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Conflict Power Words: I'm Sorry And Alt-Apologies

Mar 03, 2021

Pay attention to the words you use and hear. Especially when you're involved in a conflict and you're trying to resolve the issue amicably. It might be divorce. It might be with a sibling, a coworker, with your parent or child.

Sometimes in disagreements people use words to gain power. Or they don't want to admit they made a mistake. They act from fear or anger. When words are used to gain power, it isn't nice and it harms the relationship.

If you're the recipient, you know this is happening if you are left feeling icky without knowing why.

This frequently happens with apologies. People say they're apologizing when they're not. It's an alt-apology. Potentially as deadly as alt-news. Really, they're saying to the other person: you're in the wrong. You're being unreasonable. F#ck-)ff already so I can move on with my life. It feels like a jab from barbed wire. I bet you can relate. I have yet to meet a person who hasn't experienced an alt-apology.

Look at the following statements. One of them is an apology. Three of them are alt-apologies.

  1. I'm sorry you feel neglected.
  2. I'm sorry you feel this way.
  3. I'm sorry you misunderstood me.
  4. I'm sorry I neglected you.

The first three are alt-apologies. They make the other person feel icky. The speaker wants the listener to doubt herself and her feelings. For the listener to take responsibility for the problem, even when the listener is not at fault. The clue is in how they start: they begin with: I'M SORRY YOU... These are not apologies. These statements - said to control or to keep from appearing vulnerable - destroy relationships. They lead to broken friendships, estrangement, and even divorce.

The only apology is (4). In it, the speaker's taking responsibility for their behaviour and actions. It begins: I'M SORRY I... They're admitting: I feel bad because I hurt you. This is the structure of an apology. The speaker is accountable and takes responsibility.

With an apology, the relationship can improve. I'M SORRY is a statement with the power to transform and heal. When you're in conflict and the other person apologizes and means it, everything can shift for the better. Reconciliation and transformation are possible.

An alt-apology also has the power to transform, only it destroys relationships. If someone tells you an alt-apology - the I'M SORRY YOU… - call them on it. Say that it sounds like an alt-apology. Ask if they want to improve the relationship or harm it. Tell them if they want to improve the relationship, they might want to think about how they are responsible and try again.

Doing so may make them angry. They may use other words to try to make you feel small. If they do, then you really know where the problem is: with them. They are responsible for their bad behaviour, not you.

Your dignity remains intact. You can move from feeling icky to being confident that you are acting appropriately. The other person lives in alt-reality, not you.

However, if you notice this is a pattern, you might want to start evaluating the relationship. Ask yourself if it harms or helps you to stay.

If you conclude you're being harmed by staying, and if the alt-apologies have you doubting your sanity, start planning on making changes. No one deserves to remain in such a relationship. Each human deserves to be treated with respect. Listen to the words, and take back your power.

If you want to learn how to take back your power, book a complimentary 20-minute session with Kim. The session is called a "Drama Free Divorce" Discovery Session, but really, Kim's happy to help with all kinds of conflicts.

Choose Peace.

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