Here we are again at the most sentimental time of the year. Encouraged by visions of holiday celebrations with cherished family and friends, we connect in especially thoughtful ways with those we love most. If we’re at odds with anyone special, this convivial spirit prompts us let go of silly grievances and let bygones be bygones.
Angry at someone who’s done you wrong? The warmth of the season may melt your hard feelings and allow you to reach out and forgive them.
But what if you’re not in control of the situation? Maybe you want forgiveness from someone who’s upset with you — and they’re not budging. How do you earn back the regard of someone whose esteem you have lost?
These five steps will help you pave the way for pardon:
Sometimes when someone shuts you out, it’s actually a good thing. So before you proceed, be fairly positive that this other person isn’t an irrational lunatic who thrives on the thrill of fighting or watching you jump through hoops. And be certain that you desire their forgiveness not simply to restore your ego or paint a nice holiday picture, but because you really, truly value this person and are certain that your life is better with them in it.
Being the source of someone’s distress is uncomfortable, so it’s natural to want to squirm your way out of the dog house irresponsibly – just for the sake of being accepted again by the person who’s disenchanted with you. If you’re tempted to say something lame like, “I don’t’ know what I did, but whatever it is, I’m sorry,” in lieu of being accountable for your actions, don’t bother. Your backpedaling will only add insult to injury. Likewise if you want to minimize your misbehavior (“What’s the big deal? I don’t hold grudges so why must you?”) or shift blame (“You’re not perfect either you know; what about that time you hurt me?”). If you really don’t know what you did wrong or why this person seems so upset, then ask for a full explanation, listen carefully, and be unflinchingly honest with yourself as you consider your part.
If you expect the other person to consider forgiving you, then you must articulate to them that you understand how your actions caused them harm and are genuinely sorry. You might say, for example (and only if you really mean it), “I can see that I really hurt you by not following through/showing up/being faithful. I made a big mistake and I completely regret it. I realize more than ever how important you are to me and I will do my very best to never hurt you again.” And even if the other person has already explained why they’re upset with you, let them vent further if they want to. The more you genuinely listen, the more they will see that you really do take your screw-up seriously and want to fix things.
Offering an honest apology demands courage and humility, which is a lot to ask. But it’s not enough. If you want your apology to lead to reconciliation, you need to follow with a clear and appropriate intention for restitution. You might say, “I can’t reverse the stress I caused you by not paying you back when I said I would, but I can pay you back now with interest in monthly installments,” or “No amount of wishing will rewrite history. I behaved like an idiot in front of your friends, and I will start making it up to you by personally explaining myself to everyone who was there that night.” After you’ve outlined your proposal, ask for feedback and be open to suggestions for refining it.
If you’ve really disappointed someone close to you, by being majorly deceptive or unreliable perhaps, or by apologizing insincerely in the past, then it will probably take time to earn back their trust. You may feel better after you’ve apologized so genuinely and laid out your conscientious plan for improved performance, but all you’ve really done from their perspective is talk. The most crucial part of an apology, especially when you have a questionable track record with someone: proof, through consistent, persisting actions, that you really are doing everything possible to redeem yourself for the long-term.
The thing to remember as you contemplate stepping up to the apology plate is that most people love contrition. The togetherness hype of this season so potently moves us to honor our relationships because we, aside from the drama addicts among us, want to just get along.
So when you extend a self-aware, heartfelt apology, you are giving one of the very best gifts you can give. And even if the object of your apology turns you away, you will at least be able to say that you did all you could to reconcile, and you will have bettered yourself for future relationships. A fresh and liberating start to the New Year either way.