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Needing: An Apology/To Apologize

Dear Miss SmartyPants,

1. Without going into all of the nasty grubby details of my life ... how does one forgive ... I mean REALLY forgive, and not just SAY you're forgiving someone and then have it STILL bother you? I find that it takes me a while to forgive people for something, even after someone has apologized to me for something. I also find that a lot of people believe that an apology means automatic forgiveness. Is this the right thing to assume?

2. On the other hand, how do you prove YOURSELF worthy of forgiveness, when you know that you screwed up and should accept responsibility for what you did? So if you've apologized, accepted responsibility, etc., and the other person has said, "I need more time," are you supposed to return and apologize again? Or wait for them to come inform you when they're ready?

Needing: An Apology/To Apologize

Dear Needing:

Pretty cool that you recognize both sides of dealing with forgiveness. We have all been on both sides of that coin.

Re: your first question:

1. Don't say you've forgiven when you haven't. Say you want to forgive but it's still bothering you. Some hurts do take a little more repair - e.g., the victim needs time to be sure the offender intends to keep certain promises - so there's nothing wrong with a less-than-instant forgiveness. Always find a kind way to be honest about your feelings.

2. Consider what you have to do if eventually you come to the conclusion that you can't forgive. You may have to sever the tie - it may be better for everyone than insincere assurances plus grudge-holding.

3. If forgiveness is, to your mind, the only option, try to see the transgression from the eyes of the transgressor. Most of the time, people who screw up are just being human in exactly the same ways you are also human. Look for something, anything you can relate to. Is the transgression relatively minor to this person's importance in your life?

4. But if you try and try and still find nothing but a person you don't like doing things you can't abide, see 2.

Re: your second question:

It depends on the transgression. For some people and for some transgressions, a sincere apology is all that's necessary for everyone to move on (to new transgressions and apologies!). That's how it should be, since all an offender can really do is apologize. (Unless monetary compensation is called for - then, reparations are in order.)

Your knowing you screwed up and you are accepting responsibility is paramount. After that, all you can do is to be patient. It's up to the injured party to decide whether they believe you. I do think, though, the burden is on the victim to say explicitly that he/she needs more time. Otherwise, they get into the gray blob of re-punishing someone who has already admitted, regretted, is sorry, etc. All that does is add resentment to the mix.

Thing is, relationships are never perfect, and forgiveness is a gift we should give, within our limits, to sustain them.






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