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Is 'Sorry' ever enough?

Despite your best intentions, have you ever caused hurt to someone by your actions?

I know I have.

When guilt is off the scale, it can lead to a kaleidoscope of feelings. Many of us armour up; covering our feelings of guilt with anger. After all, counter-attack is the best form of defence, right? The only problem with that approach is that we're not in a war zone; we're often dealing with friends and family.

We may get stuck in anger, desperate to prove ourselves right by shifting the blame to someone else ('If you hadn't done x, I wouldn't have done y') or it may move to a shame cycle, in which we beat ourselves up mentally for being so stupid. We're effectively telling ourselves that, not only did we do a bad thing, but we are bad people. The end result is that a really difficult feeling is either spread to someone else or absorbed deep within us. It becomes the unwanted gift that keeps on giving as neither approach moves us forward.

I read somewhere that we are responsible for a minimum of 30 per cent of every interaction. I take that with a pinch of salt when it involves people pushing past me in a supermarket without apologising or an employee doesn't make eye contact at the till. In those situations, I try to accept that their priorities aren't mine or imagine what I would feel like at the end of a long shift and desperate to get home.

What I'm talking about here is how we are when we unintentionally hurt our significant others, be that partner, family or friends. Guilt tells us we've done something wrong and need to make amends in some way. So the responsibility we need to take is that our action - deliberate or not - has caused upset. If we start by taking responsibility for that, we are validating the other person's emotions so they feel seen and heard. If we can then acknowledge how difficult that feeling is by tapping into our own experience of that particular emotion and sharing it with them, they then feel understood.

But that's not the end of it. Validating, empathising and apologising is only part of the process of making amends. We need to show in our actions that we are doing what we can to avoid an unnecessary occurrence. That's where responsibility lies and that's how we move forward.

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