Apologies are complicated. Some people over do it, some people under do it. We can easily toss out an “I’m sorry” to a stranger we accidentally bump into, yet find it impossible to express remorse to someone we love who we have deeply hurt. It’s unclear what we are responsible for and what we aren’t.
Why are there no manuals for this epically important relationship issue?!
Now there is. Dr. Lerner, you’ve done it again.
Why won’t you apologize? Healing big betrayals and everyday hurts demystifies apologies and provides steps and advice and it’s just amazing. I’d literally pay hundreds of dollars for this. It’s very kind of Dr. Lerner to sell this in paperback for approximately $13.
One of the main points of Dr. Lerner’s book comes up ALL the time in my work with folks.
So, do I make someone feel bad, or are their feelings their responsibility, I don’t get it?
This is one of the most confusing things in the world, and everyone and their dog has an opinion about it. No one can make you feel anything is a thing often talked about in therapyland. It comes up a lot because, in therapy, we are often working on helping people empower themselves to take responsibility for their shit (clinical term). We tend to give a lot of power to other people when we feel like they are “making” us do or feel something. For example, if our ex-partner is making us crazy, we would be not crazy if only they did something different. And, as your therapist, we don’t want you to have to wait around for some other fool to be different: we want you to be able to feel differently and do differently even if they never do anything different for the rest of your life! What freedom, right?
This just gets confusing when we are talking about reconciling pain in a relationship. If we are responsible for our reactions, then are we really owed an apology? Are we saying that it’s our own fault if we are hurt and the other person didn’t do anything wrong?
I myself have super struggled with this concept. They don’t clear up these types of things in therapist school. (Though they totally should-this would have been far more useful than understanding what a z-score is. Please don’t ask me what that is though, I wasn’t paying great attention to that one.)
So, when I came across this part in the book, I was just elated. Dr. Lerner calls this having Double Vision, and she describes it this way:
“If you are the person offering the apology, it is essential to speak the language of cause-and-effect, and to take unambiguous responsibility for the consequences of your actions, and its impact on the other person. When you are the harmed party, however, and you want the defensive person who hurt you to take responsibility for his or her behavior, you have a different challenge…sharing your reactions without holding the other person responsible for causing your feelings. There is greater clarity and self-empowerment in saying, “When I discovered what you did, I felt devastated and crazy,” rather than, “You made me feel devastated and crazy.”
Eureka! IT’S BOTH!
When we have hurt someone, we own the action and consequences. Even if we didn’t “mean” it. Even if no one else in the world would have reacted to what we did and had a problem with it. If it hurt someone we care about: we apologize for what we did and the consequence. “I’m sorry that what I posted hurt you. I understand why you are mad and feel uncomfortable around me now.”
When someone has hurt us and we are approaching them about it, we own our feelings and reactions without blaming them. We don’t make it about them doing this obviously wrong thing that makes them a terrible person for doing it. We name what our reaction was to what was said or done (or what wasn’t said or done). “I felt uncomfortable and distant when you were posting online about how people who get vaccinated are stupid.”
I found Dr. Lerner’s description of “double vision” to be so clarifying. To learn more about all things apology, I would highly recommend reading her book.