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By Jack Nollan - Last updated on
People can be messy creatures…
There are times when we get overwhelmed by our emotions, say things we don’t mean, or do things that we later regret.
And sometimes we are just trying to make a good choice out of all bad choices.
The messiness of humanity is something that comes into play in every genuine, healthy relationship that we have, because no one makes good choices all of the time.
That makes the ability to both give and accept an apology such important skills to develop.
And they are skills, because it does take some effort to accept an apology and work through whatever harm was caused by both parties.
The person who committed the wrong can work to fix the external harm that was done, but the internal work is something we can only do for ourselves to process the hurt and let it go.
There is a process and some considerations to accepting an apology.
No One Is Owed Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a powerful thing.
It can help lift a heavy weight off of the shoulders of the person who both committed the wrong and has been wronged.
In a healthy relationship, this should be a process of reconciliation and healing for both parties.
Unfortunately, not all relationships are healthy and there are ways in which a manipulator will weaponize an apology to excuse themselves of their guilt with zero care or consideration to the person they have wronged.
An easy way to identify this behavior is to always remember, you do not owe anyone your forgiveness.
Forgiveness is something that a person requests from someone they have wronged.
They do not demand it.
They do not bully you into giving it.
They do not try to manipulate you into giving it.
They ask for it.
A sincere request for forgiveness should be coming from a genuine place of remorse, which is usually easy to see in body language and the way the person asks for that forgiveness.
Are they treating the situation with the respect it deserves?
Do they seem like they care at all about how you feel or how their actions harmed you?
Or are they treating the situation with disinterest or trying to press you into forgiving them?
A disinterest in how a person’s actions affect you is a red flag that they may not genuinely respect or care about your well-being.
And while it is true that the world can be a callous place, you don’t want to surround yourself with people like that and call them friends and family, otherwise you just end up as their emotional punching bag.
You don’t have to forgive anyone if you don’t feel that they deserve it.
In fact, you may find that you’re not ready to extend forgiveness even with someone who is coming from a genuine place.
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Are You Ready To Accept An Apology And Forgive?
What role does accepting an apology play in a request for forgiveness?
It is for the person who was wronged to be able to communicate that their emotions are in a place where they are either resolved or do not need much further attention to resolve them.
That emotional resolution may not be a clean or simple process depending on the severity of the harmful action.
Unresolved anger, stubbornness, and pride can all affect one’s ability to give or receive an apology.
Though there are some things that the person who committed the wrong can try to fix, it doesn’t mean it will erase all of the hurt that came from those actions.
At the end of the day, no one else lives in your head and has the means to sort through these things when the time comes.
It’s not a good idea to accept an apology if you’re still holding on to anger and hurt from the action.
By the time forgiveness is offered, the emotions should be mostly managed and dealt with between both parties otherwise they will quietly fester, cause resentment, and resurface much later down the road.
And the situation is going to be much worse later when that resentment and anger finally does resurface.
An apology should only be accepted when you’ve processed the hurt to the point where you can let the anger go.
That can take some time depending on the action and severity.
A good way to examine the situation is to determine if the harm was the result of calculated maliciousness or a mistake.
It’s much easier to work through a hurt that was the result of a mistake or miscommunication, because we all have those from time to time.
But calculated maliciousness? That’s something that may not be worth forgiving or may take much longer to resolve.
What do you say if you are not ready to accept an apology and move forward? Here are a couple simple options that may be appropriate to the situation:
I don’t feel I’m in the right place emotionally to forgive you right now.
It doesn’t seem like you are genuinely sorry for what you did to me.
But if you do feel ready and able to accept an apology, try to avoid saying “that’s okay.”
What they did is not okay and it is important not to make them think it is.
Here are a couple of effective ways of telling someone you accept their apology:
I accept your apology and can see that you are truly sorry. Thank you.
Thank you. I hope we can put this behind us and pick up where we left off.
Paving The Way To Forgiveness
The person who caused the harm is likely going to need to put in some work to help facilitate forgiveness.
That work might be personal growth of their own, changing behavior to ensure that the harm doesn’t happen again, or fixing any damage that their actions might have caused.
An apology with no action behind it is essentially meaningless.
Words are the easiest thing in the world, because you can tell anyone anything for any reason at all with little effort.
Actions speak louder because they tend to require effort and sacrifice, which someone who is motivated to seek forgiveness will willingly engage in if they genuinely want to mend the harm that they caused.
The process can be smoothed by giving yourself time to assess the situation and decide if there is anything that can be done to help with your healing.
Don’t expect the other person to just know what they did was wrong.
They may not realize that their actions were hurtful.
They may not find those particular actions hurtful if the roles were reversed.
Everyone has different emotional tolerances.
What If Forgiveness Isn’t Possible?
Not every wrong can be righted nor every harm forgiven.
Sometimes an action will just be too much to attempt to forgive, even if the person asking is genuinely remorseful for their actions.
Some harms can take years of therapy and internal work to come to terms with. Things like bad breakups, a rough childhood, or abusive relationships.
There are a lot of messages out there about how forgiveness helps with the healing process.
The problem is that forgiveness isn’t really the right word for that process.
Acceptance is a better word.
And coming to terms with a situation or harmful actions of another person can be rolled into forgiveness, but it may not look as clean and neat as someone asking for forgiveness and you giving it.
You may also find that you are able to forgive the person for their transgressions, but you no longer trust them or want them in your life…
…particularly if they apologize and go right back to doing whatever wrong they were doing.
That’s okay, too.
Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the damage is erased and forgotten. Nor should it be.
People come and go in our lives. Not everyone is meant to be there forever.
Sometimes, these situations are there to help shape us, learn more about ourselves and the world.
And sometimes things are just senseless, painful, and don’t have a clean resolution. That’s just the way it goes.
But, the good news is that you can strengthen your relationships with other people by working through these kinds of hiccups and working toward a meaningful resolution.
A lot of people won’t necessarily get everything right, but it is a situation where the effort is more meaningful than the results.
The effort of processing the emotions and working together toward a resolution helps to build stronger bonds.