True Motives for "Sorry, I Didn't Mean It!"

If you're around children—or even adults—for any length of time, you will eventually hear "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it" or "I'm sorry, it wasn't my intention to hurt you." And then the child or person goes along their merry way like nothing ever happened.

But if we didn't mean it, why did we do it? Why do we so easily dismiss when we hurt someone that it was okay just because we "didn't mean to"? This statement has become so common that we have come to accept it as true. Let's look a little deeper.

A couple arguing in a restaurantAll actions speak louder and truer than our words. When our words don't match our actions, it is our actions that parade our truest motive. Sorry not sorry doesn't cut it. As the late Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Adler was known to say,

"Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words."

I have found unconscious pain and unmet needs at the root of all hurtful behavior. What we may intend by "I didn't mean it" is that it wasn't instigated by conscious thought or motive. But if we look deeper, we often do mean it. We meant to hurt the person because we first felt hurt. A vengeful act upon another can be an unconscious way to communicate our pain, to send an SOS that we are hurting. It may or may not have been that particular person who hurt us, especially with children.

High school boys bullying a younger student against a lockerA child may come to school and push another child or a teen may emotionally humiliate another student, not because that person has done anything to them, but because of a feeling of helplessness or a misunderstood internal conflict or hurt. How many times has a spouse come home and yelled at the kids? Did they do it because they were angry with the children? Not usually. It is much more likely to have been due to a difficult day at work or the result of unmet needs surfacing.

In all personal growth and in every relationship, the key to loving our self and each other is becoming aware of the roots of our actions. Until we are aware of the cause of our actions and the beliefs that fuel them, we will continue to emotionally react and dump on others inadvertently. Self-awareness is necessary to improve communication.

Whenever you hear yourself say, "Sorry, I didn't mean it," search your heart. Is there a reason you may have meant it? Did repressed resentment bubble up unexpectedly because you were unable to communicate your feelings directly? Has that person recently been ignoring you or did they say or do something hurtful to you? Or perhaps it's as simple as the person canceling a date for dinner, even if they had a legitimate reason.

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A foundational steppingstone to loving consciously and having more empathy for others is by determining whenever we are unloving. When you find yourself doing or saying something unkind, ask yourself afterward, "If I had a really good reason to act that way, what would it be?"

Improve communication by discovering true motivesNext, explore if you need anything to regain your peaceful sense of self. Perhaps you would like an apology or a make-up or you feel that you would like to talk to the person about what is bothering you. Or maybe all you need to do is be more present to your own emotions and empathize with yourself. In any case, take action as soon as you uncover what feels right.

Each time you do this process, you'll feel more and more inner peace and have fewer and fewer outbursts toward others. Each time we make a conscious effort to understand our true motives, instead of dismiss our actions too quickly, we grow in self-esteem. And every time you take action to remedy whatever is in the way of closeness in a relationship, you build more love.

Next time you hear yourself say, "Sorry, I didn't mean it!" dig a little deeper and find out if that's really true.

UPDATE: If you're interested in this topic and eager to explore your "inner terrain," an excellent article that was published after mine is "'I Didn't Mean It,' or 'It Didn't Mean Anything'" by Andrea Mathews, LPC, Ph.D. She refers to "Disclaimers of Wholeness" in the subtitle, which I think is so accurate. Insightful article!

For more tools to learn how to improve communication in relationship and to live authentically, check out our marriage resources. Learn how to build thriving relationships!

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity FounderJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity Founder
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships. She coaches individuals, parents, and couples to build healthy and loving families. Jennifer has been conducting premarital workshops and mentoring couples for nearly two decades. She teaches couples the critical skills needed to break out of unloving patterns, which naturally removes the obstacles to loving connection and authentic communication. With an emphasis on emotional intelligence and brain science, her proven process accelerates transformation. She also conducts Heal Yourself, Heal Your Marriage retreats because she believes that all healthy relationships begin within each person. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband of 39 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Love, Marriage, and Relationships, Communication & Interpersonal Skills