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Health Benefits of a Sincere Apology

Saying you're sorry is potent medicine for the giver and receiver.

How to Say It Like You Mean It

Neither the apologizer nor the apologizee, however, will benefit if the apology is not sincere.

"Saying you are sorry is so difficult," Alexandra Delis-Abrams, PhD, also known as "The Attitude Doc," tells WebMD. "It's an ego thing. It's humiliating to say you were wrong and are sorry. It means you did something you shouldn't have and you know it. Now you have to take responsibility."

It helps only if you mean it, she adds. "People often just give it lip service. I think there is a song by Garth Brooks that goes, 'I buried the hatchet, but left out the handle.' You can't leave out the handle."

Orsborn recommends invoking a prayer from the Buddhist tradition. "Before you offer an apology or pick up the phone, sit comfortably, breathe slowly, and feel the burden of having not asked for forgiveness bear down on you. After you have felt that as deeply as possible, then say to yourself, "I have hurt someone out of ignorance, anger, or confusion, and I ask for the power to forgive myself."

Before you can ask for someone else's forgiveness, you have to forgive yourself, Orsborn says. "You won't get the benefits it you don't forgive yourself." In other words, more sleepless nights!

What Not to Say

Here are some wrong ways to go about it:

  • The DC Special. "If I have offended some people, I apologize." No if's.
  • The two-way. "I am sincerely sorry, but you sort of are to blame, too."
  • The reset. If the apology is a way to reset the system so you can offend again, this is also insincere. Often abusing spouses use this one.

Changing Your Cells?

Delis-Abrams says changes in thoughts can program cell structure to provide health benefits. "When you tell a lie," she says, "according to Chinese medicine, the lie gets lodged on the body on the cell level. It can feel like a knot. When you say you are sorry, the body knows the truth of whether you mean it. You are the one who can change your body. You are the one in charge of your thoughts."

She tells of a time she told her son something about his sister that was really his sister's prerogative to tell. "I said I was sorry," she recalls. "I freed myself! I felt much better."

Acceptance or Not

Delis-Abrams says the other person does not have to accept your apology for you to get the health benefits. She tells of two business associates who had a falling out. One wrote to the other and said, "I miss you." Her friend said, "Well, I don't miss her." She wrote back and said she didn't miss her former associate but now they were both free to move on.

"Your apology may never be accepted," Orsborn says. "You need to find a way to live with that. When you hold onto problems, it's like dragging an anchor. Your best thinking occurs when you find a sense of peace."

And your best night's sleep, too.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Reviewed on October 16, 2008
Edited by Louise Chang, MD on October 24, 2005

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