By Noelle Sterne
Facing up and apology will cleanse the soul.
We often hang onto self-condemnation and guilt for things we have the power to set right. 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 guilty 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 the date you’ve been avoiding. 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. He visited my husband and me to explore avenues to raise funds for a new business he wanted to start. After dinner, as we discussed his financial circumstances, Gardner became so anxious and agitated that he shouted and left abruptly. Fifteen minutes later, in a rage he called from his car. He said he couldn’t find his good pen and accused the valet of stealing it.
Later that night, Gardner phoned again and 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 for the funds he needed.
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 told you so. 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, you’ve done what you needed to—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 apology 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 that 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.
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 clearly in your mind or out loud. Listen for the other’s response. You will hear. 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 pair of affirmations hones right in. You can say these aloud to the other person or silently (and frequently) to yourself while visualizing the other. 1. Whatever you’ve done to offend me, I forgive you. 2. Whatever I’ve done to offend you, please forgive me.
Practice these steps or your own variations to remedy situations that have been pulling you down, consciously or less so. 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 astounded but joyful, that you have the power and strength to make amends.
Author, editor, writing coach, workshop leader, and academic mentor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 stories, essays, writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, and occasional poems in literary and academic print and online venues. Publications include Author Magazine Chicken Soup for the Soul (most recent November 2019, The Forgiveness Fix; podcast Jan. 2020), Inspire Me Today, LiveWriteThrive, Journal of Expressive Writing, Mused, Pen and Prosper, Romance Writers Report, Ruminate, Sasee, Textbook and Academic Authors Association blog (monthly),Transformation Coaching (bimonthly), Two Drops of Ink blog, Unity Magazine, WE Magazine for Women, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally) for 30 years. Her published handbook to assist doctoral candidates is based on her professional academic practice (PhD, Columbia University): Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Psychological Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s spiritual self-help book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to support readers in reaching their lifelong yearnings. Continuing with her own, she is completing her second novel. Her webinar about Trust Your Life can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu.be Visit Noelle at her website: http://www.trustyourlifenow.com.