Sometimes Sorry IS Enough: On Relationship Repairs

It was six years ago, but I still remember how infuriated the receptionist made me feel.

The recession was at its deepest trough about the time I finished graduate school and after months of searching I landed an interview for my dream job.

I checked in with the receptionist and took a seat. Even though I told her the correct details, she thought I was interviewing for a different position, with a different company in the same building. I sat in the lobby across from that receptionist for not 10, not 20, but 45 minutes, all the while she assured me that the interviewer was held up in a different interview and wasn’t quite ready for me.

Finally when her mistake came to light, she called the correct person and said, “Your interviewee is here.” She didn’t mention how long I had been there. Looking at her desk, she gave a curt nod in my general direction and said, “Sorry for the delay.”

Sorry for the delay?? Really?

Of all people, I understand getting details confused. It was an unfortunate mistake but I’m sure I’ve made worse. What made my blood boil was how she did not take any responsibility for “the delay.”Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

Contrast that to a more recent experience I had as a customer. Something that should have taken weeks, took months. I was irritated about having to wait so long and I let the person know. He acknowledged my frustration and apologized. An amazing thing happened in that instant- my anger vanished

When someone makes a big mistake, I often hear the old adage, “Sorry isn’t enough.” In my experience, fixing the problem isn’t enough. Sometimes a simple sorry is actually all I want.

Taking ownership for how you have contributed to someone’s pain or inconvenience is not fun. It’s kind of humiliating and goes against human nature to self-protect and self-defend. It’s hard, yet the benefit to relationships is immense.

Not all apologies are created equal. Some are helpful and can repair broken relationships while others have the opposite effect. Here are some common types of apologies:

Non-specific-no-personal-ownership-of-wrong-doing Apologies:

“I’m sorry if anything I did bothered you.”

“I’m sorry for the delay”

It’s-not-me-it’s-you Apologies:

“Sorry if I did something wrong that I wasn’t aware of, but you are the one who…”

“I’m sorry but you gave me no choice.”

Sorry-but-I’m-right Apologies

“I’m sorry, but I had good reason to do what I did.”

“I’m sorry, but this is how I was taught.”

Since-I’m-wrong-about-this-I-must-be-worthless Apologies

“I’m sorry. I guess I can’t be trusted. I should just never try… anything… ever!”

Not-in-my-domain-of-control Apologies

“I’m sorry for his behavior, and that it’s hot outside, and that your car broke, and that I couldn’t help you more.”

*Basic-level apology:

I’m Sorry

*Advanced-level apology:

I’m sorry. I messed up. That must have been hard for you.

*Elite-level Apology:

“I’m sorry that I ________(insert specific mistake). It must have felt _______(insert specific emotion here).

*recommended types

Perhaps, sorry isn’t always enough, but it is a good place to start. And it just might be enough to repair a relational rift.

With my sincerest apologies,


Comment below with your take on/experience with giving or receiving apologies of all types! Is a genuine apology enough for you or would you rather just see a behavior change? I’m curious!


Don’t teach your baby to sign more. No More!

I usually stand silently by while babies and parents throw tantrums over the sign language sign for the word “more.” But I can’t take anyMORE.

For whatever reason, people are obsessed with teaching this particular sign. They teach it to their own kids, to my kids, and to their dogs (probably).

Teaching preverbal babies to use some sign language is great when done well. It can strengthen the neurological pathways of language helping your kids to become more verbal when they are ready to speak. You can’t put your fingers in your baby’s mouth and help form verbal words, but you can hold their hands and manually prompt signed words.

Just don’t teach them to sign “more.”

I know, I know. But it’s so cute! Those little stubby fingers gathered together like two little ducks kissing.

Just don’t do it. All that stuff I said about sign language helping kids become more verbal, does not apply to the sign for “more.” Babies just learn that if they want something, anything, all they have to do is sign “more.”  I’ve seen various versions of the following scenarios unfold time and time again, and yet it’s still America’s favorite sign.

Scenario #1:

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: More what?

Baby: is frustrated. I’m using your stupid sign and you still don’t know what I want. Tantrum ensues.

Parent: Use your words, what do you want?

Baby: (speaks) More!

If the baby can say the word, they shouldn’t need to sign it. And it’s still a mystery what this baby wants.


Scenario #2

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Tantrum ensues. After 10 minutes of questioning it is finally discovered that baby wants to jump (or at least she does now).

“More jump???” Just teach them the sign for jump! The word “more” in this case is inaccurate and useless.


Scenario #3:

Parent: Feeds baby cheerios

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: Gives baby more cheerios

It turns out he wants a drink. (Tantrum ensues). Too bad he doesn’t know the sign for milk!

Do you want your kid to know just one word that gets them whatever they want? That’s hardly helping their language or communication skills. And in the land of so much excess, do you really want the one word they know to be a demand form of the word “MORE”?

Tips for less tantrums and more functional language:

-Teach your baby specific signs for 5 to 10 things they like the best (ex: milk, bear, pacifier, hug, tickle, swing, up). Until they master these signs, forget about having them sign things like “more, please, thank you” which are fairly meaningless words to a baby.

-Don’t prompt your baby to sign for something unless it’s clear they really want it or the association between the word and the sign will be weak.

-Give it to them after they sign it once (even with help). If you make them sign it 5 times and have it perfect before reinforcing it, it won’t be worth the effort and kids will just go ahead and cry… or just sign “more” if they want something.

-Once the child can say the word, the sign is no longer necessary.

Happy Signing! If you have any tips or experiences of your own, please feel free to comment below!

Guest Post on Embracing People with Mental Illness in the Church

Guest Post on Embracing People with Mental Illness in the Church

Christena Cleveland is a social psychologist, author, speaker, and reconciler. Beyond that, I know her personally and she’s pretty cool. I am loving being challenged by her new book Disunity in Christ (put it on your Christmas List!). I was grateful that she allowed me to share my thoughts on this important but complicated issue on her blog today.

What you should know about Autism

This post is the 3rd in my series What you should know about mental illness. Read here about Narcolepsy and ADHD.

It was the end of a tiresome day at the center for Autism where I worked years ago. The little boy I was paired with that day had been staying with grandparents while his mother traveled. His mom returned and was excited to pick him up.

She spotted her son and hurried to scoop him up in an embrace. No emotion or recognition registered on his face. Instead, he fixed his attention on the logo on his mom’s shirt, and he uttered one of the very few words he knew how to say,


The mom’s face fell. After a few moments of trying to catch his eye, she gave up and began to gather his backpack and coat.

Automatic. Automobile. Autopilot, Automate. Autism. These words all have the same root. I’m no linguist, but I’d say it’s something to do with operating independently.  People with autism do not readily interact, engage or relate to other people.

Despite that autism is relatively common; there is a lot of confusion about what it is in the general population.  The first time I heard someone say “Autistic” I thought she said “Artistic” with an accent. When I asked what it was, she said, “Someone who rocks back and forth in the corner.” And even after dozens of psychology and counseling classes, I still didn’t know much more than that.

My professional experience was with kids who were almost completely locked in their own minds, some devoid of functional language. However we’ve all heard about someone with Autism who graduated top of his class or wrote a bestseller. The differences between these examples beg the question; how could this be the same disorder?

The answer to this question is that Autism is a spectrum disorder.asd

When you hear people say “He’s on The Spectrum” they are likely referring to Autism. My purpose is to give you a better understanding of what it is so you can be sensitive and kind to those who are affected by it. I will try to be clearer than the first definition I heard, but vague enough that this won’t become a checklist for you to diagnose your friends (please leave that to the professionals.)

