Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Why Won't You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

Why Won't You Apologize? by Harriet Lerner
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This book explores the power and potential pitfalls of apologies. It offers a guide to the art of crafting an apology that is meaningful and can restore trust. The book also offers insight to situations where the offended person feels they are owed an apology but are not receiving one. And there’s also advice on how to properly receive an apology when it does come.

The author is a psychologist with years of experience to draw from in offering examples of situations where apologies were a factor in saving or ending relationships. The book acknowledges times when relationships can’t be restored and in some cases shouldn’t be saved.

Early in the book the reader is challenged with the following situation:
It’s a profound challenge to sit on the hot seat and listen with an open heart to the hurt and anger of the wounded person who wants us to be sorry, especially when that person is accusing us (and not accurately, as we see it) of causing their pain. Yet both personal integrity and success in relationships depend on our ability to take responsibility for our part (and only our part) even when the other person is being a jerk.
Indeed such a situation requires a well grounded and emotionally secure person to respond without blurting out a pseudo apology (an apology followed with “but … “ ) Another example of a pseudo apology is “I’m sorry you feel that way,”—in other words, “I’m sorry you (not me) has a problem.”

Being human by definition means being imperfect and prone to error and defensiveness. Thus finding the internal wisdom, insight, and strength to craft an effective and heartfelt apology is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most humans. The examples described in this book offers suggestions and ideas of useful tools, technics, and approaches to various situations. Sometimes the best approach is to concentrate on listening to the other person's feelings, and if it has come as a surprise to ask for some time to think it over.

So how does a victim of betrayal or hurt manage to get over it and move on? The short answer is "any way that works." It will be different for different people. Also, this book takes the position that it is not necessary for a hurt victim to forgive in order to recover and leave it behind. Forgiveness is a personal decision, not something to be told to do.
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Reading Progress

March 30, 2020 – Started Reading
March 30, 2020 – Shelved
April 1, 2020 – Finished Reading

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Clif Hostetler The following are quotes and questions used by the Vital Conversations group when discussing this book:

1. “The challenge of apology and reconciliation is a dance that occurs between at least two people. We are all, many times over, on both sides of the equation.” (p. 3) Think about times you have been on both sides of the equation. What has helped heal and what has not worked for you?

2. “The best apologies are short, and don’t go on to include explanations that run the risk of undoing them.” (p.15) “I’m sorry you feel that way” is another common pseudo-apology.” (15) “The purpose of an apology is to calm and sooth the hurt party, not to agitate or pursue her because you have the impulse to connect, explain yourself, lower your guilt quotient, or foster your recovery.” (p. 23-24)

3. “It’s incredibly difficult to listen to someone’s pain when that someone’s accusing us of causing it...To listen with an open heart and ask questions to better help us understand the other person is a spiritual exercise, in the truest sense of the word.” (p. 43). Can you say to yourself, “This is not about me”, even when the other person is trying to make it about you? If you can it allows the other to “feel” their own feelings.

4. “Nondefensive listening: 1. Recognize your defensiveness. 2. Breath. 3. Listen only to understand. 4. Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand. 5. Find something you can agree with. 6. Apologize for your part. 7. Let the offended party know he or she has been heard and that you will continue to think about the conversation. 8. Thank the critical person for sharing his or her feelings. 9. Take the initiative to bring the conversation up again. 10. Draw the line at insults. 11.Don’t listen when you can’t listen well. 12. Define your differences...Wholehearted listening require us to quiet our mind, open our heart, and ask questions to help us to better understand.” (p. 48-52) Recall times when you practiced these skills. When has someone listened to you in this way?

5. “While guilt is about doing, shame is about being.” (p. 63) Also material on p. 84-86. Talk about the difference between guilt and shame. Think of some stories that illustrate the power to heal rather than add to the hurt.

6. “Criticize the behavior, not the person.” (p. 75) Explain and illustrate the difference between feedback and criticism.

7. “We are responsible for our own behavior. But we are not responsible for other people’s reactions, nor are they responsible for ours.” (p. 88). What does this mean? Can you give an illustration? See pages 90-91.

8. “Learn to say, ‘Thank you for the apology,’ and stop there.” (p. 97) When is that better than “I accept your apology.”

9. “The best apologies are offered by people who understand that it is important to be oneself, but equally as important to choose the self that we want to be.” (p. 125) What does that mean to you?

10. “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” from Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking (p. 2) Why is forgiveness important? What have you learned and how did you learn about the need for letting go of past hurts? Remember, no one is inherently a victim.

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