Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1025 – Day 1047)
Recently, I was talking to one of my sisters and we came to the conclusion that my mother was an introvert. She was adventurous but at times of stress she would withdraw and want to be alone. She did not have an easy childhood and she managed to rise above circumstances that would have broken a lesser woman. Like all of us, she adapted and adopted coping mechanisms, but these approaches had consequences, for herself and others, in her adult life.
As a child, I found my mother’s withdrawals distressing. Until she came out of her shell again – which could be hours, or days or weeks – she was unavailable for love and affection. Sure, I was fed, and I had a nice bed and toys, but if Mum was upset, she was gone. And so I learned to be hyper-vigilant to her needs and to walk on eggshells to prevent and mitigate the silent treatment that would ensue from her withdrawal. If I had done something naughty, I apologized and pleaded for forgiveness. If someone else had upset her, I would play the clown and try to make her laugh. I would do anything to prevent being left in the emotional desert of the silent treatment as she withdrew to mend herself.
I would even sometimes apologize for things that weren’t even mine to own. As a child, I believed I had the power to stop her withdrawals. And when she did withdraw, despite my best apologies, I believed it was because I was bad. So when over apologizing didn’t work, I was left alone and ashamed.
As part of becoming an adult, I learned to accept personal responsibility for my actions and own my part in a conflict. There is a real power in apology, that allowed me to build my self-esteem, to mitigate self reproach, and to maintain my friendships, even when I had hurt someone. It was uncomfortable to admit wrongdoing and to change my behavior to make amends, but it was far less uncomfortable than failing to take responsibility and repressing that responsibility under layers of shame.
The right apology at the right time can alleviate anxiety. Too much apology, just like too little, can cause harm to both parties in a conflict.
I don’t like conflict any more than anyone else. Some people avoid conflict through passive aggression. I don’t usually avoid conflict but when I’m worn down and have had enough, I revert to early learned behavior and I pull out the old sackcloth and ashes and cry “mea culpa” whether I am to blame or not. For me, apology has become unconsciously linked, in childhood, to a panic reaction to the threat of abandonment.
I was with P- for many years. I learned a lot about what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship, thanks to my experiences with him. When I was with P-. I remember being worn down by our long distance relationship and I remember noting that I had become the one to apologize whenever we had a disagreement. I apologized even when he was the one in the wrong, just to get past the conflict, withdrawal and threat of abandonment.
You can imagine how that worked out.
Nobody is born with the knowledge of how to relate to others. We are socialized to it, and some of us have more empathy and compassion than others. We all have our baggage that keeps us from being vulnerable. Apology makes us vulnerable. But I learned to wait and P- learned the value to us both of an effective apology. We built trust that if we were in conflict, we would both feel remorse, because we loved one another and hurting one another was not in our definition of ‘love’. We came to trust that each of us would take responsibility, demonstrate empathy, be specific and offer a reason (without excusing oneself) for the transgression, we would seek to make restitution and change our behavior for the future. And based on these actions, we would seek forgiveness.
In the end, we knew how to argue, how to make up and how to forgive. And for this reason, we are still friends, today.
When I don’t get the space and time to process what is happening in a relationship, I can become reactive. Everything with the young man happened so quickly and with such an intensity, I felt like I was drowning. In the beginning, we were able to have non-violent communication. In the end, it was an inferno and I felt beaten up when it was over. It is the horrible end scene of that chapter of my life that has left me in a fog for 3 months and from which I have struggled to recover.
In the course of trying to move on with my life, I have returned to doing the things that I love: writing, attending plays, painting, walking and hiking, travelling and going to art galleries. And in the course of doing some of this, I ran into the young man this past weekend. I had only just learned that he had chosen to move very close to where I live. That was a shock, but seeing him right in front of me, in a big city, in a big state, was even more of a shock.
He didn’t see me, but I saw him. I was shaken and upset. I felt traumatized.
I have thought a lot about this response on my part and what it tells me. I come back to the idea of the apology. It is an apology for wrongdoing that lets someone drop the feeling that the one who has perpetrated a wrong is still a threat.
We all have ways of coping with threats. In the first weeks following the inferno, I reverted to childhood coping and I took all the blame on myself. I even wrote a post here taking all the blame upon myself. It was an old response, tinged with shame and a reaction to the threat of abandonment. It was not true. I have taken the post down. My childhood response to the threat no longer serves me, but the adult salve of an effective apology has eluded me as well.
Some things are learned only by experience. Had we slowed down, had either of us taken the space we both knew we needed, I would have been able to see where I was getting what I needed and where I was not getting my needs met. I would have been able to determine how to get my own needs met in an assertive rather than a reactive way. We both reacted to one another because it all happened too fast.
