Health Benefits of a Sincere Apology (cont.)

That's when the sleepless nights began. She was embarrassed to even call. She knew he would be hurt -- but would he be angry? Eventually, she picked up the phone. Yes, he was hurt, but he said he understood. She started sleeping again -- and talking to her brother.

Orsborn surveyed 100 women in the baby boomer group for The Silver Pearl. "These were women who were role models with a positive attitude, whether or not they had any money," she says.

A key characteristic was their ability and willingness to clear up unfinished business, she notes.

Stages of Life Keyed to Level of Healing

"Stage one," Orsborn says, "is the good little girl stage. No matter what their age, women in this stage may apologize for everything, even things they don't need to. They need to please people."

Stage two is the rebellion period. Women, Orsborn says, can rebel against the pleasing phase and are not likely to apologize for anything! "They are mad about everything," she says.

The third stage is wisdom, she says. "When women get beyond following the rules and beyond reactivity, they take the best of both. This means they have an urge to reconcile legitimate shortcomings."

In terms of health, Orsborn says, "Women at stages one and two tend to have more stress-related disorders and anxiety."

On the flip side, a study done in 2002 by researchers from Hope College and Virginia Commonwealth University showed that heart rate, blood pressure, sweat levels, and facial tension decreased in victims of wrongs when they imagined receiving an apology.

In both cases, the people were carrying "the pain of the past," as Orsborn puts it, and then could lay it down and walk away from it.

How to Say It Like You Mean It

Neither the apologizer nor the apologizee, however, will benefit if the apology is not sincere.

"Saying you are sorry is so difficult," Alexandra Delis-Abrams, PhD, also known as "The Attitude Doc," tells WebMD. "It's an ego thing. It's humiliating to say you were wrong and are sorry. It means you did something you shouldn't have and you know it. Now you have to take responsibility."

It helps only if you mean it, she adds. "People often just give it lip service. I think there is a song by Garth Brooks that goes, 'I buried the hatchet, but left out the handle.' You can't leave out the handle."

Orsborn recommends invoking a prayer from the Buddhist tradition. "Before you offer an apology or pick up the phone, sit comfortably, breathe slowly, and feel the burden of having not asked for forgiveness bear down on you. After you have felt that as deeply as possible, then say to yourself, "I have hurt someone out of ignorance, anger, or confusion, and I ask for the power to forgive myself."

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