How to Apologize: The First Five Steps in Eliminating Regret

>In life we come to the inevitable last minute “ah-ha” that begins with the dawning feeling that as we took aim and emotionally fired at the object of our angst, we also just shot a hole in the bottom of our own ship.  As the water begins to pour in, we look across at the person we wounded and see that in firing our emotional bullets their general direction, we not only injured our own self, safety and life, but we have seriously damaged another human being.  A real, honest to God soul.  The water continues to pour in and we find ourselves busy saving what there is in our life, allowing the hurt person to float out and away into the dark night.

Regret creeps in on little black cats feet and begins to tug at our negative emotions.  Staying mad at a person that has done you no wrong is a first indicator that you’re probably in the wrong yourself.  Perhaps it is circumstance to blame, perhaps overheated emotions, family history…still, the slip of the tongue, a reckless emotional decision, the errant angry word, the outright breaking of relationship exists in your world, and now you’re not so sure that this isn’t the bitter root that might haunt the remainder of your restless nights.

I know from experience that I wonder – once you’ve acted so very badly, is it to late to apologize?  What is the point?  Even when relationship is no longer possible, reconciliation through an honest and forthright acknowledgment of responsibility and regret is one way to let the other person heal, and in doing so, to free yourself from unnecessary life long regret.  Here are some possibilities to sending out the olive branch that could save you from years of unnecessary angst.

Step One:  Acknowledging the truth.

I have a person in my past, early in my twenties, that I simply did not connect well with.  She is my sister, and although we are related by blood, we have little in common.  Recently, I had the opportunity to reunite with her after some twenty five years of total silence…and had the chance to apologize.  My apology was based in breaking all ties with her, even though that was the healthy thing for me to do for my own family at the time.  I acknowledged the truth.  “You and I are very different,” I said to her.  “We’ve made different choices and have different lives.  I want you to know that I respect your life, and who you are.  I hope that you’ll offer that same consideration to me.  I am sorry that I didn’t get to know you as you grew through your life.”   I meant that.  She and I had both changed.  My family isn’t built on trust and relationship between my siblings.  Still, I wanted to offer her a truthful apology that said “I am sorry that I missed out on it all, and that you never knew me as I grew as well.”  It’s an acknowledgment of her humanity – which has been damaged by illness, bad decisions and a life of trouble – that reasserted us on the common ground of sisterhood.

Step Two: Lovers are difficult.

Apologizing to a former boyfriend was the most difficult thing that I’ve done in the past years.  We had a relationship that I ended abruptly, one that he was very engaged with.  I knew then, as I know now, that it was not going to be a lifetime commitment.  He and I were incompatible in many ways.  After a suitable time had passed, I had the chance to meet him for coffee and simply talk with him about what he’d experienced, and the reality that our connection of romance was over for good.  It was closure for him, and for me.  I didn’t love the man in the sense of a lifetime of soul deep commitment, and to acknowledge that truth in love and sportively helped him to move past our relationship and into his own destiny without a “bad taste” over women.

Step Three:  Know thyself.

When you apologize, mean it.  If the person that you’re talking to is a family member, think through what type of relationship you are willing to have and make those boundaries known.  Do not vary from them.  For my sister and I, we maintain a distance, but  I do offer her a listening ear and loving support.  I do not want her engaging in relationship with my children, nor am I interested in forming a close physical proximity.  These are the rules of engagement, and they are the boundaries that I’ve learned are best for everyone.  On the other hand, I recently had the opportunity to apologize for saying horrible things to a person that I truly, dearly love.  Our relationship is still damaged, but we’re working through it one day at a time.  The pain of the argument came from years of frustration and anger that I had not let out.  I know myself now well enough to see that “nothing buried alive ever dies.”  I have to be totally honest with him, even if it causes the eventual breakdown and ending of our mutual life.

Step Four:  Where do you live?

There is one relationship in my life that is a continual string of apologies, promises, broken promises and rebounds through all sorts of emotions.  You could get whiplash from watching my friend come and go, the temperature changes and the moral/ethical clashes within him.  Still, there is never a time that it is to late for him to authentically make any form of connection with me, to apologize or discuss.  It’s where I live on the  brink of “how much is to much.”  I’ve given up on a long term relationship with my friend – it’s more of a lifetime commitment to day by day support.  Still, echoing through weeks of silence you will hear my overwhelming willingness to hear and to offer any form of apology that is necessary.  I reacted – overreacted – to his transitional state recently, and for that I am truly, absolutely apologetic.  What I needed to do was set a new firmer stand of boundaries that limited our relationship to a type of friendship we can both manage and live within.  Those boundaries will be modified, if and when the time comes, by what he needs out of our mutual friendship.  If that is nothing, then the opportunity to apologize will simply exist between my own mind and soul, and I will seek forgiveness through mediation and prayer.  If you are not given the opportunity to apologize by a recent split, allow yourself the time and space to imagine that conversation, and then to set it adrift away from you, floating into the heavens where the universe takes on your feelings of pain and sorrow.  Keep allowing yourself to let go of the pain until the therapeutic value of your imagery works for you and allows you to begin to heal.

Step Five:  Look in the Mirror.

The most important step no matter who or what you regret begins with the eyes that stare back at you from the mirror.  Give yourself the gift of the truth.  Still love her/him?  If no one in the world can know, tell yourself to your own face.  Speak the truth in love and then allow yourself to feel forgiveness for the ending or beginnings that you have to work with.  Forgive that slight in search, with life in general, the unspoken compliment or neglected gift, the times that you were less than lovely, unfaithful or mean.  Forgive yourself so that you can help someone else come to a place of peace and grace.  Do what you can to make restitution, but understand that in the end, we are all responsible for our own path.  Make the life changes that reflect who and what you really are…even if that is scary.  Small steps, movements in the direction of your destiny will result in big changes in your inner life.

Your self esteem and self image are truly affected by unforgiving and unspoken regret.  Many of these things can be alleviated through simple human communication, the honor of speaking to one another with faith and hope.  If your person has passed on from this life, go and visit their final resting place, their favorite hangout, a place of memory and speak your apology there.

In the end, we all send out love and light to those that we value.  Your apology, given in that spirit of good karma, will come back to you in the sense of peace and fulfillment.  It does not matter if the individual receives it at that moment; the freedom that is given by your apology make take years to manifest.  Still, planting the seeds of forgiveness now flourishes into the promise of tomorrows gardens where life is cultivated and dreams are made true.

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