The Psychology of Asking for Forgiveness and Forgiving

Do apologies work? What makes them meaningful and sincere? What are the essential parts of an apology? Is there a point when too many apologies for the same act become hollow words?
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Do apologies work? What makes them meaningful and sincere? What are the essential parts of an apology? Is there a point when too many apologies for the same act become hollow words? What makes some people capable of forgiveness, while others will never be able to move past someone's transgressions? How does the public really feel about apologies from political figures, athletes, and celebrities? Believe it or not, there is a psychology behind all of it. There are reasons that some apologies are successful, while others are epic failures. What those factors are can make all the difference between forgiveness, being forgiven, and being written off for good.

Let's start with what makes an apology meaningful? One of the most important factors is that the individual show's true remorse for what you have done wrong, and that they say they are sorry. They should acknowledge that they understand the impact that their words or actions have had on the other person. It is essential that they admit their guilt to the person they have hurt. An apology of, "I am sorry that you got upset about me doing that, is not an apology." Sincerity, and a clear demonstration that you mean what you are saying goes a long way. People will read a heartless apology from a mile away. Apologies should be timely, meaning soon after the event, not days, weeks, or months later. Also, be sure to tell the other person what you will change in the future to make sure this never happens again. This is vitally important

Now what if a person is committing regrettable acts over and over again, and keeps asking for forgiveness? At what point does an apology become pointless? At this point, actions speak louder than words. When the person is hearing the same apologies and false promises over and over again, the words become meaningless. IF there is any chance for forgiveness, or another chance, the person needs to start demonstrating that they are capable of the changes they are claiming. It might take quite some time to build this trust back and have the person believe you, and your words again. You have watered down your credibility at this point. When your actions start to match your words, you start to rebuild the trust you have broken.

So what about the person doing the forgiving? Is there a psychology behind forgiveness? Why are certain people able to forgive, while others can never seem to let go of resentments? What does the first group know that the second does not? People who forgive despite seemingly impossible odds know that holding on to anger and resentments is literally damaging to their own health and well-being. So forgiving becomes about their own self-care, more than it is about the other person's need to be forgiven. The person who is doing the forgiving is realistic that forgiveness is often a marathon and not a sprint. They realize that it is a process, that it is going to take time to truly and fully forgive, and so they shows themselves more patience and kindness during the process. Forgiveness can also be empowering. That may sound odd to many, but that is because they do not realize that forgiveness often gives the forgiver their power back. It puts them in control of the boundaries and expectations they have for the relationship going forward.

To put yet another spin on this subject, how does the public tend to feel about public apologies from investors, politicians, athletes, and celebrities? People have become jaded from carefully scripted an insincere apologies from these individuals. Often the apologies have been put together by their PR rep, and the individual had nothing to do with the creation of the apology at all. Most importantly, the person only apologies when they have been caught, and when there are going to be serious consequences. Some recent examples, when Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen's CEO, apologized for customers' "broken trust" after the company was accused of defrauding environmental regulators.

How about Martin Shkreli? The 32-year-old entrepreneur who recently left his job as a hedge fund manager to start his own pharmaceutical company, Turing Pharmaceuticals. He proceeded to buy the rights to an AIDS Drug, and raised the price 5,455 Percent. With all the people who would not be able to access this life saving drug, there must have been one heck of an apology coming right? Wrong! According to Shkreli, "It really doesn't make sense to get any criticism for this," he told the New York Times. "This isn't the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients. It is us trying to stay in business."

Of course, what list would be complete without the perfect example of an individual who thinks they are beyond and above apologies, Donald Trump. While he may have meant it in jest, he was recently quoted on Jimmy Fallon saying, "I never apologize, because I am never wrong." Clearly showing lack of insight or humility. Any of these individuals is more than welcome to use the tools and techniques provided to them here, if they ever find themselves in the need of a sincere apology.