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Closing the empathy gap and the power of the caring apology

Posted on 09-02-15 in Emotion, Mental Health

Closing the empathy gap and the power of the caring apology

The words are said, feelings are hurt and the moment can’t be taken back. Many people have experienced moments of insensitivity, giving or receiving, in work, school, social and home environments. Apologies are often a must in these situations for preserving relationships of any kind and ensuring peace of mind.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D., believes not all apologies are created equal. He breaks them down into several kinds. For example, apology for appeasement can work to regain peace between two people but the words are absent of caring and a motivation to change the relationship for the better.

Apologizing on demand is quite common in public spheres. A person says something offensive to the masses, which creates a push for a “sorry.” Dr. Schoenewolf sees this as unproductive, as the offender can easily apologize just to get everyone off his or her back. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., tells people to follow up these words with a corrective action of some kind to truly make amends. In this way, the person is motivated to find a better way of acting and speaking, eliciting personal growth.

Apologizing without apologizing is insensitive, Dr. Schoenewolf says, as it attempts to reduce the emotional meaning of this negative event that hurt the offended. “I am sorry if you were hurt but what I said” is an example of this poor making of amends.

Dr. Schoenewolf thinks apologizing from guilt or politeness is a step above the preceding strategies as they are attempts to clear the air and show true sincerity. There is a feeling of remorse, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing in these instances.

These still pale in comparison with the apology from love or caring, Dr. Schoenewolf explains. The perpetrator in this instance will think about the perspective of the hurt party and how the negative event must have hurt him or her on an emotional level. The true apology also expresses a sense of caring for the other person in both words and actions.

Guy Winch, Ph.D., presents multiple mechanics of a successful apology. An “I’m sorry” statement lacking any caveats or reservations. A specific regret for what happened. Empathetic statements regarding specific feelings and a request for forgiveness, although that can come later if emotions are too high at the time.

Dr. Winch finds empathy the most lacking in many apologies because without it, emotional significance of the event can pass without acknowledgement. Those in emotionally vulnerable positions often benefit from the empathy as well.

David R. Hamilton, Ph.D. says empathy is a powerful emotion that can bridge the gap between two people, creating a constant awareness of how actions and words affect the thoughts and feelings of both in the relationship, no matter what kind it is. He agrees the world as a whole lacks empathy, creating burdensome emotional and physical effects for cultures, groups and individuals.

While apologies can do much to assuage regret and rebuild bonds people, some individuals feel despair in their mistakes to the point of chronic stress, a potentially damaging emotion, according to Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

Sovereign Health Group has mental health professionals ready to help patients struggling with regret, stress and many other potential problems. Get started today by calling us at any time for a referral to one of our providers.

Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer