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“Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts” Book Review



What is this book about?

This book by Harriet Lerner, “Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts”, was described by Brene Brown as a game changer. In this game changing book, Harriet helps us understand the “many faces of I’m sorry”, from “I’m sorry” as an acknowledgement and validation, to apologizing for small and medium sized things we regret, to courageously facing up to apologies for big things that have happened in the past.


The book breaks down the anatomy of a bad apology and helps readers understand why some apologies just aren’t apologies and can even make things worse, e.g., "I'm sorry but..." or "I'm sorry you feel that way".


The big questions of why some people constantly apologise, some people can apologise and others can’t are explored ….as well as the bigger question….should we always forgive those who offer to make amends?


And of course, this book illustrates how to craft a meaningful apology.


This is a book for both sides of the relationship – for those who have hurt others, and for those who have suffered hurt.


Along the way you’ll read about things like:

- Apologizing under fire – how to handle big-time criticism

- Decoding a faux-apology

- Breaking multigenerational patterns

- Teaching your children how to apologise

- Laying ground-work for a good apology

- The importance of dialling down your own defensiveness

- The roles of shame, blame and defensiveness

- The “you need to forgive” myth

- How to find peace


Why do I like this book?

I am a huge fan of Harriet Lerner and her way of making important and sometimes complex psychological and family therapy concepts and ideas easy to understand and apply in daily life. This book is no exception.


I love Harriet’s candidness; her personal stories and the way she shares stories of the people she has worked with. A favourite story of mine is in the chapter titled “The Most Stunning Apology I Ever Witnessed”.


One of my favourite sentences is:


"There is no greater challenge than that of listening without defensiveness, especially when we don't want to hear what the other person is telling us."


If you follow Brene Brown, you might be getting some clues as to why she also loves the work of Harriet Lerner and loved this book. You can listen to Brene interview Harriet about the book on her Podcast.


How do I use the book?

Like Harriet’s other books, I use these ideas in working with individuals, couples, and families. Sometimes I discuss the concepts with clients, and we talk about if and how it applies in their life, what they’d like to continue doing and what they might like to experiment with doing differently. We might talk about what is getting in the way of an apology, the role of apology in relationship healing, whether or not to apologise and what it’s like to get an invalidating apology.


Sometimes I recommend the book as ‘homework’ reading.


Always, as a Systemic Family Therapist, I hold these ideas in mind. Relationships are more than just the sum of the individual people involved in them, and they have complex, interrelated, circular processes that evolve over time. This means finding ways to talk to people about relationship processes is a critical part of my work and this book is a fantastic resource for just that.


I love this book and have found it incredibly useful personally and professionally. I hope you find it helpful too.


Let me know your thoughts and how you use the book.




Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.

Please seek help from a professional if you require support.


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