Why do I have to apologize when you’re the one that hurt me?
I’m a man who is willing to share my feelings and talk about things (apparently more often than most men and what some people want to hear according to my wife). I think growing up as an only child and the son of a young, divorced mom who was a child psychologist helped me understand the need to express my feelings and monitor my emotions.
I have found myself in situations where I had my feelings hurt by people I cared about and by people I was doing business with. In most cases, I addressed the situation, explained my feelings and how I had been impacted. In response, the person acknowledged me and my feelings in that moment, said they were sorry and admitted they didn’t handle the situation correctly. This led to more open and honest conversations and a deeper bond and connection with the person I was dealing with.
However, in a few cases the conversation didn’t go this way and the outcome was dramatically different. When I shared my feelings and how their comment or actions had crossed the line with me. The person immediately became defensive and proceeded to tell me everything I had ever done wrong whether it was relevant to the situation or not.
I'm Not Perfect
Please understand that I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I can react in ways that are counterproductive. However, I also know that deflection is typically a sign that someone is not willing to acknowledge someone else’s feelings or admit they could have hurt someone else.
As these difficult conversations continued to escalate, I found my feelings getting hurt even more by not being heard and by what was being said. I was also struck by how the person’s negative and inaccurate perceptions of me became clear based on what they were saying. This was very difficult to swallow.
Have you ever found yourself in the same situation? How easy is it for you to slip into defense mode and start attacking the other person for what they did to you?
My Biggest Shadow
This is my biggest shadow! I simply don’t let you attack me without fighting back. I would call it survival skills, but others might see it as an inability to handle conflict that has escalated beyond reason. Regardless of what you call it, the result is the same. Nobody is happy with what is said and done. Nothing gets resolved, because we are too busy fighting, not listening or even trying to see the other person.
Have you ever felt unseen by someone else? Were you ever in a situation where you shared your deepest feelings and didn’t feel heard?
Moments like these take me back to my childhood. I grew up in an era where children were to be seen and not heard. However, I think in many cases, children were not seen or heard, even as they grew into adulthood. This has always been frustrating for me as far back as I can remember.
Now that I am a grown man with many personal and professional accomplishments, my own amazing family, and a few successful business ventures under my belt, this is still a huge shadow for me. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I don’t know if it’s a need for validation or my struggle with insecurities. I simply don’t like when people don’t hear me, especially when I have opened my heart to tell them how I feel.
Vulnerability Builds Walls
Unfortunately, many of us build walls around our heart because of this very thing. If we are hurt when we are being vulnerable, it makes it that much harder to be open and vulnerable again, especially with that person. We feel they didn’t respect our willingness to be vulnerable because of our love for them or appreciation for the relationship, so why should we risk the hurt again.
So, as you can see there are several things that show up for me when I am in a conversation with someone who has hurt me and refuses to accept responsibility or the role they played in hurting me. It gets worse for me when they refuse to even say they are sorry that I was hurt by their actions or words. This reaction, or should I say inaction, takes me to a very, very dark place. It opens my brokenness wounds and why I don’t like being vulnerable with everyone.
I believe in forgiveness. I believe it’s very important to apologize. I also believe that giving an apology is not saying that what you did was wrong. Apologizing is more about acknowledging the hurt that you caused someone else.
Now, as I said this has happened both in personal and professional relationships, so let me tell you how I handled each. Let’s begin with the professional relationship.
Professional Situation Was A Life Skill Lesson
Obviously, in the professional situation I had the option of simply walking away from that deal. However, I chose to use that moment with the person to share a life skill that would benefit them professionally. Now whether they learned anything or choose to use what they learned from me, I’ll never know. But because of my passion for loving people and helping people to grow personally and professionally, I refuse to let another business owner be unprofessional and get away with it.
I addressed what they did and laid out the facts. I told them that as their client the situation didn’t sit well with me. I also shared that this would not be received well by my network of friends and business owners that might hear what happened to me. In a business environment where referrals and reviews are critical to the growth and sustainability of a business, one bad review could be detrimental. Negative reviews can have a lasting and often devastating financial impact.
As a side note, you might say that I shouldn’t let my feelings get in the way when it comes to business. I think this is the very reason we see ever increasing reports of corporate scandals and corruption, large and small business failures, and Millennials disinterest in working for Baby Boomers and Corporate America. Too many businesses focus on power and profit and they forget about the people (employees and customers). People have feelings and when they “feel” appreciated, heard, and seen, your business will thrive with profit.
Personal Situation Didn't Go Well
In the personal situations, the conversations didn’t go well initially. I followed the same approach as in the professional situation. I addressed what they did and simply stated the facts. I explained how it impacted me and why. In the conversations, I was honest and loving. It took everything I had in me not to get angry because of my own shadows and how I felt I was being treated. I believed it was more important to address the fact that my feelings were hurt than it was to attack and hurt them too.
The blessing was that in the days after the conversation, the situations resolved themselves. Based on what has happened since the conversations, I believe I was heard and seen although those involved may still not fully understand how or even know why they hurt me. In my opinion, this is work that they need to continue to unpack to better understand why their first response was to become defensive.
Have you done the work to figure out exactly what triggers you and why? Do you find yourself overreacting in situations and asking yourself why did I respond in that way? Is it difficult for you to process when someone challenges you and says that you hurt them? Do you get defensive? Now is the time to figure out why!
Take the time to go through your life just as I did to see when you first remember having that same feeling and reaction. It might have happened way back in your childhood or as a young adult. If you’re like me and most people, you have not found the right tools and means to process these feelings.
I offer these tips to help you respond without being defensive.
- Listen actively – beyond hearing what is being said, observe their body language.
- Ask questions – instead of waiting to respond to what was said, ask clarifying questions to dig deeper into the heart behind what is being shared with you.
- Ask more questions – although you may have answers to what has already been shared, you still need to find out how that person would rather see you handle the situation.
- Sincerely apologize – say I’m sorry and mean it; if your sorry is followed with a “but”, it’s not an apology.
- Say thank you – it is very difficult for people to be vulnerable and share their hurt with others, so make sure you thank the person for their honesty and vulnerability as a sign of their love for you.
- Prove it – the real test of love is to take action and modify your behavior, especially if these actions are not natural for you.
- Check in – once you have apologized and modified your actions, it is very important that you check in to make sure that what you’re doing meets their expectations.
This is truly hard work. We simply don’t want to hear or admit when we are wrong or when we have hurt others. However, it is important that we see the other person if our desire is to grow and nurture that relationship. Always remember, the person who was hurt should not be the first to apologize.