Every day, at some point in the day, I mourn the death of a close family member who is still living and breathing. A family member who has no idea how to apologize.
I remember getting a text from this person months back. The text actually hurt more than what this person did to cause their own death in my life – a death that is so unnatural, unnecessary, painful, and nonsensical – especially given how incredibly short life is and who we are in relation to each other. The text was written as if nothing was wrong. There was no acknowledgment of my pain, no mention of any kind of effect that my heart secretly hoped my absence has had, no connection, no empathy… nothing.
More recently, I received an apology from someone who not only broke my heart, but insulted my intelligence and trust on an unbelievable level.
Years ago, one of the most kind, caring, and incredible people I have ever/will ever know passed away. I never got to say goodbye and ignored the two times that she called me prior to her death. The cheap justification of shutting my instinct down had paralyzed me. I didn’t know how to apologize for the compounded shame, guilt, embarrassment, and fear that my avoidance had bred. It was unbearable. She was in her nineties – no children of her own and completely undefended, defenseless, and in need of a connection. A call from me would have brightened her day to such an extent, I can’t write about it anymore because I’m crying my eyes out.
Every day started out with a guilt cloud over my head that was slightly diminished by, “I’ll call her tomorrow.”
And then one tomorrow, I got a call from my Mom and realized that the tomorrows had run out. She was gone.
I created this blog to provide answers to every question I ever asked Google at my lowest and most lonely points. In that process, a community formed where men and women could get real proof in real-time that they are not alone in their experiences, pain, and feelings.
This blog has never and will never be a platform for how much Natasha Adamo has been wronged, heartbroken, and hurt in her relationships and life.
I want to make one thing very clear:
I have hurt people. I have lied, cheated, evaded responsibility, failed epically, held grudges, burned bridges, buried hatchets with GPS locators attached, acted immaturely, and overcompensated in the most humiliating ways. I have been incredibly selfish in my life.
And the self-hatred associated with the above did nothing but make me a sitting duck for jobs, toxic relationships, and a life that would always end up mirroring just how awful I felt about myself deep down.
I never got into drugs, but I smoked cigarettes for a period of time. This wasn’t because I really enjoyed smoking. It was because I was trying to match death. I knew that the cigarettes were contributing to a physical death that I had already experienced emotionally and spiritually within.
Though experiencing and inflicting a lot of pain, I’ve learned how to master the things that will rob you of a life if left unmastered:
how to forgive, how to apologize, how to apologize to an ex, and how to decipher an apology from the one person who promised you that they’d never give your heart a reason to have to forgive: your ex.
You’ll never learn how to apologize or be able to decipher an apology if you don’t have a firm understanding of what it means to forgive.
What I’ve learned about forgiveness and how to make it easier:
- Contradiction is the root of all misery. This sounds so cliche, but you can’t truly forgive others unless you forgive yourself.
- That holier-than-thou, momentary high that comes from riding your psychological high horse and outsourcing your forgiveness to a toxic person (without forgiving yourself), is never worth the inevitable depletion of your dignity and power. It’s what I call “quantity forgiveness,” not quality. Nothing can ever be high-quality that obliterates the very fiber of your own.
- If you find that you’re more inclined to forgive others than you are yourself, you will ALWAYS be in the midst of rejection, sabotage, drama, denial, disappointment, anger, mixed signals, and abandonment.
- Forgiveness is choosing to ACCEPT. It’s making the conscious decision to adjust your boundaries based on acceptance of who someone has unfolded to be. It’s choosing to embrace the lesson you were meant to learn from them sh*tting the emotional bed. It’s about accepting who someone is in THIS moment, NOW. It is never about allowing emotional nostalgia to rob you blind.
- With acceptance comes the ability to flush, throw away, and let GO.
- Forgive yourself by understanding that the universe will not condemn you for the bad things you did. It will reward you for the amount you learn and how far you decide to run with that newfound knowledge from your mistakes. Karma only comes back around to those who do not learn and continue to devolve.
- Understand what forgiveness doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that you condone what happened, it doesn’t mean that you believe the other person’s bullsh*t (or need to call them out on every little detail), and it doesn’t mean that the other person has changed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you now trust the other person and it definitely doesn’t mean that you need to be in any kind of contact with them.
Bottom line: Forgiveness is about two things – boundaries & respect. The result of truly forgiving is adjusted boundaries that are acted on. Show others (through your dignified actions) that you RESPECT their decision to behave the way that they did.
