Apology

"An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation and, sometimes, recompense. Without that process, hurts can rankle and fester and erupt into their own hatreds and wrongdoings." Margaret MacMillan


Stop apologizing for the harm other people cause you. Stop forgiving people before they have done the work to ask for it or to change. Stop letting well-meaning people or “good intentions” dismiss their impact. It’s their job to own their impact; not yours to rationalize it away. Hold people accountable for their actions and their impact. People don't get to barrel through lives or the world without being prompted to look back and see what they've left in their wake. When we don't address the harm and its cause we deny ourselves healing, and closure, and let someone continue their behavior without knowledge of its impact. If we care about people, particularly those close to us, we will hold them accountable. We are obligated to help them be better, do better, and treat others better.

Avoiding asking for apology leaves us with the burden of hurt which needs to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the one that caused it. It's not our jobs to make people feel better about the harm they caused us. Sometimes people have no clue they hurt us, and while we shouldn't have to do the emotional labor of helping them recognize they wronged us, sometimes we have to. Asking for an apology is asking for what we need. Apologies only work if we are willing to accept, and we can only heal if we intend to do so. Let me say that again, if we have no plans to heal, or we want to hold on to whatever we're feeling, we should not ask for an apology because we're looking for revenge not resolution. If we get power from holding things over others, we find pain and hurt familiarly comforting, or we have grown fond a grudge, then apologies are not for us. Asking for them in that state is just plain wrong, and ill-intentioned. 



Apologize to yourself for being impacted. It matters. Self-apologies address our odd guilt. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves for how we feel. We don't get to choose we feel though, so take that to heart. Apologies to ourselves also helps us reflective when we've made mistakes, hurt people, or caused harm. It's us saying sorry for who we were in those moments. It's saying to yourself "I'm sorry I did this." It's a conversation with yourself where you come to terms with has occurred, you go give yourself grace to be a mess, and you strive to get it together. So many times asks for apologies never come, and yet still, we need to apologizes to us, and forgive ourselves for our own sakes. Better yet taking that energy, and offering an apology that was unprompted. More on forgiveness here. Receiving an apology does not grant automatic forgiveness or restoring relationships. Relationships are changed, and we have to change with them. People need time and space to assess how they feel about you. Sometimes we need an apology, and need to let go of a person after we receive it.

My parents via mom apologized to me recently, and it has been staying with me. I had already forgiven them years ago, and no longer have that weight on my soul, but in being present, I knew I had to take it to heart. It still felt good. It still was affirming. It was an acknowledgement that my feelings were valid, and that they recognized how they impacted me. What stood out to me most was the way I did not lessen the blow by saying it was okay, or that I was past it. I felt the heaviness be there. Consequences have purpose, and people need to feel the weight of their impact before they let go of it. Just for a moment. We don't have to downplay harm. I accepted their apology, and know it was sincere because she named specific things that happened - neglect/isolation, burdening, emotional labor, etc. Also, wow what a powerful experience to have someone in a position of authority, and someone I care deeply about apologize, unprompted, for their impact. It meant a whole lot. And, they have spoken to me and behaved differently - that proves their commitment to being better. I wonder now how this would have been if I hadn't been ahead of them in letting go of their impact on me. Can you imagine, if people in positions of power had the courage to own their impact, apologize, and be better?


Apologizing authentically is rooted in the usage of a singular word. If versus that. The former is hypothetical, and the latter is definitive ownership of impact. There's no question of whether we hurt someone; I did, or else why would I be apologizing. If an apology is necessary and genuine, then that in and of itself confirms that harm was caused. Using that decisive language, and even better that of specificity to name what was done, and how it hurt people, makes all the difference. There's no use of second person "you" that shifts blame to the person impacted and blames the victim instead of the perpetrator. Often people who the rhetoric of "hypersensitivity" do this saying, " I'm sorry that you were offended" instead of "I'm I offended you." Better yet "I'm sorry that when I said ... I hurt you. I apologize for causing you ..., and I want to/will be [more thoughtful]." No excuses should be interjected in - it ruins them. So what if you were busy, had other things going on, etc. no explanation mitigates the harm, because it still happened. Leave them out, they detract from the apology. The responsibility is solely on the person who caused the harm, realizes their impact, and is committed to changing those actions or words. That's all it takes, and yet it can be so difficult. Apologizing means we are fallible, but we know we are, so what scares us about needing to say sorry?

Following through with an apology demands putting change into action. No apology is complete without proof that we understand what we did, and are striving to be different/better. If we did something, we need to do it differently. If our language was pejorative, it might be taking the time to learn the history or context of words/phrases, or being conscious of our tone/attitude in communicating. It might be going to therapy to sort through our stuff instead of unloading all of it on others. It's going to be unique to us and our situations. It's going to be awkward, probably embarrassing, and slightly cringe-worthy. Uncomfortable is a good place to be, unsafe is not the same. We learn in discomfort; when our safety is challenged survival overshadows everything. We have to learn to live in discomfort for us to expand our minds, hearts, and experiences. When we take the time to understand the depth of what we perpetrated, evaluate how it makes us feel, and resolve to be different, it shows up in how we show up. We're more precise with our words, thoughtful with our actions, and cognizant of how our actions impact others. An apology followed up with changed behavior is a complete apology, and promise to honor the vulnerability that spurred the moment. 


We don't talk about shame or guilt enough. Shame serves a purpose, believe it or not. When I feel shame that's what reminds me that I need to do something to remedy the situation, at minimum for me, and at best for those/what I'm feeling shame about. Shame is this feeling of trying to avoid what you did but it always being present. Shame doesn't go away unless we actually address what we've done. As with all feelings, shame and guilt need to be processed, acknowledged, root-caused, lessoned, and moved on from. My rule is 24-48 hours of letting shame/guilt have their time to occupy my headspace, but doing what I need to afterwards to move past them. Oftentimes, it's letting it all out to say what I did, how it made my feel, apologizing, and breathing. Shame and guilt can lead to reconciliation for our own benefit if we follow those feelings to their root. If we can get to the bottom of our emotions - like why we're ashamed of our behavior, or shame for being called out, or guilt for not showing up, etc. then we get to learn from them, own our nonsense, and move on. Moving forward can only happen when we have relived our experience one more time to make sense of it. It's going to hurt before it heals. X


Steps on Authentic Apologies
Recognize what happened and that we impacted someone else
Understand the impact of what we did/said
Use personal pronoun "I" statements to form the apology
Be specific to explicitly communicate what we said/did
Mention action to change behavior & be different
Follow through with that change
Give space for others to process; avoid demanding reconciliation
Know that others do not "owe" us absolution or forgiveness 

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