By Hannah Maine

Being able to give a sincere apology is an essential element to healthy relationships, and receiving apologies in a graceful and accepting manner is just as important.

An apology is a powerful tool to demonstrate respect for the other person in the relationship and to show empathy for the way the other person is feeling. Apologizing conveys that you recognize what the other person is feeling, which is the first step toward healing. Once our feelings are recognized and we receive an apology, we are often disarmed and release some of the anger and defensiveness we previously may have been holding on to.

Sincere apology is not just a formality. It is a signal to the other party that you are not on opposite sides and that you recognize your part in the misunderstanding. A meaningful apology demonstrates regret for having caused hurt, responsibility for your actions, and a willingness to fix the situation.

In addition to letting their emotional defenses down, receiving an apology has been proven to decrease blood pressure, slow heart rate and steady the breathing of the person receiving it. In order to start the healing process, a person who has hurt emotions needs for that to be acknowledged by the person who hurt them. This starts the process of healing, as we stop viewing the other person as a threat and let go of our tightly held fighting positions. We then can begin to let go of our anger and start the process of forgiving each other.

If we have hurt someone, giving a sincere apology is the first step to releasing our own guilt over the situation. It can be easy to shame yourself for what you have done wrong in the past, to the point where you feel there is no point in apologizing as the person will never forgive you. You may also want to avoid the person as they remind you of an action you wish to forget. While apologies do not always guarantee forgiveness, apologizing is the first step to forgiving ourselves as well.

For both the wrongdoer and the wronged, apologizing is a vehicle to repair emotional connection between people. As the wrongdoer, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and admit our faults and how much we care. As the wronged, receiving and accepting an apology allows us to let go of the hurt and anger to begin to heal. Genuine apologies can lead to a closer bond than ever existed before.