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Soul-Talk: Are You Stuck in the Toxic Apology Trap?

Surely you have had someone give you a half-hearted apology that left you feeling cold inside. In fact, haven't you been the one giving that "I'm-kind-of-sort-of-sorry" apology yourself?
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Surely you have had someone give you a half-hearted apology that left you feeling cold inside. In fact, haven't you been the one giving that "I'm-kind-of-sort-of-sorry" apology yourself? Apologizing just might be a very unique poison you take yourself and then wind up drinking with the other person.

Last week, we looked at the difference between forgiving the other person and forgiving yourself for having judged them in the first place. If you have ever "forgiven" the other person but still held on to whatever you found upsetting, then nothing really changed. You're still upset, if perhaps less so, and still blaming the other person as though they were the reason you're upset in the first place. Judgment is the poison that creates the upset more than the event itself.

How Toxic Apologies Can Make Things Worse

How could apologizing make things worse? If you have ever received one of those half-hearted apologies, how'd that make you feel? Just all kinds of relieved, I'm sure. How does it make you feel when you give one yourself?

Half-hearted apologies actually come from your Self-Talk. If you're new to this series on moving from Self-Talk to Soul-Talk, Self-Talk derives from those limiting beliefs and learned behaviors about life that often hold a self-critical or self-judgmental element to them. These inner criticisms and judgments often manifest in negative Self-Talk directed toward your own self (how stupid of me) or toward others (how stupid of them).

Haven't you ever found yourself apologizing for something you did or said that originated with one of those "how-stupid-of-me-or-them" judgments in the first place? You did or said something "stupid" yourself for which you now feel contrite and feel compelled to offer an apology of some sort, so you wind up making a kind of apology-lite. How do half-hearted apologies fit in with negative Self-Talk and where did you learn to give those "I'm-kind-of-sort-of-sorry" apologies to begin with?

Years ago (many years ago), when I was in a grad school child development class, we went to a local playground with a group of parents and their pre-school age children to observe both parent and child behaviors. Two children were playing in the sandbox I was observing. The little boy filled up his bucket with sand, toddled over to the little girl who was happily scooping up sand herself, and then proceeded to dump his bucket of sand all over the little girl.

As you can imagine, the little girl started to cry while the little boy scampered back to his other toys. The mother of the little boy stormed over to him, grabbed him by the arm, and scolded him, ending with "now you go over there and apologize." In a fit of malicious compliance, the little boy himself stormed over to the little girl and spat out a far less than meaningful, "I'm sorry," and returned to his toys. His mother, clearly not pleased with what she had just observed, grabbed him by the arm again, this time wagging an angry finger in his face, demanding that he "go back and apologize again, this time as though you mean it."

Talk about an education for life! Make certain your apologies are award-winning in nature, kind of the original fake it 'til you make it life lesson. And what did the Self-Talk learn? If you don't mean it and show you don't mean it, then fake it so you don't get in even more trouble. These kinds of fake apologies leave both parties feeling empty and become another form of poison that can be damaging to both of you. Dumped into your most meaningful relationships, toxic apologies foster distrust and divisiveness, leading to all manner of other even more toxic poisons you drink yourself hoping the other person will die, most notably resentment and criticism.

The Apology That Needs No Apology

An ordinary apology may not cut it for you or for the other person, even if you feel apologetic. The problem with an "apology" can be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, where the first definition means "a formal justification" as in defense or excuse. Merriam-Webster also tells us that synonyms for apology include alibi, excuse, defense, justification, plea, and reason. Don't you just feel warm all over when someone dumps their defenses, justifications and excuses all over you?

Ordinary Self-Talk apologies, which rely on defenses, explanations and excuses, can become increasingly toxic because they wind up creating a form of unexpressed inner permission to offend again -- "Hey, I said I'm sorry, didn't I?" That kind of thinking and Self-Talk simply builds a wall of "he-doesn't-mean-what-he-says" into your communication channels, which can then bleed over to just about any relationship with anyone.

So, what do you do if you truly feel repentant for something you did or said? Rather than Self-Talk inspired apologies, what you really need is more of a Soul-Talk apology, one that derives from a Greek inspired term, metanoia. Metanoia comes from the Greek word meta, meaning "beyond or after," while noia comes from a word meaning "perception, understanding or mind." Merriam-Webster defines metanoia as "a transformative change of heart." If you are experiencing your own metanoia, if you truly think and know differently, you are sourcing your new-found knowledge from your heart, which is the seat of your Soul-Talk

Soul-Talk can become your own personal source of metanoia, something that stems from your heart, and something that is beyond perception or mind. If you truly do think and know differently, you are likely to spend a lot more time with your apology than simply offering another lame "I'm sorry." Instead, you might find yourself revealing what you have learned about yourself rather than simply focusing on the behavior for which you apologize and seek forgiveness.

I recently found myself upset about a series of unattractive financial outcomes that had their origins a few years back with some "stupid" decisions I had made. (Notice the critical Self-Talk.) In a classic case of "kick-the-dog" thinking, I wound up blasting a good friend over some trivial financial matter that required a bit of give and take for each of us. Instead of recognizing what was going on in the moment (remember, Soul-Talk comes in quiet tones), I took him to task over his intransigence. Only later did I recognize the quieter voice of my Soul-Talk showing me that I was taking my mistake out on him. So, rather than merely apologizing for my blame-oriented outburst, I shared with him how I had been upset about something completely unrelated and then wound up dumping my negative judgments about my self and my own thinking process onto him. Once I owned the fact that my upset had absolutely nothing to do with him, we were then able to have a much more important, blame-free conversation about our own differences.

Next week, we will delve ever deeper into the source of heart-felt wisdom and the corresponding courage it takes to operate from these deeper places of who you truly are.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. What has been our experience with experiencing a transformative change of heart? How have you moved into greater compassion and understanding for yourself and others? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

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