“It wasn’t my fault!”
“She made me do it!”
“Everyone else was doing it!”
“I’m sorry, but…”
“He started it!”
Do these sound familiar?
For some people, these phrases may bring back memories of their childhood, or they may have heard these statements from their kids.
Despite sounding childish, everyone has said something similar in their adult life to a spouse, police officer, family member, or friend.
In counseling sessions, I frequently hear how people struggle with the difference between excuses and explanations.
Some people hesitate to give any explanations; they see explanations and excuses as the same thing, and they don’t want to be seen as giving excuses.
Others go to the other extreme and take no accountability for his or her own actions, blaming everything from their upbringing, their stress load, their partner or kids, for their wrongdoing.
Although it can sometimes be unclear, there is a difference between an excuse and an explanation.
People make excuses when they feel attacked. They become defensive.
Excuses are often used to deny responsibility. People make excuses when they feel attacked. They become defensive.
Explanations help clarify the circumstances of a particular event. Explanations are less emotional and less pressured than excuses.
Sometimes, the only one who can really know if their statement is an excuse or an explanation is the one saying it. Telling the police who pulled you over that you are running late for work is a good example of this. If you were hoping to get out of a ticket or lying, it was probably an excuse. If the officer asked why you were driving 30 in a 25, and you answered honestly, it was an explanation.
Why does it matter?
Consider the following situation:
Your 14-year-old daughter has brought home a failing grade on her science report. You ask her what happens. She says:
- “It’s not my fault! The teacher wasn’t clear on what to include in the project. Everyone else got a bad grade, too.” or:
- “I didn’t understand what the teacher said, and …