The Challenge of the Healing Apology

The Challenge of the Healing Apology

Highlights from Symposium 2018

By Harriet Lerner

May/June 2018

At this cultural moment of the #MeToo movement, which has heightened awareness of a broad range of transgressions, psychologist and bestselling author Harriet Lerner offered a penetrating analysis of the truly healing apology.

We’re all imperfect human beings, so the need to give and receive apologies is with us until our very last breath. A sincere apology comes naturally for a simple mistake like spilling red wine on a friend’s carpet. It’s far more difficult to apologize for a serious insult or insensitivity. Since we’re wired for defensiveness, it’s hard to take clear and direct responsibility for what we’ve said or done—or not said or done—without a hint of blaming, obfuscation, excuse-making, or bringing up the other person’s crime sheet.

Defensiveness is the archenemy of listening, and listening is key to the offering a heartfelt apology. When we feel under attack we automatically listen for the distortions, exaggerations, and inaccuracies that will inevitably be there. We listen for what we don’t agree with. A true apology requires us to listen differently—to shift our focus to the essence of what the hurt party needs us to hear. No apology will have meaning if we haven’t listened carefully to the hurt party’s anger and pain. More than anything, the hurt party needs to know that we really “get it,” that our empathy and remorse are genuine, that their feelings make sense, that we will carry some of the pain we’ve caused, and that we…

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