The Art of the Apology – Five Elements to Restore Connection

The Art of the Apology – Five Elements to Restore Connection


For me, birthdays are catalysts for looking back. In the marking of another year, I know I am closer to the end than to the beginning. Sometimes, I feel proud about the year behind me, and sometimes not. This year, I had some regrets. This birthday, my mind turned to past relationships where I messed up and where my past actions led to an ending of a connection that was very important to me. While the specifics are not important, my reflection focused on how I handled a conflict and avoided opening myself up to my vulnerability. Had I done so, a repair in the relationship might have occurred.

The Challenge of Conflict and the Unconscious

The experience of conflict is natural and intrinsic to human life. Yet many of us are afraid of it and we run away. We feign all the tools at our disposal to avoid direct conflict. We run because it is uncomfortable. In the moments of conflict, we separate from the object of attachment – whether it is a partner, lover, family member, friend, analyst, or colleague. All our childhood coping mechanisms are triggered. For some, conflict actives childhood trauma and experiences too painful to integrate into consciousness. The nervous system is activated in the fight or flight safety mechanism built into the reptilian brain. Our system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. We feel stressed, threatened or attacked.

However, conflict isn’t going away. We can’t will it away. We can’t run. The Soul demands that the relationship work be done. This includes all our relationships – friends, lovers, family, and even analysts. “It is one of our evolutionary assignments” according to Diane Musho Hamilton in Everything is Workable. Befriending conflict in relationships is the way that we retrieve parts of ourselves that we have marginalized or exiled. Embracing and finding ways to engage in conflict is absolutely necessary if we are committed to a journey of self-discovery and of becoming conscious.

When we have a conflict with those around us, we are given an opportunity to bring into awareness hidden aspects of ourselves. We get to practice transforming conflict into patience, compassion, mutual understanding, and creativity. We get to experience grace during moments of revelation. When we use these conflict opportunities, we contribute compassion and consciousness to collective learning how to live peacefully together. Current world events reminds so painfully that this is the greatest challenge of the global human community.

Diane Musho Hamilton also writes that “conflict calls for TRUTH”. In the Buddhist tradition, acceptance of what is is the Truth. It is not what we want it to be or what we wish it to be. The truth reveals what is. We depend on it as a source of strength and clarity and as a basis for integrity.

John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of Defenses

The greatest obstacles to the relationship work are our defenses. We are imperfect and wounded. Our hurt places are the places where we can get stuck in the art of apology. We become self-protective of our vulnerability by overlaying strategies that keep us safe. John Gottman, the relationship expert identifies four defenses. Each reflects a strategy that if goes unexamined will destroy any relationship and limit our ability to move through conflict and repair disruptions in relationship.

The first is criticism. In this strategy, we attack the other at the core by a label that starts with “You” or “they”. There is a tone of disapproval or blame in the criticism that tends to be about character not about behaviour.

Contempt is the second defense. Contempt shames the other. We become mean-spirited treating others with disrespect, sarcasm or name calling.

Excuses and rationalization figure in the third defense. We try to justify or rationalize our actions. In this defense, we explain away our behaviour.

Finally stonewalling occurs when one party withdraws from the conversation, shuts and doesn’t respond at all.

Integrity and how do we own something

What does it mean when we really own the impact of our behaviour and actions that have hurt someone. In my online course “ Living a life of Integrity and the Heart “, we explored the essence of integrity. We came to understand that integrity, in a psychological sense, it is our connection to our deepest essence, our authenticity, and being true to ourselves.  The essential part of understanding our personal integrity and being successful in relationships depends on our ability to fully own our personalities and to take responsibility for our part in relationship breakdowns. It requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves about who we are, our blind spots, and the truth of our feelings and experiences. This is the first step in finding our integrity.

The Art of the Apology – 5 Elements

To restore trust and connection in any relationship where there has been a rupture, a break or unconsciousness that has come up unexpectedly, we need to embrace the Art of the Apology. When we engage in an apology wholeheartedly, we are saying “this relationship is more important to me than being right”

Authentic apologies build, repaid and cultivate relationships. They are absolutely necessary as a debt to the people around us who we have mistreated, even if we have behaved unconsciously. If we want to become conscious, then we must confront the shadow and our blind spots. We must look the shadow in the eye and say Yes this is me. The process of creating an apology forces us to look that consequences of our actions and the truth of ourselves.

We know in our hearts when an apology we receive is hallow. When hearing the words “I am sorry” , they fall flat and just doesn’t cut it. This is because this apology lacks the necessary elements to restore the connection.

According to John Kador In Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges and Restoring Trust, an effective apology has 5 elements: recognition, responsibility, remorse, restitution, repetition

Recognition is the first element. In recognition, the offence needs to be acknowledged and I need to admit to myself and to the other how I was a jerk. In the process of acknowledgement and recognition, we get into the other’s shoes and see the offence from their perspective. To fully embrace this element, we must let go of all defenses, excuses and rationalizations for why we did what we did.

In taking responsibility, I own the consequences of my behaviour, my role, and my words. This takes courage because it is never easy to admit mistakes or unconsciousness. This is the place where we are able to grow in the understanding of ourselves by owning the shadow.

The third element is remorse. Here I must feel the impact of my behaviour on the other. It is only through our true and genuine feelings of guilt, distress or shame that we connect with the wish that we could undo what we did.

Restitution is the fourth element. This element reflects a practical and tangible attempt to make it right and to restore the relationship to the place where it was before.

Finally, repetition gives the other an assurance that the situation will not be repeated.

If done with awareness and intent, a good apology that has all of the elements can be very healing and powerful. If we want to restore strained relationships, free ourselves from negative emotions and create possibilities for growth, then we must accept the challenge of ourselves and the art of apology.

My reflections

In the relationship disruption that lead to this blog post, I know now after 2 and half years of personal work what I didn’t know then. I know that I was not psychologically prepared to admit my shadow and to fully admit the impact of my actions which contributed to the lost relationship. There was too much shame so I remained detached and wasn’t able to get into the other’s perspective. The journey of self-discovery contains a profound and confounding paradox. The ego doesn’t like it. It protests vehemently. However, The SOUL demands that we sacrifice something dear to us to grow and to individuate.

If you would like to engage in a discussion about this blog post, go to Jungian Path on Facebook and comment. I look forward to seeing you there.

Christina Becker
October 2017

error: Alert: Content is protected !!

Has something here touched your soul or made a difference for you in your visit today?  Consider joining the Jungian Path community and receive the  free JUNGIAN DREAM INTERPRETATION GUIDE . Community has its benefits.