One Saturday afternoon, I sat across my psychologist and informed her I was going to seek out my parents. I had been estranged from them the majority of my life, but I wanted to confront them about my childhood.
"Oh, you are?" my psychologist asked with slight surprise. She continued, "And what do you hope to accomplish?"
I told her I wanted answers and accountability. I wanted them to acknowledge my childhood was a shitty mess, and I wanted an explanation for why. I felt I deserved closure.
"And what if they don't take any accountability or feel the need to explain anything?" my psychologist responded. She went on, "What will you do then?"
You see, I didn't account for that. I just assumed my parents would open up and, at least, try to defend their horrible choices. I believed there would be a smoking gun, and I could see who they really were and walk away with confirmation of what I was dealing with all that time. Then, I would be able to make peace with that chapter of my life and move on. At that moment, my therapist said words that changed the way I view closure.
"They don't owe you anything."
I was taken aback and puzzled. She just told me that the people that gave me life don't owe me anything for royally screwing it up. I had to sit with that for a minute. She went on to explain that she sees people every day that seek out closure from someone, and they never get it. Sometimes, the people they are seeking apologies from pass away before they get a chance to address them. Other times, those people just don't meet expectations in how they show up for the situation.
"But ultimately," she said, "Your healing lies in your hands."
Processing that response from my psychologist was a profound revelation for me. And an ego-crusher at that. You see, several things happen when we are waiting for an apology from someone else.
First, we're giving them the power to say when we get to heal.
If there's one thing I learned, it's that an apology could never give me the permission I need to heal from the emotional damage my parents caused me. Nor should it. Expecting someone else to dictate when we can move on from a situation based on their ability to apologize is a recipe for disaster.
Because if we never get the apology we believe we deserve, we'll be stuck in limbo––unable to move on from the hurt the situation caused. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to recognize and accept that the situation couldn't have been any different and leave it at that.
Second, we're feeding our ego.
There's a sense of entitlement that comes with knowing you are 'owed' something. It's often part of the reason why we seek out an apology from individuals that have hurt us. In my case, I believed my parents owed me because they gave me life, thus bringing me into their mess. Of course, it's only natural to feel this way when you've been wronged.
But, let's look at this thing another way. Maybe the person you're seeking an apology from doesn't have the level of self-esteem or strength to apologize. Perhaps they don't have the tools to confront the issue and own up to their mistake. Moving on without an apology does require checking your ego to ensure you're not holding on to something that is truly holding you down.
Third, we're unintentionally letting that situation infect every relationship in our lives.
This is probably the biggest consequence of holding onto the expectation of an apology. Many of us are walking around with bruised egos and broken spirits, not realizing we're contaminating every relationship we have with emotional pain stemming from one.
For many years, I found it hard to put trust in people. Occasionally, I even found myself questioning their motives. For me to stop letting a painful situation influence all my relationships, I had to become more aware. I've learned to intentionally approach every relationship with a blank slate.
In the process of working through my own pain, I've also learned there's freedom in letting go. Accepting there will be no apology does not mean the way you were treated was OK. It merely means you've released yourself from the stronghold the situation has over your life.
Although I've had these revelations over time, I've still struggled with the art of letting go. What I have discovered are tools to help me move along in the healing process to provide the closure I need. One of those tools has been to write a letter, which is extremely therapeutic. You don't even have to send it. Read it aloud as if you were reading it to the person who hurt you. It really works wonders when you put it all out there in a well-thought-out fashion.
Lastly, I've had to understand that the journey through pain and forgiveness is not supposed to be linear.
It ebbs and flows and takes some serious reflection. But ultimately, the lesson that I learned which I want to share is the journey through healing is all up to me. It's a singular process. I don't need that apology––nor do you.
Life will move right along just fine without it.
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