If you regret something, or many things, you said or did, do you know you have the power to set them right?
We often hang onto self-condemnation and guilt for things we regret. Even if we think our heavy feelings are gone, they probably lurk just under the surface, taint our lives, and sap our energy for other activities. When we make amends, we clear out all those dark, depressing, and dragging-down feelings. This process may take a little or a lot of effort, but it’s very worth it.
To make amends may also mean we have to gulp down some pride, muster some courage, and take actions we’ve been too embarrassed or uncomfortable to take. These feelings are exactly why we should act. We’ll feel lighter and freer and will grow and gain strength from the dreaded action(s).
So, return the book to the library. Send the thank-you gift. Make that appointment. Repay the debt. Arrange a payment plan. Call and apologize. Write the letter. Explain why you did/said/didn’t do/didn’t say it.
If you think you absolutely can’t do it—whatever it is—prepare. Talk to a neutral person. Start writing down what you want to do or say. Rehearse. For example, you can start by saying, “This call is long overdue. I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time but haven’t had the courage.“
A family friend taught me this lesson. In my capacity as dissertation coach and editor, I offered to help him explore ways to tackle his doctoral dissertation, which he’d been avoiding. After dinner, as we discussed his “reasons” for delaying and some ways he could tiptoe in. But Gardner became so anxious and agitated that he shouted and left abruptly. Fifteen minutes later, he called from his car in a rage. He shouted that he couldn’t find his good pen and accused the valet of stealing it.
Later that night, Gardner phoned again. He said simply, “I apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I found my pen wedged between the car seat and the door.”
I admired Gardner’s dignity and courage–and his language. He didn’t berate himself but labeled his actions as simply “inappropriate.” I thanked him and complimented his action, promising another brainstorming session to start carrying out his plans.
When you face up and make amends, what’s the worst that can happen? The other person may say, “It’s about time, you so-and-so!” Or, possibly, and with great relish, “I knew you were wrong, but you never listened.” Or, “I hear you, but it’s been too long and the hurt is too deep. I never want to speak to you again.”
Any of these responses is possible but hardly probable (except maybe the one we all love to say: I-told-you-so). Even if the other person responds by cutting off the relationship, what’s more important is what you did: you took the risk for yourself.
Remember that you’re not in charge of how and if the other person has changed or softened. If he or she remains intractable, you can then say, “I wanted you to know and I wish you only the best.” Even if the person harumpfs and hangs up on you or slams the door in your face, you’ve done what you needed to, You’ve taken the risk and faced your guilt. But most of the time, none of those negative responses you fear will take place.
Yes, to make amends takes courage and the willingness to make the leap. I’ve always found that facing up and apologizing cleanse the soul. Whenever I’ve taken the right actions and said the right things, often holding my breath but daring to expose the egg on my face, the other person has had one or more of these reactions: surprise, delight, gracious acceptance of what I had to say, or appreciation.
Today’s incessant (and annoying) phrase “My bad,” although a little too easily rolled off, is actually a step in the right direction. It says the speaker is willing to take responsibility for the mistake or erroneous behavior. By its very casualness, this phrase is asking the other person not to take the whole thing too seriously.
Help for Making Amends
If you cannot make amends in physical reality, do so in your mind or on paper. Set a quiet time alone and visualize the ideal setting. Sit down with each person involved, actually or in your imagination. Say or write the words you really want to say in your mind or out loud. Listen for the other’s response. You will hear it. Allow the dialogue to flow until you feel complete. Then thank the other person and consider the matter done, resolved, closed.
If you need a little more help before, during, and after your session of making amends, I recommend Louise Hay’s words in her Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook (p. 97). These are wonderful affirmations for forgiving that apply to making amends in any situation we want to heal:
- I forgive whether I/they deserve it or not; I take responsibility for my own life.
- I release myself from this prison.
- I am strong when I forgive and let go.
- I refuse to limit myself.
- I am always willing to take the next step.
Another powerful set of affirmations hones right in. You can say these aloud to the other person or silently (and frequently) to yourself while visualizing the other.
- Whatever you’ve done to offend me, I forgive you.
- Whatever I’ve done to offend you, please forgive me.
And on more I often come back to:
- I see this person (situation, circumstance) with love only.
Practice these steps or your own variations to remedy situations that have been pulling you down. You may discover new solutions to problems, find you have unsuspected creativity and depths of courage, or reclaim and regain a missed and cherished relationship. You’ll certainly feel lighter, happier, and more energetic. And you’ll realize, maybe with shock but with joy, that you have the power and strength to make amends.
© 2023 Noelle Sterne