At times we need to mend a rift; perhaps one we ourselves inadvertently caused. Often, a simple yet heartfelt apology will suffice; other times it won’t, and the person is not moved to forgive. An uncomfortable feeling, indeed.
One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks:
“What if you’ve apologized genuinely and the person won’t relent, won’t forgive, stays angry and won’t acknowledge you – to the point of ignoring your attempts at email and phone calls? Then what? I can’t cut off my arm or give up an organ. Where do you go from an honest, sincere, heartfelt apology? Unless staying angry is simply where she wants to stay? Any pearls of wisdom would be really appreciated. This could cost a budding friendship and I’d hate for that to happen.”
Thank you for your note. I’m sorry you are having to experience this distressing situation. First, please know I admire the fact that you are not making excuses on your end, and are simply seeking a solution.
Of course, I don’t know enough about the situation, you, her, or the context to know exactly what to tell you. I’m always hesitant to provide a “one answer fits all” type of response for this very reason. So, please take my lack of situational knowledge into consideration.
That said, here are several thoughts:
#1 She might still be “in her anger.” The Sages tell us “not to try and appease someone while they are still ‘in their anger’.” In other words, she might still be too upset to be reasoned with. Even though I get the feeling from your note that this happened some time ago, it sounds as though she is possibly still upset and angry and is not yet ready to hear from you. Perhaps.
#2 Another suggestion is to have an intermediary whom you both trust try and intercede. If this is someone your friend respects, she may be apt to listen.
#3 Let your friend know, via any medium (telephone, voice mail, email, in-person, etc.) that you understand she is still angry and not yet ready to speak but that, when she is, you’ll be there for her.
#4 This regards what you said about her perhaps “wanting” to be angry. Understand some people are just like that. If that’s the case, you may have to emotionally detach yourself from the situation and just let her eventually come to you, if that’s what is supposed to happen.
Again, these are opinions based on very limited knowledge on my part of your unique situation. I hope, however, that they at least provide some food for thought. I’ll be interested to know the results.
Meanwhile, my friends; have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it.
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I am currently in this exact situation, and what helps is “turning it over”…and finding a belief that this is happening for a reason, something for me to learn. And most important, I learned from Don Migul Ruiz, in The 4 Agreements, if I take all this personally, then I make it all about me. It feels better to let go and forgive them for hanging on to whatever they need to!
Bob, I just experienced this. I made the attempt to apologize and they acted as if I was talking to dead air. She reacted negatively to a post on my FB page and then created her own post on another social media site. She rallied her friends to tell me what a terrible person I was for writing what I did—not even knowing what any of the circumstances were behind the post. I felt it was something she started and I reacted.
A few months later I then thought the best thing to do was apologize so I called and got the cold shoulder. I felt better for apologizing and decided it was no longer an issue on my mind. How she feels is strictly on her.
Good post, Bob. I did experience a similar instance of the young lady’s situation. One of the things that I had to do, was just believe that everything happens for a reason and I did my best to resolve the situation. I eventually moved on with no hard feelings. Although the friendship was severed, maybe it was time close that door in my life to possibly move to the next level… just a suggestion. Keep up the great discussion!
My question is on the other side of the coin:
After you forgive the person who genuinely apologized, how do you get your friendship back to the way it was when the person who asked for forgiveness acts a little distant (even though they know & agreed to get our friendship back to the way it was (or close to it)?
I’ve been in a very similar position myself, this one with a business partner. Interestingly, I never knew what made her angry. She merely dropped all communication with me, never following up my phone messages and occasional email. My response has been not to call or email too frequently- I know how annoying that can be, but to gently call very occasionally leaving a supportive message that I am sorry for the falling-out, but still would like to repair our friendship, if not the business connection. I also have some decision on how to approach the business aspect, though, as there are some details about customer connections I need to find out in order to serve their needs. I have moved on emotionally with no hard feelings, but do wonder if I should continue to pursue the information. Others have tried negotiating in my behalf, with no success.
Since there is nothing in the anonymous reader’s story that indicates gender, obviously this can happen to men as well. I had a blowup with a friend at work and he took the possibility of reconciliation to the grave with him. I suspect his early demise was a result of habitually dealing with conflict in such a manner. He was also alcoholic. You can extend the olive branch, but no one is forced to take it.
In order to get a clearer picture of this, I had written a post on my FB page about cleaning house to rid my page of people who weren’t engaging with me. I am an engager and I love stimulating conversations whether you agree with me or not.
This woman, in turn, wrote her own post about how dare I tell people they have to communicate with me on my own FB page and that it wasn’t about me and I didn’t have the attitude of a go-giver. (She is obviously one of your followers) 🙂
That’s the back story.
Again, my son is the object of many of my lifes lessons. All during our journey, as something would happen requiring an apology, He would say, “I’m sorry” to which I would respond, that is not good enough! I don’t want it to sound like I was bitter or mean, but I thought the words were said because that is what he thought I wanted to hear.
Then…I read, The Five Languages of Apology, by Gary Chapman & Dr. Jennifer Thomas. I realized my son never talked my “apology” language. Crazy, but I discovered when I apologized to someone, & the book verifies this, I would use at least 2-3 of the 5. This is because, they were my language.
Of course, I also realized after reading it…..some people are fine with one.
Knowing the five (5) enlightened me greatly & helped me discuss with my son why, “I’m sorry”, never worked. Here they are: (1.) Expressing regret – “I am sorry.” (2.) Accepting responsibility – “I was wrong.” (3.) Making restitution – “What can I do to make it right?” (4.) Genuinely repenting – “I’ll try not to do that again.” & (5.) Requesting forgiveness “Will you please forgive me?”
