Every once in a while, I fuck up grandly. I mess up on a major scale and this fuck up causes at least some kind of pain, discomfort, anger, hurt or fear in some one or two people around me. One of the things I've learned how to do, as an adult, is apologize.
Apologizing isn't as easy as saying "I'm sorry" and leaving it at that. It's taking responsibility for what I did wrong, in explicit, specific terms. It's hard - especially at first - it's super difficult. But after the years go by, it becomes easier. It occurs to me sooner, I act on it sooner, it gets easier.
The other thing about apologizing, I've found, is letting down my defenses when it comes to hearing how the other person feels about the situation. I've found that accepting and validating the wronged person's feelings is equally important to taking responsibility and expressing remorse when it comes to apologizing.
We've all been in that situation where we demand an apology from someone and they say "I'm sorry" and we're left feeling completely dissatisfied. It's because "I'm sorry" is not an apology. Sometimes we remember to follow it up with a "What are you sorry for?" And we get a little more satisfaction. But what really counts is when we hear that the person sees the mistreatment they caused with clarity and validates it with their remorse.
Gifts as apologies don't work for me, on the whole. I remember once a lover of mine treated me like shit during a day trip into NYC and then on the way home presented me with a crystal pendant I had been eyeing in one of the stores. I was happy to have the pendant, but I said that this gift didn't change how I felt about being mistreated all day. My lover was totally confused. Shouldn't the gift make up for the mistreatment? No. Spending money on someone is like issuing a generic "I'm sorry." Sometimes it's worse than that, because it insinuates that the wronged person can be "bought off." Unless the mistake or the trespass had to do with some object that needed to be bought or was promised in some way, gifts as apologies are a no-go in my book. Although, there is one caveat to this: flowers - as a highlight to true apologies - are very welcome, to me.
I know a few people in my life who know how to apologize. I am very proud to say that they are in my life and they apologize with grace and with clarity, when the time calls for it. Everyone messes up sometimes - everyone - we should all take a moment to think about what makes for an effective apology.