A follower of this blog wrote to me recently with this problem –
I read your words of wisdom faithfully. I have to ask how to handle issues when you’ve apologized and the people you apologize to don’t accept your apology. Does one keep trying or just give up? Family members choose to hold grudges, etc. Usually, the person apologizing doesn’t even know what they did wrong. Curious. Thanks much.
Well, I’m flattered that you consider my musings on various topics to be words of wisdom; however, I not a counselor; I’m just an observer of life who has experience with some things, who has opinions on some things and who just likes to write about lots of things.
I have to start by saying that my life experiences lead me to disagree about your last full sentence. I suspect that the person apologizing knows exactly what it is that they did wrong or that caused the problem. Sometimes what they did to cause the consternation may be something that they don’t think of as being wrong; however it is perceived that way by others in the family. So go back and re-think what it was that caused the issue with others in the family. The issue of right and wrong is sometimes a matter of interpretation or perspective and quite often there is denial on the part of the party being accused of being wrong. Accept the fact that whatever was done was seen as “wrong” by others and then you can move towards an apology and forgiveness.
The other thing that experience tells me is that sometimes the people apologizing do so in such an off-hand or flip way that the apology itself is offensive, because it is not considered to be genuine. Saying something like “Oopsie, my bad” is not really apologizing; it is trying to smooth over things with a flip statement. This may again grow out of the perception of the wrong-doer that what they did wasn’t really wrong. The young especially have a hard time with that, when the offense is the breaking of some parental rule that they think is arbitrary or unfair. Remember that a wrong may be something that someone else perceives as wrong or an offense against them.
When dealing with something like this situation, you can actually use a variation of a technique that is taught in business schools for dealing with objections in a sales process. at least this might provide you with some structure for proceeding.
First, identify the issue. Don’t assume that you understand the issues involved, especially not from the perspective of the people who are offended or angry. So the first step is to clarify what it is that they are angry, hurt, disappointed or offended about. Have them tell you what they are angry about. Accept that, from their perspective, whatever you did was wrong.
The second step would be to re-phrase the issue back to the people who are angry and get their agreement that you do indeed understand their perspective on the issues. Put into words what you think the offense was and see if those who are your accusers agree that you have identified the “wrong” that you have committed. While you’re at it, accept that it was wrong in their eyes. This may take a few iterations, because you may not understand their perspective at all in the beginning. This step also is worthless unless you finally admit that what you did was wrong at some level, especially to those who feel that they were wronged. You cannot move forward from the position of, “What I did wasn’t wrong.”
The third step would be to express a heartfelt apology for the actions of yours that caused their reaction. You might also want to express what you learned from the experience and indicate what you will do to make sure that you don’t make the same mistake again. Perhaps you might even have to outline a plan of restitution, if your actions caused real damage or loss. This step is important for two reasons – it shows those who were upset that you are truly sorry and it provides you with the life-lesson knowledge about what was wrong and how not to repeat the mistake.
The final step is to test for acceptance of your apology and forgiveness of your offense. You may have to ask bluntly, “Can you forgive me?” Some amount of time may have to pass before you actually get the acceptance and forgiveness that you are seeking; especially if what you did to cause this situation was really grievous. If you’ve done step three properly it will be hard to “hold a grudge”, but don’t expect everyone to just forget about it for quite some time.
One should never just give up on other people, especially family members. If the four steps above don’t work to bring
closure to your situation, perhaps you need to take the situation to a higher authority. Ask your family members to pray with you about this and seek their forgiveness as you seek it from God. You know that at least one participant in that prayer is going to forgive you if you ask for it. If your family is not one that prays together, you can still seek forgiveness from God and ask also for His help with your family members. You need to get right with yourself and with God, before you can truly seek the peace with your family that you desire. Remember to start by admitting that you have done was wrong and ask for His forgiveness and help.
I hope this helps a bit with the situation that precipitated the question. Life is filled with missteps and wrongs that we do or that we perceive are done to us. Learning to deal with them in a way that brings closure and then moving on with life is an important step in the process of growing up. Knowing where to turn for the help that you need sometimes is important, too. Fortunately, that is an easier thing to figure out. He is always there when you need Him.