Reading may be fundamental, but it is vital to relationships in every level. I am grateful for reading this book!
I appreciate you discussing this important skill!
A note to thank you all for your comments. It’s actually a bit sad that so many can relate to this post today. I wish it weren’t the case and that most people had no idea what I was talking about. But, it is part of the world and part of being human. People act out of their own world models (belief systems) and some simply don’t want to forgive. They obtain a bigger payoff by not doing so, whatever the “payoff” is to them.
Chris: Don Miguel Ruiz’ teaching comes in very handy in this situation.
Beverly: Very true. After a while you must detach. On another note, I saw your second letter and how she apparently accused you of not being a “Go-Giver.” All I can say (and, of course, I don’t know her or the situation, so please take this totally at face value) is that just because someone uses that term doesn’t mean they either read the book or, if they did, that they understand it. And, if they did understand the term itself, they would not use it to accuse someone of not doing according to “their” will. I am sorry that happened though.
Chi Chi: Thank you. Good thoughts, as always, my friend.
Jodi: While this is a different issue (and maybe a good blog post topic in and of itself), my quick answer (again, based on the very limited knowledge of the situation I have) is that this is where communication comes in, and being able (using an “I Message”) to ask questions that help her define her current feelings. If something is unresolved, then for the relationship to get back to where it once was or can be, it must be communicated by them and resolved by both of you. I hope this helps. If I’ve missed the basic point, please feel free to write back and let me know.
Continuing my responses… 🙂
Robin: (Again, with just the limited info I have) it sounds as though you’ve done everything you can and she has made a decision. Unfortunately, because she never communicated a reason to you, there’s no real way for you to be able to handle it. And, “who knows” why she went that route. With that in mind, it sounds as though you’ve been able to detach yourself, which is great, yet still have an issue in terms of practically in regard to customer information and service. In this case, you need to decide just how important it is (sounds like it is) and how/what you will do to obtain that information. You may need to consult legal advice or, again, if it’s someone you both know and trust who can mediate, that seems like an even better and more productive alternative.
Greg: You are correct; there is nothing gender-specific about this. And it does appear as though he carried a lot of emotional hatred within him, which is a shame.
Geneva: Thank you for sharing that enlightening information. As you know, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages” but have never read the one on apology by he and Dr. Thomas. Excellent. Makes great sense!
What a great discussion.
I spent 25+ years I working in the addiction recovery field. It was an amazing journey during which I gained much more than I was ever able to give to anyone. I tell you this because of the wisdom that this community shared about making amends. The ‘elders’ differentiated between running around “I’m sorry-ing” and “amends.” To amend as in to change….
Over and over I heard “the apology is for YOU — to keep your side of the street clean. The other person is under no obligation to accept it.” People were encouraged to take a hard look at the “injury” they had caused…. and accept that sometimes when we hurt another there’s no “control z” to undo it. And that they might be justified in not wanting to take a chance on us hurting them again.
Sometimes the change that is needed is to apologize and move on.
Geneva, thank you for elaborating on the apology languages. The 5 Love Languages were a godsend a few years ago, so it’s great to know such a book even exists for apologies.
I was just in an interaction where it was necessary for me to apologize. I may have used one or two of the apology languages, and yet did not know why my apology didnt seem to be”landing” well. Now I have a better understanding and more options for the inevitable, although not awaited “next time”.
Thanks for such a deep, thoughtful and well-considered post, Bob
Andrea, thank you for sharing!
Heather, so glad you found the wisdom Geneva shared to be so helpful. Let us know what you think of the book after you go through it. Will be interesting to know your thoughts on it.
Bob, I’m in a situation right now where I’m being unforgiven. It is very hurtful and grieves my heart, especially it being my parents. I’ve never been able to voice how I feel in any situation with them. They simply won’t allow it. Recently my father said something about the company I’m involved with that was simply not true. When I tried to respectfully share the truth, he got very angry and loud and said how dare I not agree with him. For 49 yrs, I’ve had to agree with everything they say. I have to admit, it frustrated me. This time I tried to stand up for what I believe in, but all he saw was me disrespecting him. Although I felt it was important to finally speak how I felt, I have called and left voice mails, emails, and texts apologizing. They are simply ignoring me. I know in my heart I’ve done the right thing. I’ve prayed and asked forgiveness for anything I’ve done to grieve the Lord in this situation. I think at this point, showing them how I can succeed in this business, is what they need to see. Considering they think I’m a failure. The messages they’ve filled my head with, I know are simply not true! Thank you for any words of wisdom you can share. Erin
Erin, I’m so very sorry you are going through this. In reading through your letter, I get the feeling that the lack of forgiveness is one part of an entire relationship dynamic which is beyond the scope of this publication but that is very important for you to get help with. I would like to suggest (if I’m not being too presumptuous and, if I am, please forgive me) that you retain the services of a professional counselor who can guide you and help you work through some of these feelings. When you wonder about what you might have done to “grieve the Lord in this situation” I must tell you that I don’t believe that necessarily has anything to do with this. I’m hoping you will take my suggestion to get counseling. You owe it to yourself to be able to work through this and to see yourself as the winner you are. Please keep in touch and update us.
Excellent article. Often we can work through forgiveness issues with a more clear understanding of what forgiveness is really for. Read: “Forgiveness. . . What’s it For?” at: http://www.celebratelove.com/forgive.htm
Celebrate Love! – Larry James, Professional Speaker, Author, Relationship Coach
Thank you, Larry. Great wisdom, as always!