If there is one thing that being a marriage life coach has taught me, it's how much forgiveness plays a direct role in the longevity of any real relationship. Because we're all flawed human beings, there are going to be times when we will need to ask for and extend forgiveness. That's just the way it is. However, I think the reason why a lot of us struggle so much with forgiving others is because, well, a lot of people totally suck at apologizing. That's what we're going to dive into today.
When it comes to offering a full and sincere apology, there is one thing that absolutely must happen that doesn't transpire often enough — there has to be some sort of amends that is made. While I will get deeper into this in a sec, what that basically means is someone must first acknowledge what they did (apology) and then put forth an action to set things right (amends). Otherwise, the apology is pretty much just lip service — and that doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot at the end of the day (many of us can certainly vouch for that).
Before getting into all of this, let me just put on record that I'm not talking about something minor like a person showing up late for a luncheon or a surface-level issue like that. What we're about to tackle is what an apology should look like when someone has hit deep — the role they should play in the healing process, along with the actions that you should take too. So, take a deep breath. Let's help with some of the healing process that comes with the issue of forgiving, shall we?
1. An Apology That Comes with Excuses, Deflecting or Placing Blame Isn’t a Real One
Something that I grew up seeing a lot of is people who absolutely sucked at apologizing. If they did it at all, they found some way to place the blame on other people or circumstances (including Satan; so Christians absolutely live to make Satan the scapegoat of their own choices). Or, if they did do it, what was the point? They would turn around and do the same act, if not months later, days later. Before long, apologizing seemed like an endless version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and I simply became numb to it (ugh).
There is a silver lining to all of that toxicity, though. Since I watched so many individuals apologize the absolute wrong way and it triggered me on the regular, it taught me to be far more intentional about my own apologies. For starters, I personally do it when I know I mean it rather than as a way to flippantly gloss over things. Two, I do it when I can take full accountability for my actions instead of offering up that piss poor "I'm sorry but if you hadn't have…" crap that a lot of people do. And three, I do it when I am prepared to make an amends for my actions (more on that in a bit).
What I don't do is find a way to excuse, deflect or blame someone or something else for my actions. People who do that? They are skirting responsibility — which is a surefire way for them to repeat the "offense" again. Which is why, at the end of the day, they actually can totally keep their apology to themselves.
2. Anyone Who Says, “I’m Not Apologizing Anymore” Is Kinda Full of It
Let me tell you a clear sign that you are putting yourself in harm's way to be hurt or harmed by someone who has already hurt or harmed you. If in their so-called apology, they say something along the lines of, "Look, I've already apologized for that" or "I'm not gonna keep apologizing. You need to get over it" — that is a red flag like nobody's business. When you really stop to process the fact that someone who offended you is trying to convey that you are inconveniencing them for the fallout that transpired as a direct result? What in the world is going on?
Now, in no way am I saying that someone should make another person feel like they need to grovel in order for an apology to be accepted. Indeed, there is a responsibility for the person on the receiving end to extend some mercy and grace (especially since all of us fail from time to time and need to be forgiven our damn selves). What I am saying is that when someone has hurt or harmed someone and they nonchalantly — or arrogantly, depending on the delivery — try and come on some, "You just need to move on" energy…nothing about that is cloaked in humility, kindness or sincerity. Someone who is truly sorry for something they've said or done is going to convey it in their words, energy and tone. And they are going to do their best to make sure that the apology is both heard and felt.
3. The Apology Needs to Address the “Crime”
I come from a music industry household. When I was a preteen/teenager, my mother was on the road, quite a bit, because she was in artist management. Anyway, indirectly, her profession caused me to not have a 16th or 18th birthday party. Well, kinda. It wasn't because my parties weren't planned. It was because she canceled them, literally at the last minute, because she didn't come back in town in time. Although she provided no real explanation at the time, years up the road, she told me that she had missed her flights on purpose because she was overwhelmed and wanted some time to herself to regroup. OK, while now, as a woman in my 40s, I can somewhat understand that, there is a part of me that is still tender when it comes to that topic because 1) you canceled two parties, again, at the last minute which means your first apology for canceling the first one really didn't mean much and 2) you didn't really do anything to right the wrong. At all. Ever.
