Saying Sorry Doesn’t Automatically Cancel the DamageBy
Last week I published a guest Post by Pam about Self Abuse and how sometimes we “learn to be self abusive” by the ways we are treated as children. I enjoyed the conversations that went on in the comment discussions. I’m adding to another highlight to the conversation about self harm today.
Something that I was really confused about, both in the past and during my process of emotional healing was that I mistakenly thought if someone was truly sorry for their behaviour I believed it should cancel the DAMAGE done by their behaviour. I thought that I should be OVER it as soon as someone expressed regret for their behaviour. I felt guilty and ashamed that I still felt the effects of the damage that was caused to me. I am not talking about an isolated one time minor incident such as my mother losing her temper and calling me a brat. I am talking about being devalued, criticised, discounted, picked on, neglected and or abused over time.
I am familiar with both sides of this coin. My mother never said she was sorry for any of the damage that she had a hand in over my lifetime. A few times she said “I’m sorry but…” and the BUT always had excuses tagged on to it like “I’m sorry but I never wanted to be a single mother” or “I’m sorry but you were not the easiest person to be around.” Or I’m sorry but I had a really bad day…” well, you get the picture.
When I finally drew my personal boundaries with my mother, she withdrew from my life. At first I was shocked but eventually I was able to see the whole picture of my life and dysfunctional toxic relationship with my mother, and I actually understand why she doesn’t want to have a relationship with me or even to try and work things out with me. It helped me immensely to finally understand that this is about my mother and NOT about me. Healing from the damage caused by my dysfunctional and toxic mother’s lack of interest in me had been up to me and has never depended on her apologizing.
My mother has never tried to make amends to me or in any way tried to restore our mother daughter relationship, so in healing from the damage caused to me in our dysfunctional and toxic mother daughter relationship I learned that I could heal without my mother making any amends. I don’t need the “other person” to “do” anything in order for me to recover.
My husband on the other hand, did try to work things out and get things between us resolved. The damage caused by my husband discounting me was not gone just because he realized he was doing it and began the process of learning how to have an equality based relationship with me. He wished it were that easy, and I guess that I did too, but I still had to look at and define the damage that was done to me and heal from it. HE didn’t cancel the damage he caused just by saying he was sorry for all the years of putting himself and his need/wants/dreams ahead of mine. And the fact that I was still in pain from the damage he caused, and still had healing to do didn’t mean that I didn’t accept his apology.
Because he apologized and learned to have a real relationship with me, we are still married.
Personal Recovery and emotional healing is not about the relationship with the people who did the damage though. It has been so important for me to understand and to remember this truth. Emotional Recovery is about personal healing from the damage that was caused. Emotional Recovery does not depend on someone else’s decision or reaction to what I decide to do. They might be sorry and they might not EVER be sorry, but at the end of the day, it matters not.
It isn’t that I held a grudge, which is often what he accused me of, in his attempt to get me to just “get over it”. It was the wounds that went deep. Part of it was that I had been denying that there WERE wounds most of my life, and now I was taking an honest look at them.
It isn’t wrong to still be hurt and feel hurt for a while afterwards. The fact that I was hurt was the truth. His “I’m sorry” didn’t change that. After years of being discounted; it was important for me to understand that the change in my husband was only a very small part of solution towards healing our broken relationship.
The healing work still had to be done by me regardless of what my husband or my mother or anyone else does or doesn’t do.
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