Here’s a phrase that has helped me through these difficult times:
Life gets better when you accept the apology that was never given.
How true this is. I have grown through these experiences by accepting the fact that I can’t make another do what they are unwilling to.
And I have used this a great opportunity to work with my own resentments.
This process requires that one fully experience the anger, hurt and pain while learning the skills of grieving.
So, I pay attention to what takes place in my mind—this mind within me that creates my experience of life. This is a slow, demanding process, but brings ease on the journey, therefore, well worth cultivating!
A common misunderstanding is that “I’m sorry for what I did” is an adequate apology. Not so.
Neither do the words, “I apologize for whatever I did that caused you pain.” Too vague.
Perhaps our heart was in the right place, but we didn’t share enough information. These statements lack acknowledgment of the specific wrong one has committed.
Aaron Lazare, Professor of Psychiatry at University of Massachusetts Medical School, in his book, On Apology sets forth the criteria for the type of apology that results in real healing.
He states that the most important part is to acknowledge the offense in specifics. What did you do or say?
This resonated with me as I realized many years ago that the universe doesn’t work in generalities. Take the weather, for instance. It’s very specific. Not “generally cloudy or sunny” as the weather reports often report. No, the clouds are specific. We can see them. They are not general as they can be defined and measured.
The sun is measured by specific degrees of temperature.
Relationships, too, have a “weather system” based on specific words and actions.
Words such as, “I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. Please forgive me” may give temporary relief but won’t heal relationships.
This nonspecific form of apology doesn’t really clear the air or dissolve the hurt. It’s similar to the application of a band aid to cover a wound without first cleaning and caring for the wound.
Plastering “I’m sorry” over a deep hurt promises something it can’t give, for it lacks specific acknowledgement of the act. Without this the deed will probably be repeated.
Until we can look deeply into our actions and motivations that caused them, and articulate in some manner what they are, we are fated to repeat them.
History, unexamined, repeats itself.
Lazare lists 4 parts of an apology that can heal hurt and resentment. (Page 75, On Apology, my interpretation)
Part 1. Correctly identify those responsible. It may be only oneself—or others.
Part 2. Acknowledge the offending behavior in adequate detail.
Part 3. Recognition of the impact these behaviors had on the other.
Part 4. Confirmation that the grievance was a violation of the social or ethical contract between the parties.
I’m going to consider each of these parts through the lens of my experience. When my husband and I found ourselves at “divorce city” after more than twenty years of pain and misunderstanding in our marriage we forged a new and harmonious relationship by learning and practicing communication skills similar to the above.
First step: Identify the responsible party. We took responsibility for the hurt and damage we caused without shifting anything onto each other. No blame allowed. Blame was deleted from our conversation. And no excuses.
We stated the specific words and actions that caused the hurt.
Part 2 A. (Not in Lazare’s book)
This step is for those who truly want to rekindle a closeness that was once there, but has been broken. Not easy to do, just necessary.
My husband and I learned, through numerous workshops and the study of many books on relationships, that it was vital to state what emotion we felt by using descriptive terms that painted a word picture so the other could begin to see the state of our heart.
This requires vulnerability and a deep reflection that is best shared in close relationships where there are similar values and the trust that you both truly long for a healing and are willing to give up the way you see the situation.
Most likely this step I have added will not be used in the work place or in more casual relationships.
Note: It is important to stop at any point if the other uses our feelings against us by belittling or shaming us for having them.
It is foolish to expose ourselves emotionally when our emotions and feelings are not respected, but instead used as fuel against us. It takes equality to trust becoming vulnerable in this way.
We recognized the impact of the damage we inflicted.
I recommend dialoguing in your journal before attempting to actually speak to the other, or using the “empty chair” method that Fritz Perls taught in Gestalt therapy, where you take turns sharing first from your perspective, and then trade places and become the “other.”
In either case you become the other by placing yourself mentally in the body and mind of the other, and then alternate in the conversation by speaking from the perspective of the other, and then from yours, remembering that we know more psychically about each other than we often admit. Just trust intuition.
Over the years I’ve used these methods whenever there was a stalemate in a relationship and discovered many insights that led to healing.
It’s OK if we think we are making it all up. Each relationship is made up in our heads anyway, due to the lens we are looking through—our conditioning, perceptions and attitudes.
Relationships take place primarily inside us.
Then on to Step 4.
We admitted we violated our social or ethical contract. We broke our agreement. Again, no excuses.
Final step. (Not in Lazore’s book) We waited in the open moment to see how it has been received.
If necessary we began again, going deeper.
These steps are valuable to tuck into your mind. If your intention is to restore relationships some form of these is necessary.
Forgiveness is born from true apologies. When we fess up to what we have done and open our hearts, amazing things result. We simply lose interest in thinking about the past events. Resentment just washes away.
To err is human; to admit it is divine; to forgive is sublime.