There are three categories of impairment:

  1. Social. Not interested in interacting socially, might not give eye contact, lacks emotional reciprocity, will not point something out to someone else to share enjoyment. This category is the hallmark of the disorder and generally understood.
  2. Stereotyped Behavior.  This is less understood. It includes self stimulating behavior (called “stimming” for short). It is simply doing something for the sake of the sensory input. It could be as normal as twirling hair, or it could be as odd as flapping hands, reciting the words to a movie, walking on tip toes, making repetitive sound, or of course, rocking back and forth in the corner. Stereotyped behavior also includes odd and rigid daily routines, playing non-functionally with objects (lining toys up instead of playing with them), echoing what they hear, and focusing on one part of a whole object (the wheels of a car or the logo on a shirt). Sometimes people with Autism become super interested in something and it might seem that it’s all they can think about.
  3. Communication. This category does not apply to those who are on the far right side of the spectrum (high functioning autism/Aspergers). Impairments include delayed, slowed, or absent language development.

Max Braverman (played by Max Burkholder), a character on NBC’s parenthood is a very accurate example of a kid on the high functioning end of the spectrum. The movie Rain Main (1988, with Dustin Hoffman) paints a fairly accurate portrait of an adult with Autism, however it gives the false impression that people with Autism are also savants, when in fact that is very rare.

Just like anything, once you know what Autism is, you will likely see it everywhere. Next time you see a kid at mall who doesn’t seem to be listening to his mom, or maybe he’s having a tantrum because he wanted to walk down aisle 12, withhold your remarks and judgmental glances. In that instance, a warm smile and an encouraging word to the mom could have the power to change the world.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and stories below.

What you should know about Narcolepsy

This is the first in a series about mental illnesses. Read the intro to the series here.

In A.P. Psychology we all watched in delight as Rusty, the narcoleptic dog, collapsed midstride into a deep slumber. One second he was bouncing through a meadow, and the next he was flat on the ground dreaming of steaks. And we laughed and laughed and laughed. And just like two year olds we said, “AGAIN!” each time the video clip was over.
Someone close to me has narcolepsy. People love to tell me stories about him falling asleep at inopportune times. They think it is hilarious that someone would fall asleep at a baseball game, during calculus test, at the state fair, or at the dinner table. They promise me that they are not making it up, as if I would never believe it. They wonder at why he is so tired and hypothesize about the reason.

What they don’t realize is that he hates these stories. He hates feeling miserably tired every single day and hates having uncontrollable sleep attacks. He hates feeling the onset at a party and realizing that he doesn’t have much longer before it hits him. The image of someone falling asleep in their mac and cheese is maybe a little funny in a slap stick, 10 year old kind of way, but it is less funny to fall asleep during an important conversation or when you paid $40 to hear a band play and you miss the whole set. It’s less funny to fall asleep at a job interview, even less funny if you can’t wake up to the sound of your baby crying, and not funny at all if you fall asleep while you are driving. Right around the time when I was sitting in class laughing about Rusty, my friend (before he was diagnosed) was driving home from high school in rush hour traffic. He veered into the lane of oncoming traffic, and into someone’s yard just missing their front door. Thankfully the damage was confined to the car and a ceramic gnome.

I get irritated with people’s ignorance about narcolepsy, but I really can’t blame them. After all, I was just as amused by Rusty, the narcoleptic dog, as the next person. I learned about the condition, but I didn’t think very deeply about the implications. I understood and memorized all of the clinical facts about it (the brain skipping to REM sleep, the body going limp, the triggers, etc.) but I didn’t really consider what a real person with narcolepsy has to live with.
1 in 3000 Americans has Narcolepsy with Cataplexy so it is very likely that you know or will know someone affected by the condition. Here are 6 things you should know so that you can be understanding, rather than obnoxious.
1. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder- NOT caused by psychological problems, emotional distress, personality type, bad habits, improper sleep training as a baby, nor anything else that someone did or didn’t do.

2. It is not the same as being tired a lot.

3. Playing tricks (i.e. drawing on their face, taking their picture, putting things in their mouth) on someone who accidently falls asleep is just not that cool.

