Understanding Versus Excusing Behavior

Today I am going to talk about an important distinction that sometimes gets lost when we are making amends or holding someone accountable: the difference between understanding behavior and excusing it.

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An explanation describes how something happened. An excuse defers accountability.

When I make a mistake, part of making amends includes determining what factors contributed to the mistake so that I can do better in the future. However, when apologizing for the mistake, I must clarify that I am not downplaying the mistake or trying to excuse it.

In fact, determining the explanation for my behavior might be just for me and my own growth. Unless it is relevant, it is not part of the apology at all.

The same is true in therapy. An important part of making changes is understanding the underlying cause of a behavior. Is it a trauma response? Do you need to un-learn something?

This does not excuse or un-do any harm caused by your behavior and does not mean you will not have to make amends, but this exploration can help you do better in the future.

When you excuse your behavior, you hope to reduce consequences and do not commit to making changes. The distinction is the next step beyond explaining: moving forward with specific plans to do better in the future.

When you understand your behavior, you are able to fully accept if someone does not accept your apology or chooses to set boundaries with you. An excuse, on the other hand, might aim to dodge this responsibility.

Ask yourself, am I trying to explain and understand my behavior, or am I making an excuse? Only one will help you grow as a person.

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.

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