My daughter and I visited a local sandwich shop the other day and everywhere we looked, there was something interesting or entertaining to look at or read. They had “did you know” trivia posters, intriguing anagrams, upside down cryptographic pieces, comical posters, creative gender indicators on the restrooms, charts of important financial tips from Warren Buffet, and even the most important “warning” signs were amusing. What caught my eye that day was a sign that read, “3 Steps to Apologies.”
That last one was awesome, but more about that in a moment…
First, what is accountability??? In the simplest of definitions when you break it down, it is the ability to share an accounting of the facts. In today’s world, being accountable, forgiving, and loving have gotten all sorts of twisted and broken because they have been warped by the energy of striving and needing to not be “bad.” People are incredibly reluctant to be accountable and many are unwilling to apologize. In this energy, relationships are crashing all around us and people are pointing fingers outward in defense of, “But! It’s not my fault!!!” Being accountable is a practice of being fully present.
I recently experienced a situation with a loved one that crushed my heart. It left me frustrated and floundering, as I attempted to express myself consciously and coherently, trying to convey to him my experience of his actions. We had many discussions where he kept approaching me, trying to get me to understand his point of view, without realizing that I did understand it. I was hearing his complaints and his frustrations, but he wasn’t willing to be accountable for his part of the breakdown. He was, and still is, unwilling to make an accounting of the hurt he dealt me, brushing it off with vague statements like, “Everyone is wrong in this situation,” and “no one is willing to make a bridge.” He continues to deflect his part in it, pointing outward, and missing the point all together: I do want to build a bridge and heal the relationship, but I cannot because he is not present to do so.
With every situation you encounter, if you are unwilling to look at your own part in it, you add to the tension on the planet and you destroy your relationship connection. Every time you refuse to hear how your words and actions have hurt another, every time you are unwilling to be accountable for your part, every time you point your finger at “everyone else” in the situation, you are compounding the problem in the world.
If someone is saying to you, “You’re not hearing me!” Take a deep breath, stop everything, and hear them. Then be accountable for your external words and actions. Also, take into account your internal thoughts and emotions, and get clear with that person. Without exception, get clear, especially if this is a relationship you want to hold onto. Often, getting clear means you need to apologize.
So… what does that mean? An apology, according to dictionary.com is: a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another. It does not mean you’re a “sorry person” or somehow less than everyone else when you apologize. It means you are recognizing that you have caused another pain. It means you’ve been human and are being accountable for that.
Maybe you don’t know how to apologize or maybe you think you’ve apologized, but the other person is saying you haven’t. Have you missed a step, maybe?
Back to the sandwich shop sign…
The first step to apologizing is… are you ready? BE ACCOUNTABLE! This means noticing that you’ve hurt another. This means that you’re hearing them when they say, “You hurt me.” This means you recognize that your words and actions caused someone pain. If you did it on accident, didn’t “mean to” hurt them, or were completely unaware that you had done or said something that could hurt, then listen to them when they say they are hurting. And, perhaps they don’t say it out loud, but I’m willing to bet that you can tell when your loved one is bothered by something. Listen to their actions too.
Being accountable means you actually say the words and give an accounting of the facts. If you don’t know what has happened, open the dialogue, “I notice that you seem to be hurting and I think I may have said or done something to cause that pain. Can you share with me what it was?” If they’ve brought it to your attention, you can say, “I’m hearing that you are hurting because I _________.” Fill in the blank with what it was. Or say something like, “I understand I hurt you when I _______.” Actually speaking that you are aware of your own words and actions is the first step to bridging the gap between wounding and healing.
Secondly, EXPRESS REMORSE. For this stage to be effective, you actually have to feel the remorse you’re expressing. Hollow or fake remorse will add to the pain you’ve inflicted. The old adage, “Put yourself in the other’s shoes,” has good application here. If you cannot relate to their pain, put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it would feel like to be them. Imagine what you would experience if someone had done or said the same to you. If you still can’t relate because it wouldn’t affect you the same way, tap into the pain they are experiencing. Look closely at their face. Look deep into their eyes. The pain is there for you to witness, if you’re willing to look.
Expressing remorse means, again, that you actually say the words. When you share with another the pain you feel because you’ve hurt them, then the sensation becomes a shared experience. This step brings awareness to the situation for both parties and creates a common ground to heal from. Saying something like, “I feel sad that I have caused you pain. I apologize,” or, “I apologize for hurting you and feel sad that I did,” or “I feel hurt knowing that my words/actions hurt you. I apologize.”
Thirdly, MAKE AMENDS. Making amends means to request ways to heal the hurt. Again, say the words. Actually ask things like, “How can I make this right?” or “Is there something I can do to turn things around?” or “What needs to happen to support you in healing?” Being willing to listen to their needs and then do your best to meet that request completes the bridge between the wound and the healing.
I will add a fourth step to this list: PATIENCE, ACCOUNTABILITY, and FORGIVENESS. Yes. Accountability is showing up again here. After you’ve gone through the above three steps, there may be a period of time when the person you’ve hurt needs space to lick their wounds and to heal in their own way. They may withdraw. They may need to be quiet. They may push you away.
This can be part of the process of healing. Your part in this is to step back, breathe, and allow them to do what they need to do. It’s also time for you to get into your own lane and be in your own experience. Pay attention to your own words, actions, thoughts, and emotions in this time. Be with you. Practice patience. And, most importantly, forgive yourself.
And be aware that… sometimes a trip to the sandwich shop is so much more than just a trip to the sandwich shop.
© Angie K. Millgate
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