Understanding the “Why” Behind an Apology

Breeding Empathy and Compassion

Understanding the "Why:" Teaching Empathy and Compassion

Teaching our children about the “why” behind apologies and forgiveness is critical in helping them develop long-term empathy and compassion. Without meaning to, we as parents tend to model apologies that come from a place of fear and shame. In turn, those feelings of fear and shame are projected onto our kids, leading us to demand forced apologies, taking away from their understanding of what forgiveness really means on a deeper level. 

The Parental Instinct: Why We Often Demand Forced Apologies

Often I see parents in a situation where an apology is forced upon their child. Imagine a mother and her toddler are at the playground. The toddler grabs another child’s toy from the sandbox. The mother, mortified, impulsively shouts out, “Henry! Say you are sorry!” in fear that Henry’s behavior will reflect poorly on her in front of the other parents. As adults, we sometimes mistakenly expect adult behavior from children. Boys grab toys from other boys. That’s how it is. Sometimes a harsh reaction like this can have an adverse impact making Henry too afraid and confused to say anything at all. This is a classic parenting moment. As parents, we must be curious about the impulse to ask our children to say sorry when they really have no idea why they should, and before even understanding what they’ve done or how it affected those around them.

The Half-Hearted "I'm Sorry": The Consequences of Incomplete Understanding

Similarly, older kids will often mutter a half-hearted “I’m sorry” without meaning it if they have been taught throughout childhood to automatically apologize without fully understanding why such an apology becomes essentially meaningless. Apologies become surrounded by feelings of guilt and shame, and the child has no idea how meaningful a genuine, loving apology can be. Instead, it’s just a quick tool to get out of trouble. Ultimately, they haven’t had the chance to experience the real beauty of forgiveness.

One remedy can be to help our children understand why an apology is necessary and teach them to understand that “why” for themselves. Otherwise, they end up feeling like they owe the world an apology for their very existence. 

The Process of Understanding Forgiveness

The first step in developing an understanding of the “why” behind an apology is overcoming the impulse to force an apology from your child before they can comprehend what they’ve done wrong. It can be helpful to look at the reasoning behind your immediate demand for an apology. Are you demanding it because you’re embarrassed or because it will genuinely help the situation? Would you automatically say you were sorry in this situation? 

The second step is recognizing that forgiveness is a process. It takes time for both parties to understand what has happened in the situation, see the other person’s point of view, and come to terms with it. The wounds don’t heal immediately. They need time.

My daughter sometimes tells me, “I’m not ready to forgive you yet.” I make it a point to respond respectfully and patiently by saying something like, “Okay. I love you.” I want to allow her the time she needs to process her emotions of anger, frustration, or hurt. I want to give her space to process, and I really want to make sure she doesn’t forgive me because she’s afraid I will be upset with her. 

Explain Yourself and Be Honest

By the same token, it’s important to truly mean it when apologizing to your child and explain the “why” behind your apology. For example, “I’m saying sorry because I want you to know that I recognize that I was wrong, and I never intended to hurt your feelings.” Giving compassionate reasoning for your apology will steer them away from apologizing automatically. Even more importantly, learning to understand the “why” behind others’ apologies will teach them compassion and empathy for themselves and others. I always like to take a moment to put myself in the other person’s shoes and to consider why what transpired, transpired. 

If you find yourself frequently owing apologies to your children, spouse, or loved ones, it may be beneficial to look inward at what may be causing you to lash out or behave in hurtful ways. If you find yourself yelling or acting from a place of resentment, anger, or sadness, can you pinpoint where that is coming from? 

You may want to consider getting help in the form of talking it out with your loved ones, meditating or journaling to process your emotions, or seeking professional help. 

Practice Forgiving and Never Hold Grudges

The third step is to practice forgiving, often and easily. The process of forgiveness must be honored, but at the same time, we must never hold grudges. I remember being on the receiving end of grudges in my childhood, and it was traumatizing. I lived in constant fear of not being forgiven, and to me, it felt as if I was being held hostage to another person’s feelings. I couldn’t feel normal again until I knew the other person had forgiven me. 

It is important to me that my kids or anyone I love never has to feel that way. I want them to understand that we all make mistakes and that whatever happens, they are loved unconditionally always. 

Learning from the people we love

A few months ago, my husband and I went on a bike ride with our 10-year-old daughter. She sped off ahead of us, and I couldn’t see her for the majority of the ride. Even though we had biked that same loop many times, my husband had had a stroke a few weeks earlier, and I was under a lot of stress. When we arrived home, my daughter was already there, and I lost my temper and yelled at her for biking ahead.  

Later, she came to me and asked for forgiveness. Of course, I forgave her right away and asked her for forgiveness as well. I explained that I was exhausted from worrying about her father, and it had affected the way I reacted. Apologizing for my part in the situation allowed my daughter space to reflect on her part.