And y'all, I believe that this is a part of the reason why a lot of us are either rolling our eyes when someone apologizes to us or we can't fully move forward after they do. It's because, oftentimes, the person who wronged us seems to think that so long as they throw an "I'm apologize", "I'm sorry" or "My bad" our way, that should be enough. It isn't. When someone wrongs us, if they truly get the magnitude of what transpired, they should also find a way to make things right, as best as they can. If you screwed over two of my milestone birthdays, how about throwing another one to make up for it? Doesn't that show that you get the weight of what you did? Twice?
And here's the thing. When an amends isn't made, there tends to be a wound that never fully heals because while the person who offended us says two words and goes on, we are still holding onto some of the pain because they didn't put much effort in to make sure that we're good.
That's why I'm huge on conveying the point that if someone really wants us to know that they get what they did wrong, they will also want to do whatever they can (within reason, of course) to set things right. After all, an amends is defined as being "reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense". Another definition of the word is to "improve" something. If someone can put in the energy to cause harm, they can use that same energy to heal the trauma that they left behind. People who get this are individuals who really understand what an apology entails. It's recognizing what happened and then doing what they can to help with the healing process.
An apology is not an apology without an amends. It really isn't.
4. An Apology Means “I’m Going to Be Intentional About Not Doing ‘It’ Again"
One day, while in my prayer time, as I was ranting to God about someone who just kept on hurting me while I kept on taking it, the story in the Bible about Christ telling us to forgive "seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-35) came to mind. Hmph. Isn't it interesting that oftentimes, when it comes to forgiveness, far more of a burden is placed on the victim than the actual victimizer? Yeah, folks will be quick to run this Scripture up when it comes to holding the one who was hurt spiritually accountable while expecting very little from the one who caused the damage in the first place. Some might call that spiritual manipulation. (Hmm.)
Yet what was revealed to me about these verses had a twist to it. "Shellie, if you've got to forgive someone 490 times for the same thing, somebody isn't learning the lesson." That's what I heard in my spirit and instantly, I got it. Some folks will manipulate forgiveness and say that if you truly forgive someone, you will continue to allow them to dwell in your life like nothing every happened. Nooooo. Sometimes, what needs to happen is you forgive and then you set boundaries — not walls, boundaries. Meanwhile, the one who caused the pain needs to go out of their way to not repeat the offense. If they do continue to cause harm in the same area(s), then there should be more boundaries set because what they are basically conveying is they aren't strong in that area; that they need more accountability.
You know, a lot of us who've been hurt/harmed, we weaponize forgiveness, not because of what someone did one time; it's because of what they keep doing. This is why I'm a huge believer that those who are really repentant, they will 1) give a clear apology that includes stating what they did wrong (to prove that they understand what they are apologizing for) and 2) make sure that it's conveyed that they have no intention on repeating the same offense. And then they will seek within to figure out, just how to make that happen.
5. The Offender Doesn’t Decide When You’re Healed. YOU DO.
I'm not sure what's much worse than an arrogant apologizer. Lawd. Like how did you come into my life, blow my entire world up (or break my heart) and then have the unmitigated gall to tell me when the wound — the one that you caused, by the way — should go from a scab to a scar. No sir.
This is another example of when spiritual manipulation can come into play. The offender might say something to you like, "Well, if you truly forgave me, you would act like it never happened." Nooooo. If I truly forgave you, I wouldn't keep repeating the offense, I wouldn't hold it over your head and I would be open to us working together to heal. However, whatever time I need in order to heal, as the offender, you should be more than willing to grant me that.
There is someone in my family who has wreaked so much havoc that you don't have the time and I don't have the energy to share it all. Whenever they get confronted on their dysfunctional BS, one of the first things they will call up is their childhood trauma. Oh, but when someone calls them to the carpet on the trauma they've caused, they wanna talk about how the person should have healed from that by now.