4. Medicine and caffeine help a great deal in managing symptoms day to day, but there is no cure. It usually begins in adolescents and sticks around for the rest of life.

5. It is classified as a sleep disorder, but it is more of a “wake” disorder. People often confuse it with sleep apnea or insomnia but these are about not being able to sleep or not having high quality sleep, whereas narcolepsy is the opposite.

6. Though it may appear that people with narcolepsy are super laid back, lazy or stoned, this is not necessarily the case.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with narcolepsy, I want you to know there is a bright side. Here are some benefits to having this disorder that your doctor won’t tell you:

1. Espresso at midnight? No problem. My friend says that at a certain point, using caffeine to stay awake is like using bicycle breaks to stop a train.
2. No tossing and turning, obsessing about the stupid comment you made earlier or counting sheep. Just lie down and start dreaming within seconds!

3. No trouble falling asleep camping, in an airplane or airport, in a bus, or on a cement slab.

4. Time travel through boring lectures or church services.

5. Wake up feeling refreshed no matter how long you slept.

6. The ability to take a 20 second nap right before a life insurance appointment causing your resting heart rate to resemble a world class athlete.

7. And finally, a practice my friend likes to call, “Swinging the Pendulum.” Slam an energy drink or take your prescribed medication followed immediately by a short nap. The caffeine takes affect while you are sleeping and you wake up super charged.

As with any disorder, narcolepsy is something that some people have to live with, but it does not define them. As a therapist, I think of myself as strength-based, meaning that I think what is right with people is much more worth focusing on than what is wrong. However, I think it is good to talk and learn about these things that make us all unique so we can understand each other and be better to each other.

I made my blog easier for you to read

Since I’ve been blogging, many people have told me that my blog is not user friendly….

For example, it’s hard to find, they tried to comment but couldn’t figure out that stupid word verification, and can’t I just email them the post (mom)?

Well I made a few changes and hopefully it’ll be easier for the few and the proud who care!

Now when you want to comment you don’t have to do anything funny,  and if you want to subscribe by email or with your Google reader, just hit the button in the upper right hand corner.

My plan is to expand the topics about which I ramble. Stay tuned!

On Getting Out of the House

Before having a baby, I already had trouble getting out of the door, but since baby, it’s gotten exponentially harder. Before Adelaide was born I would inevitably be pulling out of the driveway a few minutes late for work with slightly wet hair and mildly frayed nerves. About two blocks from home, I’d realize I forgot my phone and tell myself I can live with out it. About 3 blocks from home, I’d realize I forgot to eat breakfast and mentally contrive a plan to get some food between morning appointments. In another block, I realized I don’t have my work keys, and that I have to go back home to get them. I want to call work and let them know I’m on my way, but shoot… no phone. The digital clock in my car was never set correctly, so I gauged my lateness by my location when The Current (radio station) started talking about “Today in Music History.” Did I mention I’m not a morning person?

Yesterday I was trying to get to a bridal shower- but was having similar issues. Before I could go to the shower, I needed to buy a gift, but before I could buy a gift, I needed to find my wallet. Also, a friend agreed to watch Adelaide while I was gone, so I needed to pack a diaper bag. Most moms of the organized sort would already have this sort of thing taken care of, but after being out of town for a week, my supplies were seriously depleted. Finally, I put Adelaide and her stroller (so we could go shopping for the gift) in the car, and I had to get the dog in the house. Of course he decided to ‘play dead’ which, by the way, he’s never done before. Try as I may, I couldn’t coax him inside, so I scooped up all 30 lbs of his “dead weight” and plopped him in his kennel. I then realized the baby needed to be fed and changed again and I was running seriously behind at this point. Once on the road, I took a few wrong turns on the way to and from the mall- probably just because I was trying to hard. And another thing… why do they make car seats that weigh so dang much? Had I known I would be hauling around something as heavy and awkward as an old console TV, I would have trained or something. I have a new understanding for moms who don’t leave the house very often!

We survived it though- so here’s to another outing today, to the grocery store (God help us!).