Learn How to Apologize and Repair a Broken Trust
Goodbye, Perfect – The Book
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Making mistakesin our relationships is one of the few guarantees in life. We are, after all, two or more individuals relating to each other with our fears, faults, desires, preferences, stresses, and life constraints.
Even if we do nothing wrong, the other can feel attacked or ignored because of their own perceptions and expectations. And that can impact our reactions, launching a downward spiral of broken trust.
The good news is that trust is reparable; making mistakes doesn’t harm our relationships as long as we apologize sincerely right after, initiating the process to repair the broken trust.
When we express our remorse and commitment to not repeating the mistake, we often end up adding more marbles to the trust jar than we took out. Now, let’s delve into common mistakes we make when trying to rebuild and repair a broken trust and how to avoid them.
What we often get wrong about apologizing
Sadly though, most apologies don’t do a good job at repairing a broken trust because they lack one or more of the components of a sincere apology. Here are three of the more common faulty ones:
Non-Apology #1: The disgrace
It’s when we become so engulfed in shame by what we said or did that we need to be rescued by the other person. We need them to make us feel better, which is not only difficult (try dragging someone out of self-pity mode), but also unfair, especially if the other person is still reeling from the hurt we caused them.
Non-Apology #2: The insistence
These are the appeasing and sympathy-seeking reactions that beg for instant forgiveness. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works; the other person has to be ready to move on. This is true even when you offer a sincere apology. You cannot force forgiveness, and sometimes your most heartfelt apology may need to sit on the ledge until the receiver is ready to accept it.
Non-Apology #3: The dismissal
It’s when an apology, if offered, sounds more like I’m sorry but you’re just being too sensitive. It’s about shoving the blame onto the other person instead of taking responsibility for our part. Sometimes, there’s also an element of educating them: People say and do things like this all the time, you’d better grow a thicker skin if you want to survive in the world.
What underpins these three non-apologies is the expectation that the other person does something—rescue us, forgive us, or fix themselves. If they don’t, we may become offended, even aggressive, because we made ourselves vulnerable with the apology, and it wasn’t met with empathy. We start throwing out marbles from our trust jar when our job is to add marbles to theirs. Here’s how to do so.
There are three steps to offering a sincere apology, initiating the process of repairing a broken trust
Step 1: Awareness
Recognize your part without the moral blows of shame or blame. You’ll need to invite your inner compassion to help you put things into perspective. She’ll also help you with painful feelings because you do need to feel remorse in order to be sincere in your apology. Focus on the other person’s feelings, whether justified in your mind or not.
Step 2: Acknowledgment
From this place of empathy and compassion, convey your remorse to the other person without justifications, partial blame, or sympathy seeking. Let them know that you recognize their hurt, but don’t pretend to know how they feel. Because you don’t. Everyone suffers in their own way; your job is to make them feel seen. They’ll likely be receptive to what you’re going to say.
Step 3: Amends
The final step is to let them know what you’re going to do to make sure the mistake isn’t repeated. Be open to their feedback. Ask them whether they want something else from you. Don’t fall into the temptation of telling them what you want them to do, unless they go there themselves. This is about taking responsibility to make things better.
Why it’s never too late to apologize and repair a broken trust
Sometimes, though, we become aware of our mistakes when it’s not possible or not advisable to apologize for them. The person who was hurt by your actions may be dead or unwilling to engage with you. Or they may be unaware of your role, and letting them know may cause more pain. When acknowledgement is not possible or wise, you still need to take action on the awareness. Else you will end up with regrets.
A while back, a friend sobbed during a visit as she shared the guilt she was carrying over the way she’d treated her mother-in-law in her final years of life. She’d never visited her in her nursing home. And she minimized her husband’s visits as well by telling him she’d already been that week. “What do I do about the guilt? It’s killing me. I imagine her watching me from above and I can’t look at myself. It’s karma, I wish I had been a better person.”
I could feel her agony and knew that she’d stay trapped in the past unless she found a way to ease her suffering. I explained to her that sometimes the “acknowledgment” in an apology is silent. We ask forgiveness in our hearts. And we trust that the energy will travel from one broken heart to the other and bring healing to both.
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