How many times have you thought, “I could forgive him if he would only apologize.” Or asked yourself, “How can I let it go when she has never shown any remorse?
Clearly, there’s a relationship between apology and forgiveness. A sincere apology makes it easier to forgive. (Don’t even try if you don’t mean it. That makes things worse.)
Conversely, a “demand” for apology makes it almost impossible for the offender to apologize, even when they want to. A close relative once told me, years after the event, “I wanted to apologize but I couldn’t, because you were so angry.” I was shocked to realize that my own anger had been the barrier to receiving what I most deeply wanted – a sincere acknowledgement of the hurt her behavior had caused me.
I was on the other end not long ago. I was 15 minutes late for a court appearance, and rehearsed all the way into the courtroom the mea culpa I would offer. But before I could open my mouth, the judge started to lecture me, with pointed finger, about how irresponsible I was. I stood there mute and took it, but I did not apologize. I felt humiliated, and clung to my last shred of dignity by my silence. I really was sorry, but I was not going to grovel.
What should I have done? I wish I could have remembered that a demand for an apology is really a disguised plea. The person is saying, “Please help me forgive you. Make it easier.” I should have just said, “I’m sorry I was late, Your Honor, and I’ll try not to do it again.”
But going back to the beginning. What if you’re on the other side of the dance? You’re wanting to forgive someone who shows no sign of remorse. Your anger is eating you up, and you know you need to move on. What then?
I’ve found it easier if I can do my own “searching moral inventory” (as AA says) and ask myself how I may have contributed to the rupture. Very few breakdowns in relationships are all completely one-sided. If I can find anything for which to apologize, the conversation can move forward.
Examples: Did I make a negative assumption instead of asking a question? Was I too defensive? Did I misinterpret something the other said or did? Was I supersensitive? Did I fail to recognize and clear up a faulty assumption the other may have made about my words or behavior? Did I expect too much? Did I miss the other person’s fear or pain?
If you can even start with something as simple as, “I’m really sorry that our relationship seems to have hit a bumpy patch, and I’d like to make it right” this will carry you a long way in a positive direction.
The Bible offers this advice: “If your friend has anything against you, leave your sacrifice on the altar and go make it right with your friend.” And “If anyone has offended you, go to him/her privately and try to make it right.” I take this to mean that, whether I’m in the right or in the wrong, I should be willing to take the lead in the dance toward reconciliation.
Claudette Taylor says
I’m just wondering what should you do when the demand for an apology is the act of bullying, rather than forgiveness. In other words, the person demanding an apology is not seeking forgiveness, and just wants to abuse his/her power.
Hard to do, but ideally if you think you really made a mistake you could just say something like, “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.” Then, if the person continues to press, you could end the conversation. “I really don’t have anything else to say.” You certainly don’t need to grovel.