Apologizing Under Fire


Apologizing Under Fire

How to Handle Big-Time Criticism

By Harriet Lerner

November/December 2016


It’s difficult enough to offer an apology when we see the need for it and believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s far more difficult still when we’re confronted with criticism we didn’t see coming, and that we don’t believe is fair. Some criticism we receive will undoubtedly come from the other person’s reactivity rather than our bad behavior.

No one likes being on the receiving end of criticism, but we can’t avoid it unless we sit mute in a corner. People are bound to criticize us for the same reasons we criticize them. They may feel badly about themselves, and reflexively get judgmental or lash out. They may have a misguided wish to be helpful and contribute to our betterment. Or we have a trait, quality, or behavior that bothers them enough that they really do need to talk about it or it will affect the relationship. They may feel, quite accurately, that the relationship can’t move forward if we don’t consider our behavior and apologize for it.

It’s incredibly difficult to sit on the hot seat and dial down our defensiveness when we are the target of criticism that feels overdone or entirely undeserved. But as the story of Katherine and Dee will illustrate, a lot can be learned from the challenge. We can learn to listen differently, to ask questions, to apologize for the part we can agree with and define how we see things differently. A genuine apology can be deeply healing, while the failure to listen well and apologize can sometimes lead to the loss of…

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1 Comment

Friday, November 18, 2016 11:17:10 AM | posted by Eugene
Thanks for this excellent article. A must read for even the seasoned therapist!