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With the Day of Atonement coming up, there’s a window now to reflect on how we have acted towards others and Dr. Molly Howes is ready to help us learn how and why “good apologies” are given.

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Dr. Molly Howes | Photo: mollyhowes.com

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We have all done or said something to slight our fellow neighbour, stranger, or loved one. Assuredly, the reverse is true. The days leading up to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are not just a time for soul-searching about our misdeeds, but also for enacting ways to re-build bridges with those we have wronged.

Dr. Molly Howes’s new book Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right offers an indispensable blueprint on how to do this. Combining extensive research, and her experiences with patients in her practice, she has created a recipe for repairing any relationship.

She has written on the topic of reconciliation for Psychology Today, including The Top 15 Myths About Apologies, How Not to Say “I’m Sorry”, and Good Apologies Seem Impossible.

In her practice, she noticed couples who were trying to reconcile, but could not, “and stumbled, realizing that one partner wasn’t saying what the other partner needs to hear,” she says. “I’ve learned of a lot of hurt that wasn’t healed, that wasn’t necessary hurt, that could have been healed.”

Oftentimes, she believes, the harm itself isn’t the focal point; rather, it is compounded by the transgressor’s inability to right the wrong.

During her research, she discovered several reasons why so many have the inability to apologize, or even to do so with sincerity.

In some cases, it might be due to cultural values, she believes. “I think the deck is stacked against us all, but stacked against some people more,” she says. “Maybe in American culture more than Canadian, there’s a high value placed on individualism, independence, and confidence in oneself, and that doesn’t lend itself to paying attention to the possibility you’ve hurt someone.”

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Neuro-scientifically, too, she says there is a reason: “Our brains don’t function well in terms of inefficiency, so going back and repeating an incident, or re-investing in it, is inefficient due to bias in the brain.”

And lastly, we’re not taught how to put aside our egos, and offer apologies.

“This involves a deliberate re-orientation: that caring about the other person matters more than being right,” she says. “This actually comes up in therapy a lot. I say ‘you could go to the mat on this, and be right, but where do you want the relationship to be?’”

There are several ways to avoid the faux apology, she adds, and its vague counterparts including the non-specific, “I’m sorry about things that might have been done”, and “I’m sorry for any misunderstanding” – as vagueness is the enemy of mending fences. And like in life, there’s “no ifs or buts,” for apologies, as those words are dismissive; they invalidate the apology.

Combining extensive research, and her experiences with patients in her practice, Dr. Molly Howes’s new book Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right has created a recipe for repairing any relationship.

She recommends four steps to make what she calls a “good apology”: 

  1. “Our first choice should be to understand the injury, listen and learn of the other person’s experience. None of what you’re about is relevant in this discussion: not your character, what you meant, or what you said. This is profound. Sometimes the apologizer has to hear about the hurt for a while.”
  2. “To make a sincere statement of regret with empathy. And this is only after you really know the effects of the hurt.”
  3. “To make restitution, compensation, to make up for the harm. In relationships, this is about returning trust or connection. The onus to restore it is not on the hurt party.”
  4. “To make a convincing plan that you will not do this again. It has to be convincing to the other person.”  

“I’m using ‘good apology’ to encompass all of those things – amends, repentance and atonement,” she explains. “A thorough process, a whole package deal. Repentance is regret, awareness of missing the mark or error, and changing to be different.”

The A word (“apologize”) and the S word (“sorry”) don’t even need to be said. “Here’s an example: ‘Oh my gosh, I hurt you. I regret it, and I see it. I will ensure it won’t happen again and I will make it up to you.’”

It’s important to note, also, that no two apologies are alike, even if the transgression appears to be identical. “The impact on person A might be different from the impact on person B, for the same behaviour. That is why we have step one, so we can learn what it is that happened to the person we care about.” 

Ultimately, the right apology is “enormously powerful and poignant,” she says. “It can heal and make amends.”

Dave Gordon is the managing editor of TheJ.ca. His work has appeared in more than a hundred media around the world, including all of the Toronto dailies, BBC, Washington Times, and UK Guardian.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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