"Now, say you're sorry and hug it out."
Apologies are often overlooked as a vital part of relating. If we do apologize, we often do as we were taught as children; a quick "Sorry" and shrug. Then, we're good, right?
These kind of apologies do not provide the relational depth and empathy required to not only repair what was damaged, but to heal and enhance our trust and understanding of one another. Yes, a good apology can actually build trust!
As I write this, I am painfully aware of my difficulty apologizing. Perhaps it is because I simply do not practice this art form enough and therefore it can seem pretty clumsy. Even more, I understand that a good apology requires me to completely humble myself, and choose to vulnerably put myself in the shoes of the person I hurt. This, in turn, hurts me! And then acknowledging out loud that I have done wrong hurts my ego!
Brene Brown says in her animated short on empathy, that in order to be empathetic, you must connect with something within yourself that knows that same feeling you are trying to understand. Empathy, she says, fuels connection. This is because everyone wants to be known and understood. A truly intimate relationship (friendship, marriage, sibling, parent, partner) is built on the foundation of fully knowing and accepting another while also being fully known and accepted by that same person.
Therefore, when we harm another person, either intentionally or not, we are left with the opportunity to connect with them more deeply by coming to them and apologizing sincerely and empathically.
"Apology - an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret"
So, what makes a good apology?
A great, empathic apology will start with a concession of responsibility or fault. I will acknowledge that this is almost always challenging because most, if not all, situations involve more than one guilty party. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine your part in the problem. But try you must! Take responsibility for harsh words spoken or actions taken, showing your desire to understand by recounting all offenses you have committed. (When key details are overlooked, the offended party may not feel entirely understood.)
Then demonstrate that you have taken the time to consider how your actions have impacted them by using emotion-words. This is hard for many people since most of us don't have a large vocabulary of feelings. The more specific you can be, the more comforted the offended will feel. They will feel most understood and cared for if you are able to connect exactly how the event left them feeling about themselves, you, or the relationship.
Next is the "sorry" part. Here's where you communicate your regret for your actions, letting the person know that you do not wish to repeat said offense. This is a big part of rebuilding trust because it offers a stated desire to learn from the experience and grow from it, rather than committing repeated offenses in the future. This needs to communicate that you are not just sorry for getting caught and feeling guilty, but rather, you are grieved by that person's experience.
Finally, request forgiveness. That's right, an apology does not end at "sorry". A deep, empathic apology that is created in vulnerability also requires the most humble posture: a request to be absolved from the offense. Forgiveness is a monster of a topic in and of its own. I suggest referring back to my post, Clarifying Forgiveness, for more information. For the sake of this post, however, if you are requesting forgiveness, you must understand that the choice to grant it belongs to the offended party ONLY. This is not something that you can beg or plead for and definitely not something to require or guilt someone into. Allow that person time to take in what you have said and determine if and when they are ready to forgive.
Simple, right?! This is not an easy process. Conflicts are normally swept under the rug or put away perhaps mainly because it is takes so much courage to be vulnerable and humble. In contrast to avoiding reconciliation which leads to disconnection and resentment, a good apology will create and grow a deeper, more intimate, and satisfying relationship. I challenge you to give it a try.
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
- Alexander Pope
This phrase holds a lot of truth to me. There are some offenses we endure that are more easily forgivable, but others require something bigger than ourselves to let go of. This is when forgiveness become a daily process or decision and we often have to rely on a strength bigger than our own to do it.
As provided by Dictionary.com
Imagine that your longtime friend asks to borrow $10,000 from you. For whatever reason, you agree to loan him the money, which he promises to repay. One year later, he has not been able to repay the any of the debt and continues to be in financial hardship. After consideration you decide to forgive him the debt, never requiring repayment going forward.
This is a very straight forward example of forgiveness: canceling a debt and therefore removing some or all of the consequences from the borrower. Forgiveness does not stop there, however. The money is still gone. And now, the consequence and responsibility to regain that money or deal with its loss falls on the lender.
This is why forgiveness can be costly and challenging. Not only in doing so do we remove our right to get even, but we also agree to deal with the consequence without holding it over the head of the one who wronged us. At times the offense is small and not as noticeable. At other times, though, the forgiver has much more at stake.
This is why those considering to offer forgiveness should NOT rush into doing so. First, they need to take inventory of all that was lost or harmed. You cannot forgive without knowing what it is you’re forgiving and what it will cost you. This step can be a lengthy process. For example, when one is considering forgiving their abuser, it takes time and a lot of reflection to know exactly how they have been harmed and what has been taken from them. Often the offense hurts us deeper than its face value. Do not feel bad about taking time on this step, but be cautious of stalling here and becoming bitter or resentful.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
- Nelson Mandela
Once you have taken thorough inventory, you can decide to forgive, remembering that you may need to make that decision more than once as feelings of injustice creep up. But forgiveness is NOT reconciliation or resolved trust. In the case of your friend borrowing $10,000, you may decide that it would not be wise to lend them money again. This decision, done out of self protection rather than resentment and passiveeagressiveness, is often very prudent. A survivor of abuse may be able to let go of their right to exact revenge, but it is unlikely that they will or should have a reconciled relationship with the abuser. Boundaries after wrongdoing is a necessary step in the forgiveness process.
Interested in reconciliation? Reconciliation requires repentance.
"Repentance, which literally means to turn, is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs."
This step is the one that requires action from the offender. It is a process of building trust again. The problem is we find it difficult to determine true repentance. Those who have done wrong often offer apologies and show remorse for their actions (or more often, remorse for getting caught), but after not too much time repeat their offense. So how can we be sure that the offender has truly changed? Well, there are never guarantees, but here are some things to look for:
“Just as forgiveness isn’t cheap, repentance isn’t cheap. Repentance isn’t just being sorry we got caught. Repentance is learning from our mistakes. Repentance is walking a mile in the shoes of the one we’ve wounded. Repentance demands that we lie for a time in the bed we have made. In real repentance, we feel the pain we have caused others and ourselves.”
-Laurie Hall, An Affair of the Mind
Forgiveness is a complex concept and truly courageous endeavor. We should never be asked or pressured to rush this process, but be careful to not wallow in a place of resentment. Prayerfully move through the steps outlined above and practice caution when considering reconciliation. At some point, however, a choice to trust and let go will ultimately come from you.
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