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Be a Getter, Not a Taker

Animal Forms of Wisdom by Alexandra Eldridge

Alexandra Eldridge

Clinical psychologist MOLLY HOWES explains why the first step to an apology is to not say a word.

AFTER A MISSTEP, the first, automatic thing some of us do is say “I’m sorry.” We hope that’s the end of it. Spoken aloud these words can be delivered as if fulfilling a requirement—reluctant and resented code words that signal the end of a standoff or of a power struggle. But even when “I’m sorry” is a sincere attempt to repair a relationship, it isn’t enough. One obvious drawback to saying those words before fully understanding the actual injury is that you might not apologize for the correct thing. Listening is essentially receptive—and many of us find it more comfortable to take action than to remain patient and silent. Asking for another person’s perspective on your impact can make you feel vulnerable. When you ask someone to tell you about their hurt, you put yourself in a position to hear things you hadn’t been aware of, and no one enjoys that kind of news. Moreover, the feedback you receive may make you feel guilty or ashamed. Just thinking about this step can make you feel defensive and uncomfortable, but reluctance to engage in it can become a major barrier to apologizing well. …

About the Author

Molly Howes, PhD, is a Harvard-trained clinical psychologist and award-winning writer. She has been published in The New York Times Modern Love column, Best American Essays, NPR’s Morning Edition, and elsewhere. For 35 years, she has maintained an independent psychotherapy practice in which she treats couples and individual patients of all ages. Her new book, A Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right (Grand Central Publishing), will be released in July 2020.

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