When Saying Sorry Isn't Enough: How to Make Amends

by Ashley Graber, LMFT, Meditation & Mindfulness Educator, Curriculum Director @ Evenflow

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We all make mistakes and often they involve hurting another person. This is part of life – from the time we are born until they day we die, making mistakes will be a part of our life, so what do we do if we hurt someone’s feelings? There’s no shame in making genuine mistakes or admitting our wrong doings, but what if the person you are trying to “make it right” with won’t let you? What if they flat out refuse to forgive you?

There’s a big difference in saying you are sorry and making amends. Saying you are sorry means that you are apologizing for what you did, but an apology alone can leave the person offended without trust that it won’t happen again. You will both feel a little bit better, but it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a deep cut and waiting for it to heal. Making amends, on the other hand, means you are amending your behavior. It means that you are not only saying you are sorry, but you are saying you are going to act differently moving forward. You are taking the steps to correct a situation.

In Alcoholics Anonymous we learn that we aren’t always going to get the opportunity to make direct amends to the people we hurt. This could be because the person is no longer alive or because the person will not accept your amends or see you at all. This will often leave the offender feeling lost and unsure of what to do to “clean up their side of the street.” So what can you do if the person you hurt won’t take your apology or allow you to make amends?

First and foremost, it’s important to be clear of your responsibility in a situation and what’s not your responsibility. You can get clear on this by writing and talking it through with a friend, therapist or if you are in 12 step, a sponsor.

Second, think of a way to make “indirect” amends. This could be giving money to a charity if you took money from a person or volunteering for a charity you know the person holds near and dear. You could also make a “living amends” by treating the people in your life in the way you wish you could have treated that person. Make the promise to yourself that you have made a genuine lifestyle change by putting a steak in the ground to end a destructive pattern you held up to that point.

Lastly, you can bring in mindfulness practice by forgiving yourself for the wrongs you’ve done and working toward acceptance of the situation. Forgiveness gives us the freedom to see our humanity. Shin Zinn said it best when he said, “Pain X Resistance = Suffering.” Pain is inevitable, whether we cause it or not, but when we resist it, we increase our suffering. When we accept it, our suffering is relieved. Acceptance doesn’t have to mean you have closure around the situation, it simply means that you are trying to allow the situation to be as it is.

Using these practices can can help us learn from the very situations that are put in our path to teach us.