When my co-worker apologized for 2 years of her tortures, I only felt uneasy. I've never much liked apologies. I'd really rather see a change in behavior than hear an apology.
I recognize now that my adverse reaction to apologies ripples from my childhood. My mother's apologies have always had a hook hidden in them – like the writhing worm my little sister had to thread on my line when our father took us fishing.
My mother's apologies always float for just a minute before they sink in murkiness, leaving her unfortunate beneficiaries feeling a little muddy. The typical reaction to qualified praise is not dissimilar. "That's great, but
..." – the first phrase buoys you up, while the conjunction yanks you under.
Some 3 months ago, my mother apologized for the uncontrolled rages she directed at me through a stinging leather belt when I was 7 and 8. She would say that she was too young then: 26 or 27. She told me that if she had it to do over, she would do it differently – that she's learned from the way I'd parented her granddaughter. Praise so unpolluted nearly took my breath away. I'd wanted to slide into it and let it carry me a while. Then, meaning to sting again, she snatched it back with, "But,
you were a difficult child, Renice."
This last apology was like all her others, with one difference: I decided it was the last time I would bite.
* Better known as a 'fishy' apology? Or perhaps an apology with a hook?