Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Futility of Expecting and Demanding Apologies in Unyielding Interpersonal Situations

Are you someone who frequently finds themselves getting caught up in the idea that someone “owes” you an apology? Do you find yourself obsessing about this to the point where you feel angry and resentful? Do you even find yourself berating the person you view as the “offender” and demanding the perfect apology? If so, then um, WHOA. HOLD YOUR HORSES! Read on to learn why this pattern of relating to others is not only misguided, but also self-defeating behavior, largely speaking.

It’s likely that if you are angrily dwelling on the importance of receiving an apology from someone, you are viewing yourself as a victim and the other party as the victimizer (these cognitions may be fairly unconscious). While this may or may not be true, first understand that if the offending person has not already apologized to you, they do not believe/are not aware that they have anything to apologize about (yet). This could be the case for a variety of reasons, but the point is: they do not share your perspective.

If you harangue a person for an apology who does not legitimately agree that they owe you a “sorry”, any one of a few things might happen: the person may be so taken off guard by fear based shame that they apologize on command; the person may deny that they have anything to apologize for, and simply refuse to oblige or the person may feign an apology to humor you. In the latter situation, you may experience the apology as lacking authenticity and fall into the trap of refusing to accept it because it’s not perfect in your eyes (a slippery slope, indeed!). If you decide that you are okay with the shame based and otherwise false apologies, a precarious dynamic between you and the person is likely to (re)emerge because of the lack of emotional integrity existing within the relationship. Problematic behavior is unlikely to change if any acknowledgement of such is insincere, or elicited from fear based shame. It’s quite clear to see that ultimately you are not going to “win” in any of these scenarios, so why not do yourself a favor and stop playing this game?

Although we have relative control surrounding our own thoughts, communications, behaviors and choices — we can’t control the thoughts and actions of others, and it is an illusion (or abusive, as I will get to later) to move through the world as though we can.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel aggrieved by something someone has said or done, so much so that you doggedly believe you absolutely require an apology, start by reminding yourself to step back from the situation. You can step back by taking several deep, long breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Next, mindfully check in with yourself about what you might be feeling on a deeper level (perhaps powerless, fearful, wounded and/or unvalued resonates?) and ask yourself how you can locate your internal resources to assist you to process these feelings. At this point you will probably have figured out the futility in demanding an apology. Rather, you may realize that the best thing you can do in this type of situation is to communicate your observation of the problem; set your boundaries around the upsetting behavior and maintain a distance from the person/situation if the behavior continues.

If you are choosing to remain engaged in continually triggering relationships, or are constantly feeling sorry for yourself regarding the bad things that others have done to you, you might want to ask yourself what you are unconsciously gaining (and losing) from maintaining a “victim” role. You should also note that constantly harassing others for apologies can actually be experienced as abusive, especially if the person is genuinely confused about your stance; if you are shaming the person and if this person holds social group status which pushes their power down in relation to you. Therefore, while you may feel like an entitled victim, you can quite easily actually slide into victimizer status in these types of situations!

At the end of the day: while an authentic apology can be one of the most profound and beautiful things the giver and the receiver can experience…

…a forced apology means absolutely nothing. Some exceptions to the above one- on-one interpersonal “rules” include legal situations involving systemic social injustice, in which apologies around systemic medical malpractice are mandated (for example) as a component of demonstrating accountability and parents or teachers who impose apology requirements onto young children in conjunction with efforts to impart skills in social decorum and empathy.

On a final note, consider that most people who are genuinely sad, disappointed and hurt by the behavior of others, although they may pursue accountability in certain circumstances, do not aggressively and persistently demand a “sorry” from someone they truly experience as oppressive. They move on emotionally from the situation, knowing that if, and when the other party gains the awareness to see the error of their ways ~time can be an amazing insight balancer~ that person will initiate an apology…but they don’t hold their breath. So…set your boundaries; move on when necessary, let the chips fall where they may, and don’t hold your breath for an apology from anyone, rather: breathe deeply, mindfully and lovingly with much respect for yourself.

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