I have apologized, I have taken specific responsibility for my wrongdoings and I have explained what happened. I have sought to make restitution for the harm done and changes to prevent future harm. I felt and expressed remorse for hurting him and I asked for his forgiveness.
He has offered his apologies for hurting me. However, he used my own words from the sack-cloth and ashes post and the tone came across as one of blame. It was not specific, so it lacked a sense of personal responsibility. Regardless of his meaning, he said it didn’t matter to him if I forgave him, and in order for either party to reap the benefits of an apology, forgiveness must be sought.
If asked, I suspect that the young man would misunderstand my hurt as being a result of his romantic rejection. He would not understand that while rejection is painful, it was specific behaviours leading up to, during and after the inferno that feel reckless and indifferent to my wellbeing.
I choose to believe that he had good intentions, but his words lacked authenticity because they lacked those essential elements of an effective apology.
If we accept the research findings on the power that an apology carries, the young man has received the acknowledgement that can aid him in his healing, he has been offered what is needed to no longer perceive me as a threat and to move past his anger and get on with his life.
As I sat in my car, in a panic, I realized that by not receiving a meaningful apology, I have not been given assurance that he would not do the same thing again. I may have processed the feelings but the body remembers and it has an automatic warning system. My amygdala still perceives him as a threat. I remain stuck in the trauma that has passed.
While it is never too late for the salve of a meaningful apology, I must now heal this triggered trauma for myself – whether he decides to authentically process, with me, what has happened between us, or not.
Perhaps by taking all the blame on myself, I have blocked the very thing that I needed.
He may have benefitted if I held off on apologizing. By taking the blame for things that were not mine to own, I offered him an opportunity to minimize his personal responsibility for hurting someone he cared for, and that deprived him of the opportunity for the personal growth and self-esteem that comes from owning our specific behaviours and making amends for them.
Had I not been so quick to rush to apology and acceptance of all the blame, what might have been the outcome?
For me, there may be some power in Not Apologizing.
I am grateful for the insight that seeing him has given me. I am grateful that I was not alone and that ALT was with me that day. I hardly know ALT but it feels profoundly true that I had with me the right person to help me take the first step on my transformation journey from that event. I’m also grateful for the articles that have appeared in my news feed in the weeks leading up to this event that got me thinking about the power of apology and that I had started to process these ideas weeks ago, in my previous post. They prepared me mentally to feel the emotions I experienced so strongly on the weekend. Painful as it has been, I am also grateful for the lesson that I no longer need to rush in. We all have a choice to either take or avoid responsibility and the opportunity presents itself in painful moments. I am awakening from a fog that has lasted more than 3 months and I am beginning to see clearly what was mine and what was not. And sometimes the best service we can do for ourselves and others is to act accordingly, on that knowledge.
I don’t believe anyone should be emotionally withholding in a relationship and I would not advocate holding off on apologies as a power-play, but where there is a strong chance that the other party to a conflict will not be able or willing to offer a meaningful apology and behavioral change, then I believe there may be power in holding off on apology. When we are injured and we apologize for our part, but the other party doesn’t, we give away our power to the very person who traumatized us. It is therefore a good lesson to learn: meet energy with like energy.
I’ve written 3 posts now that address maladaptive coping patterns I learned in my childhood. It is no surprise. Our childhood issues will always resurface when we make ourselves vulnerable in a relationship. I feel empathy for and Oneness with that little girl. This painful chapter in my life has created the space for me to recognize my own needs . Feeling such compassion for my younger self has compelled me to provide her a sense security that I will pay attention to and meet our needs, so that we can be free to play and express the fullness of being, secure that I will never again abandon myself in this way.
Sometimes people cut us deeply and we don’t get the apology we wanted. We may feel broken as a result, but even in the most difficult of circumstances, it is possible to find the meaning in the pain. That meaning we can make of it is extremely personal and is not dependent on the behavior of anyone else. In gratitude practice, we need not be grateful for undeserved harshness but our purpose, if we choose to live an authentic life, is to meet what comes and choose our response. I am sorry for the harm I caused the young man with my actions and my words. I was reactive. I have offered an effective, meaningful and authentic apology and amends. That was the right thing to do; More than that, was not.
I acted in the interests of repairing the relationship but I should never have taken all the blame onto myself; It, too was reactive. We can not and should not do anyone else’s work. It doesn’t prevent abandonment. In fact, in the process, we abandon ourselves.
And so, I’m sorry I was #NOTsorry.
I blamed myself. And then I blamed myself for blaming myself. I am ready to let go of all that blame and forgive myself for picking it up in the first place. It does not belong to me. While there is no joy in processing the outcomes of that action, self-forgiveness is a relief. It is time to remove the sackcloth and ashes, and move on.
For what are you most grateful, this week?