or don't get a high grade in a physics course.

"My bad" or "Sorry!" are not real apologies. An apology is meant to repair damage that is done to a relationship. It is a way for you to set things right. The purpose is not to soothe the other person's feelings, but for you to know that you've tried to make restitution for a real mistake.

An apology should include four parts.

  • First, you need to clearly admit your mistake. This is done without any qualifying words like "if I might have" or "if you think I hurt you, I'm sorry". It is important to take responsibility for the mistake you made.
  • Next, you need to let the other person know that you understand the real damage that was done—and how these events have harmed the other person. Perhaps try to identify how he or she felt.
  • Clearly stating that you’re sorry is also essential.
  • Finally, you need state how you are going to keep from making the same mistake in the future. In order for the apology to seem genuine, you need to come up with concrete solutions. For example, you might say, "From now on, I'll carry a 3x5 card with me so I won't forget." No one can guarantee they will never repeat a mistake. However, it has to be clear that you are willing to make some effort to change.

One of the most frightening things about apologizing, besides admiting you are wrong, is that the other person may not accept your apology. If this happens, it is certainly normal to feel hurt or angry.

However, it is important to remind yourself that the person is under no obligation to accept your apology. You need to hold your anger and perhaps remind yourself that you have done all you can. Rather than responding with anger, you might say, "I have offered my apology; that is all I can do. If you change your mind, let me know."

Do not continue apologizing or plead with the person. If the apology is genuine, you, in fact, have fulfilled your obligation. I think it's important you give yourself credit for having the courage and the discipline to do something that is very difficult.

Be well and make a bit of noise,

Dr. Michael Ryan

Dr. Michael Ryan