When you've been hurt, inconvenienced, otherwise wronged by someone, those are the words you want to hear most. They are an acknowledgement from the other individual that they did something that was unkind to you and they regret their actions. When used correctly and sincerely, those simple words can have a profoundly deep impact on everyone involved. They can be a catharsis.
I have noticed that in my own speaking, I am often using these words for something other than the intended use. I'll apologize when a friend tells me they are having a bad day. If someone I know suddenly finds themselves grieving, my first response is "Oh, I am so sorry for your loss."
Am I the one responsible for my friend's bad day, or the loss of a loved one? I hope the hell I'm not!
When I say "I'm sorry you're having a bad day" what I mean is "I acknowledge your tough situation as I have experienced something similar and it is not enjoyable."
I do not wish anyone bad days or grief, but I have come to the conclusion that I need to stop apologizing for things I have not done and have no control over, because it lessens the sentiment. It makes the "I'm Sorry" I give when it is truly meant to be given have less impact. If I am apologizing for everything, then it means nothing.
So, I am not sorry you are having a bad day. I am not sorry your Aunt Ethel died. It really, really sucks that you are having a bad day. My deepest condolences to you on your loss.
Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you through this.
Because being there for the person is worth way more than any empty apology for something I didn't or couldn't possibly do.
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