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As a psychotherapist, clients have often told me throughout the years that the one thing they wanted most from the people who have hurt them was an apology.

It is amazing how profoundly healing it can be to both parties when a person who harmed another has the courage to admit they’re wrong and apologize.

By apologizing we let the other person know that we regret having hurt, slighted, disappointed, or betrayed him or her. Apology is an important ritual and practice, a way of showing respect and empathy for the wronged person.

It is also a way of acknowledging an act that can’t go unnoticed without compromising the relationship.

But an apology has more than the power to soothe wounds or mend relationships. In some instances, it has the ability to rehabilitate an individual, resolve conflicts, and restore social harmony. While an apology cannot literally undo harmful effects of past actions, if done sincerely and effectively, an apology can be remarkably healing.

We frequently say that we owe someone an apology or that we need to give an apology. We also say we received an apology or we accepted an apology. These words might imply that something tangible is being exchanged.

In materialistically driven societies, it boggles the minds of many that the expression of regret itself serves as reparation, without requiring additional actions on the part of the wrongdoer.

It’s a difficult concept for many to grasp because apology as a currency runs contrary to the logic of our economic marketplace. In Western societies we are trained to utilize money and consumer items to make amends. The man, who buys his wife a diamond ring, to “apologize” for his infidelity is a classic and telling example. The woman who rewards her partner with sex, as a way of “apologizing” for abrupt or unkind behavior is an unfortunate, yet well-known paradigm. Our conceptions of social exchange are not weighted to consider the apology itself as the appropriate, and sufficient compensation. In our money-driven, consumer-oriented world, there may be nothing more profound than reaching an understanding about the power of an authentic apology delivered with the sincere depth of the words: “I apologize,” followed by commensurate action.

If we do not apologize, and do so authentically, the other person will become resentful of us. This resentment can take the form of distancing ourselves, expressing anger in numerous direct and indirect ways, or feeling less motivated to be considerate or caring. In addition, when we do not apologize, the recipient becomes wary of us, and if an apology is not forthcoming, this wariness and distrust will magnify.


Congress owes the American people an apology. They owe us an apology because they have harmed, offended and slighted the American people in the following ways:

  • By posturing the way they have been when so many people’s economic lives are at stake
  • By refusing to compromise and instead digging their heels in and creating this impasse
  • For not putting the American people first but instead putting their own ideologies first and allowing their entrenched ideas to dictate their behavior, in the process destroying people’s lives
  • By stubbornly insisting that their way is the only way and refusing to compromise
  • By refusing to open their hearts and minds to other possibilities
  • By not being the positive and powerful leaders and role models for Democracy that they are supposed to be
  • And perhaps most important, for further discouraging an already disheartened nation.

If this “special” community of elite members of Congress cannot resolve these issues, how can we as a nation hope for an economic recovery? If our two major political parties cannot lead by example and begin to listen to one another and compromise with one another, how can we hope for Democracy to flourish?

Congress has the opportunity to be a powerful role model for change in the United States by admitting their mistakes, apologizing, and then being willing to open their hearts and minds to one another.

Another aspect of apology is to provide a remedy. While we can’t go back and undo or redo the past, we can do everything within our power to repair the harm we caused. Therefore, a meaningful apology needs to include a statement in which you offer restitution in some way, an offer to help the other person, or a promise to take action so that you will not repeat the behavior.

Republicans need to understand that they are being seen as insensitive and greedy by a predominant number of Americans. They need to look to our environment, and become stewards of repairing damage done. They must act to prevent future harms. It is imperative for them to proactively seek and promote alternative options to enhance our growth while also preserving and protecting our environment – it’s the only one we all have.

Nothing in nature takes more than it needs. The lion doesn’t kill all animals wantonly or for sport, it only utilizes what it needs to survive comfortably. Compare that to the human condition of continuous and often insatiable acquisition – at times bordering on the very real addiction of uncontrollable consumerism. In some circles, as stated in the book, Man’s Rise to Civilization, accumulated wealth beyond our needs is considered a mental illness.

Democrats, on the other hand, need to get off their high horses and begin to look at Republicans in a more compassionate way. They need to understand that Republicans are acting as they are out of fear, and that fear contracts. How can they get Republicans to stop contracting? Not by pushing them—which will make them contract still further. But by gently bringing them along. By embracing them. In his brilliant documentary, “I Am” Tom Shadyac stated, “How do we deal with those who take more than they need? We can fight them, run from them, become them or heal them of their mental illness.”

Martin Luther King taught us how to do this. He advised his followers that their racist enemies couldn’t help the way they were. That in fact, they were sick. He further told us that we have the power to heal these racists. This turned around the entire paradigm. By telling us this he empowered us.

This is how I advise Democrats to think of Republicans in Congress, and to act accordingly. The dominance of egos, on both sides of the aisle, that inhibit the practice of working and achieving results for the good of all, is an illness.

The good news is there are tools they can utilize, to give them the power to heal. We can support them through the process if they are sincere and diligent. As a matter of fact, we all have some healing to do.

As members of Congress begin to acknowledge, and take action to rectify their behavior, they must remember that the sincere act of apology is critical in order to move forward. An apology is not enough – behavior modification must follow.

Congress owes the American people an apology because they have chosen to contract instead of expand.

  • We contract when we stubbornly refuse to listen to the other person’s point of view.
  • We contract when we automatically assume other people are wrong just because they belong to an opposing political party, sexual orientation, ethnic or economic group.
  • We contract when we assume that those who have opposing views or ideologies have nothing to teach us.
  • We contract when we assume we are right.
  • And we contract when we refuse to apologize for our mistakes or oversights.

So I invite Congress to apologize as a first step toward Expanding.
We expand when we are willing to admit we have made a mistake.
We expand when we keep our minds and hearts open to new or opposing ideas.

What is happening in Congress is symbolic of what is happening in the world. Greed is taking over. Instead of asking, “How can I help?” too many ask, “What can I get out of this?”

Apology is a highly effective way of connecting with our own humanity.

When we make a mistake but don’t admit it, we take up valuable time and effort in covering up, finger pointing and blaming others. We continue to contract.

It is a common ploy to blame others as a way of hiding one’s own mistakes—the more we blame others, the less we are connected to ourselves.

Apology helps us connect to ourselves. And, equally as important – to others.

Beverly Engel’s book, The Power of Apology – Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships, is available for purchase in our Inner Compass Lifestyle Store.

Beverly Engel, LMFT, is the best-selling author of twenty self-help books. She is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience and is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of abuse, women’s issues, relationships, and sexuality.

Beverly has shared her expertise on many national television programs, including CNN and Oprah! She is a frequent keynote speaker and workshop leader at conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Beverly currently lives near Austin, Texas.

She can be reached through her website: www.BeverlyEngel.com

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