Perhaps you’ve heard of the Five Love Languages created by Dr. Gary Chapman? The Five Love Languages are a concept that states each of us has a specific way in which we best receive love. The idea is that if we know ours, and our partner’s Love Language, we can offer them the love we feel for them in a way that is most impactful. What I didn’t realize is that Dr. Chapman, along with Dr. Jennifer Thomas, also discovered the Five Languages of Apology.
It had never dawned on me that how individuals prefer to receive an apology might be different. It’s so easy, isn’t it, to assume how we prefer things is how other’s do? I thought I’d share their insights, as I found them fascinating. Ultimately, some offenses will likely require more than one Apology Language and, as Dr. Chapman notes, forgiveness does not: Destroy the memory; erase the emotions; remove the consequences; rebuild trust; or always result in reconciliation.
The first Apology Language is expressing regret. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I deeply regret my actions.” Dr. Chapman points out, you should never include a “but” in this statement. “I regret my actions, but…” – as this neutralizes the apology. For some individuals, hearing the other person express their regret is what allows them to feel as though they received a sincere apology.
The second Apology Language is accepting responsibility. This includes admitting you were wrong. That can be a hard one to get off the tongue. Try it with me now: “I was wrong.” His example is: “I was wrong. There is no excuse for what I did. I accept responsibility.” Interestingly, he said this is also a crucial one to teach to children; helping them learn to accept responsibility for their actions. Instead of the child saying, “This cookie broke.” We teach them to say, “I broke the cookie.” And, in teaching them to do so when the stakes are low, it encourages them to be able to do so when the stakes are raised.
Thirdly is offering to make restitution. “What can I do to make this up to you?” “How can I make things right between us?” Obviously, the offender would also then need to follow through with their offering. For some individuals, witnessing the other take action, that helps to rectify their actions, gives them the confidence to forgive.
The fourth Apology Language is genuinely repenting or expressing a desire to change. “I don’t like the fact that I did this again; can we talk?” “I want to find a way to break this habit.” It’s about presenting a willingness to change the behavior. I’m sure you’d be surprised to hear that I think this is my Apology Language. For me, knowing a person has taken time to process their actions, began to recognize what led them to those actions, and has considered alternative possibilities; the coach in me likely feels confident that they are then closer to genuine change. I’ve never really considered this before listening to Dr. Chapman’s lecture, but it makes perfect sense. We accept apologies the same ways we accept love, or anything else – filtered through our beliefs.
The fifth Apology Language is requesting forgiveness. Dr. Chapman pointed out that at first this surprised him. He felt that apologizing naturally meant you were seeking forgiveness, but his research concluded that some individuals like to be directly asked for their forgiveness. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
So, what if the person who offended you never apologizes? I was delighted he shared on this topic, as I think so often these issues, when left unresolved, tend to fester within us and mar our trust and outlook. Dr. Chapman suggests that we go to them and gently confront them. We say: “When you did this, it hurt my feelings.” If they apologize, be prepared to forgive them. However, if they don’t, he encourages us to release our hurt and anger by handing it over to a higher power. He says that this does not have to mean we forgive them but rather that we no longer hold within us the emotions that, when reflected upon, continue to hurt us. He also suggests that in releasing it we don’t hold hostility towards them if we have continued interactions, as this kind of reactivity only proves to damage our hearts more.
So, take a moment and ask yourself how you go about apologizing to others, as that is likely how you would prefer to be apologized to. Also, see if you can recognize when someone else apologized to you, and consider that they were indeed genuine, even if it wasn’t in your preferred Apology Language.