A few weeks back I said some really hateful things to someone I love dearly. I regretted it immediately. I stewed over how I would make this right. How was I going to approach taking it back, making it go away, acknowledging my bad behavior? I felt ashamed and embarrassed. This person did not deserve me vomiting my emotion all over them. The reason I lashed out had nothing to do with them. I was (past tense) the kind of person who would say, “hey sorry if I hurt your feelings, I didn’t mean it—I was just in a bad way.” Really? What an unevolved way to apologize. Here is what I learned about apologizing.
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.’
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I am learning that there are two sides to forgiveness. The first side is the one asking for forgiveness. The second side the one receiving the request for apology. The first, must acknowledge themselves and admit the hurt or wrongdoing they inflicted, that takes courage. They want relief from their burden. The second, not only endured the hurt but is now being called on to bestow the forgiveness. Which is harder? It seems the first gets immediate relief if their apology is accepted. They can go on their merry way.
The second has to process the pain, the apology and then go on their merry way. It’s probably not as merry. Does withholding forgiveness from someone serve us? I think not. That being said, there will be many times in our lives we are on both sides of the table. So we get a lot of practice either way.
I did some reading on what constitutes a sincere apology. You don’t have to be rock star to figure this part out; you have to mean it. You have to be sincerely sorry for the F5 tornado you just tore through someone else’s life. Sincerity is palpable. You can feel it.
In my case, I was sincerely sorry for the things I said. My eyes wouldn’t stop watering and I would cry if I talked about it. I decided on the following path.
Path to apology.
-Express regret. I named what I had said by the exact words I used. I said I apologize for my words (XYZ) and the hurt I caused you. To say you are sorry- is about you. i.e. “Hey I am sorry you felt hurt”—is about you. “I apologize to you for my words, my actions, my behavior (name them)” is about them. Know the difference -because it makes one.
-Accept responsibility. “I was wrong to speak to you that way. I shouldn’t have done it”. OWN your crap. No explanation needed, we all know what accepting responsibility for our behavior means.
-Make restitution. “What can I do to make it up to you.” Actually mean it.
-Express a desire to change. “I keep repeating this bad behavior, words, acts. Do you have any suggestions for me that could help make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I am open to suggestions...and then actually be open.
-Request forgiveness. After all of the above don’t forget to ask the person’s forgiveness. This is very important. “Will you, can you forgive me?”
I am a quick learner. Especially when I have been hurtful to someone else. My intention is to do no harm. Sometimes I harm anyway. I went over this process in my head many times. I intentionally went to this person and went through this exact process in order to ask forgiveness. Did I feel better? Yes. Did they? Not really. They said “I forgive you”. They still needed time to process it out. Fair enough. If they need the time, give it to them. And then go work on yourself so you actually learn something from the experience. For me after 54 years I think I actually learned how to ask for forgiveness. In addition, to checking myself at the door for my words and my behavior.
“A Sufi Holy man was asked what forgiveness is. He said, -it is the fragrance that the flowers give when they are crushed.”
On the other side of being the one asking for forgiveness is the grace of the one doing the forgiving. It is tough stuff to forgive. We hear people say all the time, I forgive you but I don’t forget! Uh huh. We feel good in the moment we forgive. Then we go to bed and feel angry, and have imagines of hatefulness and negative thoughts toward the other party. What happened to forgiveness? Where are the images of sugar plums and fairies in our head? Oh no, we focus on the pain, and the hurt, and the revenge until we realize its 3:00 am and we haven’t been able to sleep. Yeah baby, forgiveness we tell ourselves is for the weak! Not so. It hurts us more than it hurts them, not to forgive. Try to reconcile that one. Just because we don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Not forgiving hurts us.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, I forgive you. I am finished with this.”
I end with a story written by a woman who sought advice from Hugh Prather. Hugh Prather is now dead, but he wrote several books one of my favorites being “Notes to myself”.
The woman unwillingly became estranged from two people who meant the world to her. She made mistakes with them and they were unmoved by her apologies. The pain of the loss was the worst she had experienced in her life. She sank into deep bereavement which involved sobbing in the middle of the night on many occasions. Below is the advice Hugh Prather gave to her.
“Hold them in your heart with love. Make it a spiritual practice to keep doing that. When your mind and ego stray toward anger or resentment such as “I don’t deserve this,” bring yourself gently back to love. Don’t criticize yourself; just bring yourself back to love. Don’t criticize them either. You cannot know their reasons, and judging them will only make things worse. Keep holding them in your heart. One day- I predict it will be less than five years-they will call. If you have continued the practice, they will hear the love in your voice immediately. They will know the door is open, and they will walk through it. Love always heals.”
She followed Hugh’s advice. It was an unspeakable length of time to suffer. Slowly she began to feel more and more peace as well as more love. That would never change. They had after all followed their own hearts. Four years later they called and wanted bygones to be bygones. She agreed and the relationship has been solid ever since.
I can only hope I live long enough to learn the lessons I am meant to learn in this life. It took me 54 years to really understand how to apologize and how doing so can change things, heal things. It matters. It matters how you do it.
I say to myself “Patience Grasshopper". I will sit in my place of patience as I learn.
Until next time.