How to apologize to an ex (or to anyone)…
The denominator of a genuine apology is empathy. You will never know how to apologize without truly putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Mastering how to apologize is nothing more than having a genuine interest in the other person’s unique experience and feelings. Yes, remorse involves feeling bad, but it’s the ability to get out of your own narcissistic guilt and WANT to know how your actions (or lack thereof), specifically shaped the experience of and caused pain for someone that you claim to care about.
Here’s how to apologize to an ex (or to anyone you have wronged and hurt):
- Don’t make it about you. You need to assure the other person that you can take care of your own emotional state. Being able to genuinely apologize is about being selfless, not selfish.
- Understand that the pain you are experiencing as a result of what you did/didn’t do, said/didn’t say, is a CONSEQUENCE of those decisions that YOU made. This is not the other person’s burden to carry. You’ve already put enough on their emotional shoulders.
- How to apologize to an ex… apologize for what you specifically did wrong. Don’t ever say “I know what I did wrong.” TELL the person what you know so that they can feel safe, validated, and inclined to keep listening.
- Ask the other person to share their experience with you and how it made them feel. There may be more things to apologize for that you are not aware of.
- Tell the other person the steps you’ve taken to ensure that this does not happen again.
- Ask the other person what they need from you to feel assured that this will not happen again.
- Proving that you know how to apologize to an ex (or anyone for that matter) is not about needing to make excuses because of narcissistic and selfish guilt. Excuses are nothing more than putting salt in the wound that you inflicted.
- Avoid making any kind of grandiose/absolute promises, statements, or assumptions. It comes across as disingenuous and selfish.
- Communicate that you appreciate them taking the time to hear you out and that you have no expectations. You respect the decisions that they have made and will make. There is no pressure.
- Do not try to control the narrative. Your aim should be to non-gratuitously call yourself out (so the other person doesn’t have to) while being genuinely interested from their end, how your selfishness caused pain, and fractured the relationship.
The key to knowing how to apologize to an ex?
Understanding that there’s nothing to really “master” other than being kindly (never brutally), honest.
Honesty is the greatest gift you could ever give to others and yourself. It saves you from shutting off your vulnerability. It disallows agendas, dramas, and the ability to mask your truth. Honesty may be painful, disagreed with, and disliked, but it will always be respected.
Honesty is also the only one-way ticket out of relational amateur hour.
What to do with an apology from an ex
If it’s someone of the toxic species – narcissistic, emotionally unavailable and/or sociopathic, here’s is how these people will generally “apologize.”
Think of it this way –
You were the puppy. And every time the other person came into the room, you wagged your tail from so much excitement, it felt like the floor was falling through. You licked them and showed them love and affection.
Then one day, they stopped petting and kicked you. Hard.
With your tail between your legs and your head down, you walked away – licking your wounds and not understanding why you were kicked.
Time goes by and all of a sudden, they’re back at your door with treats in hand. When they go to pet you, however, you duck down. You don’t know if you’re going to get hit or pet and if you DO get apet, you don’t know what that even means. How could someone pet you who had the capacity to kick the sh*t out of you?
So, you instinctively duck down and recoil.
The proverbial puppy kicker notices that you ducked. And whether it’s out of disconnected remorse, selfish embarrassment, seeing their own reflection, or finally being face-to-face with the pain they caused and what a beautiful thing they messed up… They end up making YOU feel bad for ducking.
They go into this whole thing about how your ducking has caused them so much pain. Although they claim to understand why you have to duck, they can’t help but express how it hurts them and how there’s not a day that goes by that they don’t think about what they did.
Let’s say I hurt you and instead of apologizing, I keep telling you how much pain I’m in every day for hurting you and how not a minute goes by where I’m not regretting it. That’s great and all, but it’s actually putting the burden on you to not only look after your heart that I broke, but also be aware of my broken heart because you’re rightfully ducking every time I try to pet you.
“Apologies” like this are just going to make you feel worse. You are essentially cornered into doing the other person’s dirty work for them – itemizing what they did, how it hurt you, and then having to pull an apology out of a grown adult.
You are now reduced to being the training wheels on a bike that isn’t equipped to ride without them.
If there’s a lack of realness, honesty, maturity, refection, and acknowledgment, my best advice is to see it for what it is, prioritize your peace and fold.
Though a lot of mistakes, I’ve grown. I still mess up and I apologize, wholeheartedly. I continue to learn and grow.
Be with people who love, trust, and respect you – just the way you are. Be with people who don’t have to wake up, look in the mirror, and remind themselves to be honest or to be a good person because they just ARE.
Retain some mystery and whenever you feel the need to advertise, execute.
You got this.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.