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. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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