Woundedness doesn't have a timetable. That's why we have to be oh so very careful about the things that we say and do to other people. That said, someone who is truly sorry for their actions ("sorry" is not a bad or low-self esteem-based word, by the way; it simply means "feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc."), they are going to get that while their actions may have happened in an instant, the pain that it caused could take quite some time to heal. And because they understand that, they will not pressure, guilt, gaslight, manipulate or scare someone into acting like they are healed — when they aren't. Yet.
6. If You Want to Heal, You’ve Gotta Quit Rehearsing the Past
OK, now that we've addressed the offender at length, it really does have to go on record that the one who was offended also has some self-worth to do. For one thing, it's important to always keep in mind that forgiving others is a good idea because none of us are perfect and one day, we too will need to be forgiven; probably sooner than later. Next point, refusing to forgive others very rarely does the amount of damage to the other person that it does to us. Mostly because our lack of forgiving typically causes our hearts to harden on some level which can ultimately cause us to take our disappointment/resentment/fear/bitterness out on other people — people who have absolutely nothing to do with what someone did to us.
And three, when we don't forgive, oftentimes we continue to replay what happened to us, over and over, even if it's only in our minds, and that can keep us mentally/emotionally/spiritually/relationally stagnant on some level. So yeah, when it comes to trying to decide whether to forgive or not forgive, forgiveness is always the route to take.
At the same time, what happens past saying, "I forgive you for what you've done and I choose to no longer hold it over you or allow it to consume me" — well, that has layers to it as well. The reason why I say that is because while forgiveness can hopefully bring forth some level of peace, in order for a harmed or broken relationship to be restored, there has to be effort put in on both parts. I've already explained a lot of what the offender's responsibility is. As far as the "offendee", you've first got to decide if you want to maintain a relationship with the person who hurt you. If so, why? If not, why not? Then, you've got to get clear on if "stepping out on faith" in order to bring trust back into the dynamic is ultimately worth it in the long run.
The reason why I say that is because, sometimes people hurt us because they are humans and humans make mistakes. Simple as that. Then there are those who hurt us because they've basically been toxic all along. And third, you've got to be honest with yourself about if you have the emotional maturity to move forward. Because if you claim that you do what to reconcile, then you've got to give someone the space to be able to bring some wholeness back to the relationship. You've got to offer them what you would want someone to offer you if you were on the apologizing side of things (and again, sooner or later, you will be).
I won't lie to you. Healing from the damage that's left, apology or not, can take some real effort and it kinda sucks that the one who was hurt has to do so much self-work. Yet the reality is that no matter how much someone apologizes and strives to make an amends, they can't undo what's already been done and there is a part of you who will have to want to heal in order for things to be set right. Do you want to heal from what happened? Only you can answer that.
7. Give Things Time
There really are some things that ONLY TIME can do. As someone who has had to learn how to do a lot of forgiving and repenting, I can tell you that some wounds have turned into scars that I can barely even see anymore. Then there are wounds that are still a little tender to the touch. What I have learned to do is "love on" all of it. I don't dismiss my wounds. I don't invalidate their needs. I don't put them in further harm's way. And when they tell me, "I need some time and space," I give it to them — and if that's in connection with a person, place, thing or idea, I honor that.
I also don't FORCE things that happen or PUT UP WALLS to prevent things from transpiring either (check out "Why I Don't 'Cut People Off' Anymore, I Release Them Instead"). I get that even with all that has been said or done, time has to be given its say — and I let time take all of the time that it needs. I don't rush time. I don't let who offended me rush it. And, when I've offended someone, I don't put pressure on them to rush time either. It'll happen when it should. I've just got to remain open to time not being when I say so…when it says so. And I'll know because I'll feel peace. Not pressure.
Forgiving someone is not easy. However, I can personally and very much so vouch for the fact that when an amends comes with the apology, it hits different. Some respect is gained. Some trust is restored. And some healing can begin. Just what a full apology is supposed to do.
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