Have you ever had someone who was close to you, do something to hurt you that you felt was a very obvious infraction, but this individual would neither acknowledge, nor apologize, for what happened? I’m betting you have, and, if you’re like me, this can make you feel like you’re going crazy, “Am I being ridiculous?!” Of course, being someone who got bullied a lot growing up, I took lots of verbal abuse. My response to that was to pull back from forming any relationships beyond school. Once the school day was over I didn’t really care to see anyone from that environment. In my isolation I would say things like, “Real friends would never say those kind of things to me!” Or, “When I find true friends I will never do these types of hurtful things to them!” Looking back, these statements are obviously from a young mind. How could I know what real friends would do if I never had any? One of the greatest values of close relationships with people is that the interaction provides us an opportunity to see the inconsistencies in our own behavior. As a kid, not having those interactions left me creating false narratives around how one should act towards others. If you feel like you are the victim all the time then you start to develop a huge sense of self-righteousness. Somewhere in my childhood I developed the expectation that, as mature adults, people acknowledge and apologize for their obvious wrong doing. I believe this came from the fact that I never received one apology from a peer growing up for the harsh things that were said to me. Not one. No acknowledgement. No Apology.
If you’ve seen my TEDx Talk, you know how painfully I was embarrassed by two young women (my classmates) on my first day of high school. For four years of high school, I went to school everyday and thought about that incident. There were lots of incidents like this in high school, but that one was so profound because it was on the first day. I was in classes with these young ladies and I would see them virtually every day. I had conversations with them. I didn’t dare to bring it up because I didn’t have the confidence or courage to stand up for myself and I didn’t want to risk it happening again. Neither one them ever acknowledged what happened that day. It was like it didn’t happen. I think somewhere in my mind I decided that our youth was the primary reason for the lack of acknowledgement of such things and that adulthood would be much different. Of course, that’s not correct. Hell, I’ve probably hurt people a bunch without even knowing I did anything. Our pain is always obvious to us. We’re the one in pain. The reality is, with the number of imperfections we have as human beings, it’s totally unreasonable to think that every hurt will be recognized and apologized for. To go a step further, more than likely, the most intense traumas we experience at the hands of others are probably some of the infractions that will go unacknowledged. Think about it, I wasn’t going to try to make friends with these young ladies and I’m willing to bet that they had some measure of shame around the incident themselves. As bad as it was, no one was going to bring it up. We’re a culture that struggles with being vulnerable. The most insidious things that need the most inspection, we sweep under the rug.
I started thinking about this while listening to a Podcast called ‘Where do we Begin’ by relationship therapist, Esther Perel. The podcast allows you to listen in on real couples therapy sessions. It’s fascinating. In one episode, The Addict, she’s working with a couple who is trying to repair their marriage after the husbands long-term infidelity. The man has struggled with sexual addiction and dealt with sexual abuse in childhood. The couple seems to have made the distinction that the husband loves his wife and always has, but has used extra-marital sex as a form of self-medication (my interpretation, I encourage you to listen). What is utterly amazing to me is the fact that after multiple decades of infidelity comes to light, this woman appears to be trying to make it work. She’s obviously hurting but she isn’t giving up. He has clearly acknowledged and apologized for his actions and continues to do so (which I’m sure brings about massive amounts of guilt/shame… they have kids and grand-kids who know about this now… whewww, heavy). In my opinion, him acknowledging and apologizing isn’t going to resolve her pain. So in this situation you have two things that don’t seemed to be solved by ‘I’m Sorry.’ : Intense shame/regret/guilt behind deeply wounding someone you love and intense pain/sorrow/insecurity behind being deeply wounded by someone you love.
There are many incidents that have this type of fallout throughout the human experience: Genocide, Human Trafficking, Rape, Civilian Casualties of War etc. Perpetrators and Victims of heinous acts. Both have to go on and live. The point of me bringing this up is the fact that these types of occurrences in our lives represent internal gaps. Maybe the greatest bridge to these gaps is forgiveness of self or forgiveness of others. I have struggled with this in the past and continue to struggle with it. Bitterness, anger, vilifying, and apathy are much easier in the short run, but they have a way of shackling me to a point in the past because anything that triggers memories of the incident pushes me into those emotions. Well… I allow myself to be pushed. I think its the ability to be fully empathetic towards the pain we have caused others, while also fully forgiving ourselves so as to not be defined by our actions in one moment. And the reverse, being fully empathetic towards the pain of our own experiences while forgiving others so that we may move beyond the pain of a single point or period of our lives.
I believe the question I’ve been asking myself and that I will now challenge you all to ask yourself is: Where am I expecting that an apology (from myself or from others) will fix things?
Life is complicated. Fortunately, we can Adapt and Overcome.
PS – Do you have questions/topics you would like me to write about? Do you have comments? It can be very practical like something related to working out or more intangible like this post. Email me at Travis@TravisDaigle.com . I would love to hear from you!