Why do you say “I’m sorry”? What do you mean? What do you hope will happen when you say it?

Do you mean, “I said or did something that I regret, that I wish I hadn’t done, I want you to know that I regret what I did, and that I’ll do my best not to do it again”? This is the ideal apology.

Do you mean, in addition, “And I hope you’ll consider forgiving me”? Forgiveness is nice. It makes us feel better, in spite of having done something we regret.

Other times, you might mean something different. You might mean, “I am uncomfortable with being seen by you as the kind of person who would do or say what I did. Please don’t think of me that way.”

Or maybe you mean, “I am experiencing discomfort because of something I did or said, and I hope you’ll relieve that discomfort by telling me you forgive me.”

And sometimes, you might mean, “You’ve just told me about something bad that’s happening or happened in your life, and it makes me sad that I’m not able to erase your pain, or discomfort.” And sometimes, “Please tell me ‘It’s o.k., it’s not such a big deal,’ so I can feel less bad about the suffering you’re experiencing.”

These latter instances – which often are indicated by apologizing for the same offense more than once – often aren’t really apologies. In these cases, we are issuing a request or a demand, masquerading as a gift. We are saying “I’m sorry,” but what we mean is, “I want something from you, something that will make me feel better, even though I’m the one who did something requiring an apology.”

What do you mean when you say “I’m sorry”? Do you mean what you think you mean?

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