I’ve never liked admitting when I’m wrong and I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I’ve discovered or come to understand something that I’ve done is unkind or simply wrong, I often work around the need for an apology for as long as possible, which usually means the conflict lasts much longer and requires a whole lot more effort than just saying the words, I’m sorry. These gyrations aren’t always clear to me in the moment, but I can usually see more clearly in hindsight and I’m working hard to address these situations differently in light of my diagnosis and the need to not leave things undone in the time I have.
A little while ago, I was convicted about this tendency and sent a variety of emails and letters to a several people that I realized I’d harmed in one way or another. In each communication, I apologized in as much detail as I could, asked for forgiveness and asked the other person if we could start again. While I was holding out hope that the communication would result in healing in each of the relationships, I discovered that I had to let that expectation go so that the apology was genuine on its own.
That was hard. Really hard.
When there was a variety of responses to my apologies, I struggled in a variety of ways and yet, I also realize that each response was a a gift to me. The gift was a window into the relationship in a very different way. Receiving that gift has helped me to put the relationship in the right category and adjust my expectations going forward.
- The best response was the person who accepted my apology and reciprocated with a genuine apology for their part in the conflict. Relationships where both parties can acknowledge the log in their own eyes and work to address it first is where healing is possible.
- The middle of the road response was the person who accepted my apology, acknowledged the hurt and shared the ripple affects of the original issue, but didn’t reciprocate. This is likely a lopsided relationship where the other person is either blind to or doesn’t want to admit their part.
- The worst response was the person who took the apology as an opportunity to attempt to get a pound of flesh and wanted literal groveling and more details of each item. Again, likely a lopsided and perhaps toxic relationship where the other person is not willing to show empathy.
One reason that I struggle with saying I’m sorry is that one of my deepest fears is being taken advantage of when I’m vulnerable. I will do nearly anything to avoid display my tender heart when I’ve been hurt and I’m always afraid that my vulnerability will place me in a situation where another can hurt me further. And when someone has already hurt me, the likelihood of being vulnerable again is even harder — think of the phrase, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
Relationships get stronger and more resilient when they are tested or they fall apart. It is those relationships that stand the test of time and hardship that are worth keeping and worth feeding. The relationships that fall apart when tested are the ones that are likely best to let go. While it is excruciatingly difficult, displaying vulnerability and exposing oneself to the possibility of hurt is one of the only ways to take a relationship deeper.
And now I understand that it is those relationships that have gone deeper that are deserving of the time and energy I have now and going forward. And I treasure those.