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Security and the Ability to “Own” One’s Mistakes

For many (if not most) children, some of the most difficult words to say are these: “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  Children have a need to feel ok with themselves.  For many people, accepting ownership of mistakes equates to being not-ok.  There is usually a historical context in their lives to support their perceptions.  For example, on prior occasions when they were wrong, were they ridiculed, called “stupid”, or otherwise devalued?  It is insecurity that typically spawns a fear of owning one’s mistakes and saying those powerful words.

However, a person who has, with reasonable consistency, been accepted and valued by others despite his/her errors will more likely feel safe owning his/her mistakes and saying, “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  This person’s historical context has taught him/her that s/he is secure as a person and in his/her relationships, even when s/he makes mistakes.

If one person hurts the feelings of another, it can be restorative (both emotionally and relationally) for the person to own his/her mistake and say, “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  Similarly, it can be restorative for that apology to be accepted with forgiveness.  Both of these actions are respectful to the feelings of others and tend to foster emotional and relational safe spaces.

When someone seems unable to own his/her mistakes and apologize, or offers false apologies (“I’m sorry that you . . .” rather than “I’m sorry that I . . . “), it can be difficult for the other party in that relationship to feel like the relationship is an emotionally safe space for him/her.  Similarly, when an apology is not accepted with forgiveness (“I forgive you” rather than “Why do you have to be such an @%$!?”), it can be difficult for the originally erring party to feel like the relationship is an emotionally safe space for him/her.

Effective, healthy human interactions, therefore, are conditioned upon the ability to express respect for the feelings of others, to feel secure emotionally and relationally even when feelings differ or when errors occur. 

In sum, security is the key to the ability to own one’s mistakes.  And the benefits are effective, healthy human interactions.  That’s a compelling motivator and a tremendous reward.

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