Making Amends Probably Won’t Go the Way You Expect

Making amends is an important step. It shows the people you’ve hurt that you regret hurting them. More than an apology, it shows you are willing to make some sort of effort or sacrifice to put things right. It’s also a way to move past guilt and shame. Instead of beating yourself up for all the terrible things you’ve done, you actually try to make it better. Those feelings of guilt and shame can no longer fester. As important as making amends is, it can be hard and often it will not go like you expect it to.

When you decide to make amends to someone, you probably play it through in your head. You might even obsess over it. How will you start? What will you say? What will she say? This kind of mental rehearsal has its place; you don’t want to show up having no idea what you want to say. However, it easily becomes repetitive. Instead of imagining all the different ways it could go, you actually just imagine how you want it to go. As a result, you are likely to be caught off guard by whatever actually happens.

The main problem is that you can’t really predict how another person’s thinking will evolve. If you’re making amends, it’s likely that most of these people will have been avoiding you for a while. You may not have had any contact in years. You probably have an image of that person as she was when you were last acquainted, but that doesn’t mean much. Just as you have been changing and evolving, so have others and there’s no way to anticipate the direction of that evolution. The other person may have forgiven you already, she may have stoked her resentment, or she may have forgotten about you completely.

There’s no way to anticipate how the other person will react, which is what makes it scary. Most of the time, these discussions are awkward and a bit tense. Sometimes the person will refuse to see you. It might be possible to find an acceptable compromise, like talking over the phone or by text or chat. All you can really do is make a good faith effort. If someone wants nothing to do with you, even to let you apologize, you can’t force someone to accept your restitution.

There’s also no guarantee how you will feel afterwards. People often expect to feel relieved. In reality, even when things go well, you might still feel like you’re in limbo. Someone you’ve hurt–possibly many times–is not going to suddenly trust you and you are not suddenly going to forget about the harm you caused. It’s not like changing a lightbulb. It’s a positive step and you just have to be content that you’re doing what you can. If you keep that up long enough, things will eventually get better for you.

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