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Hard to say 'I'm Sorry'

May 28, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

The signature line from Erich Segal's 1970 tearjerker novel and subsequent film was "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Jay Krunszyinsky, and a lot of people whose feelings have been hurt, would have a problem with that.

Krunszyinsky is author of "I'm Sorry," a book he describes as a relationship repair guide.

Krunszyinsky directs a long-term care facility in Pennsylvania for people with developmental disabilities and persistent mental illness. He's also worked as a probation officer, abuse investigator and counselor.

Saying you're sorry is something he considers basic to all relationships.

"We all make mistakes," Krunszyinsky said. Mistakes that hurt don't have to be big.

Recognizing mistakes you've made - seeing yourself - is crucial to development, he said.

Often, people don't realize what they've done.

"That's the human condition," Krunszyinsky said.

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"It's a cycle," he said. "We've all been hurt, so we hurt."

It's important to say you're sorry. The hurt is acknowledged. The victim is validated. He doesn't feel crazy to have felt hurt or wronged.

Accepting an apology lifts hurt and anger. The act of acceptance gives power to the victim, Krunszyinsky said.

But there's a lot more involved than just saying the words.

The first step is recognizing the offense - owning up to the wrong or hurt, Krunszyinsky said.

Before you say you're sorry, you have to feel sorry, said Laurel Brown, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice and at Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown.

Before you say the words, access the feeling. Feel it in your chest, Brown said. Make sure you feel the feeling.

How you apologize also is important.

Look into the person's eyes when you apologize, Brown recommends.

Tell them what you're sorry for.

You may tell them why what you're apologizing for happened, but sometimes explanation isn't necessary, Brown said.

Saying you're sorry is a "very tender place," Brown said. It's not easy.

Sometimes tears are needed, and that's not a bad thing. Brown called crying a "healing rain."

Emotions get stuck in people, Brown said. Little knots of unexpressed feelings can lead to depression, she said.

Krunszyinsky also sees problems resulting from people not communicating feelings. He cited the extreme example of school shootings perpetrated by kids who were bullied.

The work of apology is not over as soon as the words are said.

It's important to change the behavior that caused the hurt. Making a commitment and doing the work to change the offending behavior also is redeeming, Brown said.

Apologizing is very powerful, Krunszyinsky said. It can help you get in touch with yourself. It's what helps people develop a conscience.

Even if the apology isn't accepted, saying you're sorry helps the apologizer as well as the one who's receiving it.

That heaviness in your chest is lifted. You feel freer. You can move on, Brown said.

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