Recognize your own part in things

This is one of the greatest lessons AA has taught me, to look at both sides of the coin and apologize for my part. This process will neutralize interactions, and one can look beyond oneself and see a scenario from higher perspectives. This is why, even though your child is young, try your best to explain why you did what you did and apologize for it. This will teach them to develop empathy and compassion for both parties involved in the situation. 

To put it simply, empathy and compassion are the keys to living in a state of forgiveness and regularly practicing sincere, heartfelt apologies. 

Seeing yourself in another's shoes

My daughter once had a bully in her class. My daughter was often upset by her classmate’s behavior towards the others, and we often discussed why we thought she acted the way she did. I always reminded my daughter to consider what may be behind this behavior? What can cause her to be unkind to others? 

We talked about the possibility that this girl may have had a negative home life or difficulty keeping up in school. The point being, trying to understand the underlying trigger that manifests as someone’s mean behavior. Hurt people tend to hurt people, and it rarely has anything personal to do with the person they are bullying.

Through empathy and compassion, we can see ourselves in another’s shoes. We would all certainly forgive our bullies if we knew their parents were mistreating or neglecting them at home or had a learning disability that was profoundly impacting their self-confidence. We would all forgive our children if we took a moment to understand that their actions are almost never guided by malicious intent. We would all forgive ourselves if we remembered that mistakes are part of being human, and they do not make us any less lovable.

Understanding forgiveness teaches us to recognize our shared humanity

To apologize sincerely is to recognize the shared humanity between yourself and the person you have hurt. It shows self-reflection and awareness. To allow the other party the time and space they need to process your apology and offer forgiveness is a display of compassion and humility. And to forgive easily when the tables have turned is to live in a state of empathy, non-attachment, and freedom./

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Abdi Assadi is unlike any other healer or spiritual teacher ever encountered. He is an expert in martial arts, and a dynamic healer practicing a diverse array of Chinese and Eastern Medicine, indigenous shamanic rituals, and meditation techniques. With a clinical practice in New York City for almost 4 decades, Abdi has accumulated a vast knowledge of real life experience working with several thousands of individuals, guiding them through the most difficult times, and teaching them how to understand themselves. One of the greatest things about him is he merges the human psyche with the spiritual psyche.

Steeped in deep wisdom and insight that is rare to find on this planet in these modern times, Abdi has an extraordinary ability in perceiving and comprehending human souls and their individual psyche. Guided by the divine, Abdi guides you to open up and see beyond your limited Self, into your own soul. His impeccable discernment enables him to unleash personal remarks that pierce through your veil, statements that you will never forget and in an instant alter your perception of yourself and your reality.

– Quotes from Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi:

All spiritual masters teach us that love is an activity before it is a condition – and that love is all-encompassing.
Page 18

It felt like I was coming off a race track and driving in a school zone. He knew, years before I did, that my speed was my way of suppressing my early childhood anxiety, and that only slowing down could heal it.

Why do you need to use all these words like God and spirituality? It is right here Abdi, all around you, all the time
Page 40

one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
Page 51

Ultimately it keeps grace out of our lives because we are using our will power to manipulate every event and person around us.
Page 74

His lesson, which I had begun to learn for myself, is that outside circumstances do not define our internal experience if we can surrender into them. Painful or undesirable situations will always arise; true suffering comes from our ego’s desire to resist life as it is.
Page 77

Note from Pernilla:
I met Abdi in the fall of 2014 and when I arrived in his office the first thing he said was, “It’s time that you stop carrying other people’s anxiety.” In the year that followed, my entrenched codependency patterns reared their ugly heads and I was confronted with a part of myself that I had never even known was there.

A few years later, Abdi said, “When are you going to start writing your book?”I looked at him in surprise. I was not a writer. My expertise was centered around creating crazy good Excel spreadsheets. However, I started writing and collecting notes about life issues and life experiences … and here we are a few years later.

Sally Kempton is a preeminent meditation teacher of our time.

She is an expert scholar in Hinduism and all Hindu texts especially in Kashmir Shaivisim. Formerly Swami Durgananda, she left monastic life in the 1980’s to teach publicly. She has written several books and is one of the most known and loved spiritual teachers in our time.

Note from Pernilla:

I met Sally at one of her workshops at City Yoga in LA in 2003. She had the most gentle and loving disposition, and I just wanted to always be around her. I was fortunate to have been part of her two year-long “Transformative journey” courses in 2006 and 2007 and many retreats ever since. She is the true representation of unconditional love and transmits intense shakti from her Guru Swami Muktananda.

Sally is the primary building block and foundation in my spiritual journey. Without her, I would have never found and stuck with meditation – the most transformative experience of my life. Without her, I would have been lost without a clue where to go next. Her wealth of knowledge of yogic philosophy and incredible understanding of the human condition is what makes her a force to be reckoned with.  She understands your depth and makes you feel seen, heard, validated, and deeply loved.