A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

When is an Apology not an Apology?

When it's "dextificiation," according to Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. Drs. Rick and Rick explain that when people come to them claiming to have a problem with apology, the problem is usually that they are actually "dextifying."

Drs. Rick and Rick define "dextify" (yes, it's a made-up word) as follows:

1) To defend, explain, or justify while claiming to apologize.
2) To hold oneself blameless for a variety of reasons.
3) To have a good excuse for actions that produce mental or emotional distress in others.

When people "dextify," they don't really apologize at all. They may say "sorry," but they immediately add a disclaimer that absolves themselves of guilt. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, but I had a bad day at the office and my car broke down on the way home." "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday, but I had a really important project due." As Brinkman and Kirschner point out, this kind of "apology" is more focused on the person who apologizes than on the feelings or needs of the one receiving the apology. The person who receives the apology receives the message that his or her feelings aren't nearly as important as the needs or emotions of the apologizer. So rather than solving a problem, this kind of apology may lead to more hurt feelings and more distance.

I do this a lot myself. I say, "I'm sorry I said such and such, but. . ." Sometimes the material that comes after the "but" is important. Sometimes it needs to be addressed. When people act under provocation, the provocation may need to be acknowledged and dealt with.

However, what I'm coming to realize is that the material that comes after the "but" does NOT belong in an apology. It should come later, once there has already been reconciliation. The way to apologize is not to say: "I'm sorry that I was rude with you at dinner, but it really hurt me that you were late. The food was getting cold and that's all I could think of." The proper way to apologize is to say: "I'm sorry that I was rude to you at dinner. It was wrong for me to treat you that way. I will try not to let it happen again."

The "being late to dinner" issue can wait for a better time; it does not need to be brought up now. Confusing the process of explanation with the process of apology may result in failure of the recipient to accept the apology. To put it more simply, the recipient may say (as I have said to myself in the past when encountering a dextification) "Where's the apology?"


Blogger La Mama Loca said...

I have been thinking about this, especially about when I apologize to the kids. I tend to say, "I'm sorry I lost my temper, but you shouldn't have done X." That doesn't really mean anything. The last couple weeks I've been trying to leave off the "but." It is difficult to do so!

3:18 PM  

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