Relationship is the source of our greatest pleasure …and our greatest pain. ~ Anonymous
I’ve written on forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and apologies before, but not lately. My soon-to-be son-in-law posted this little gem on his Facebook page, and it reminded me of the whole “I said I was sorry!” routine.
And it is. (A ‘routine’ I mean).
There are waaaaaay too many peeps out there who, for whatever reason, truly believe that saying “sorry” magically undoes the consequences of an action or choice on their part.
In fact, if you’re not actually prepared to hear how your actions have impacted another, and to accept whatever consequences arise from that hurt, then don’t apologise in the first place. You aren’t sincere. Your apology is an effort to manipulate the situation so you feel better.
With couples who are experiencing violence, when the batterer gets to the point of being willing to accept at least some responsibility, then we have a lesson in apologising. They usually have the belief that saying “sorry” is all that is required. As if that word is a magic ‘Open sesame’ to a clean slate. Like we’ll just pick up that broken plate, throw it in the garbage and pretend [———-] never happened.
No. No. and No.
I say to the offender, “Repeat after me.” (We practice)
I am sorry that when I am angry I choose to take that anger out on you. I am violent, and I hurt you. I know that this is wrong. I knew that it was wrong when I did it. I cannot in any way make up for how I’ve hurt you, but I can take responsibility for my actions from now on. Will you please forgive me?
Nearly always, the first time an offender hears this this little speech, s/he gapes at me open-mouthed.
You know what the stickler is?
Asking for forgiveness. This makes the situation totally different than, “I’m sorry you don’t like that I hit you.” or “I’m sorry I hit you when I’m mad.” or some such other nonsense.
Asking for forgiveness puts the offender at the mercy of the wounded one …and they don’t like it. I’m using batterers as an example, but this is true in any situation where mending a relationship is the task at hand. By asking for forgiveness, the offender acknowledges that the relationship is broken because of his/her actions and without a conscious choice on the part of the wounded one, it may never be restored.
The wounded one says something like, “I forgive you. I understand that you are human and we all do things we deeply regret. I appreciate your willingness to accept responsibility. With that understanding, I tell you that if this relationship is to continue, then some things must be different. For you and for me.”
This is where the metaphorical rubber meets the road. If the offender is apologising with an ulterior motive other than accepting personal responsibility s/he often isn’t willing to hear about consequences or accountability. When the wounded one takes steps to create accountability in the relationship (i.e., in the case of domestic violence, safety first and foremost), then the truth of the apology becomes apparent. The “sorry” wasn’t for the purpose of taking responsibility for the wounding caused. The whole routine was to induce the wounded one to “get over it” or “get back to normal;” two phrases I hear all the time in this situation (and in the case of an affair).
Sometimes, the wounded person has responded with something like this: “You are a human being who makes mistakes, as do we all. I choose to forgive you for my sake but I need you to know that while I do forgive you, I am not willing to risk anymore damage by continuing this relationship because you have continued to demonstrate that you cannot be trusted.”
Keep in mind, people do apologise sincerely without asking for forgiveness; often because they’ve never been taught this important bit, or because the relationship is less emotionally tied, i.e. work. But the attitude will be the same. An acknowledgement of the effect of the offender’s actions and a willingness to accept whatever the consequences may be.
If the apology you are offered doesn’t include a willingness to hear how you have been wounded by the actions of the offender and a genuine give-and-take discussion ~ including consequences ~ about the ways in which this same situation will be avoided in the future, the apology probably isn’t worth the effort it took to make it.
Maybe something interesting here: