What to Do When Someone Says "No" to Forgiveness and Reconciliation
So, you messed up. Badly. Worse than you could ever imagine you were capable of messing up. You did it. You know you did it. You know you didn’t mean to do it, or maybe you did mean to do it, at the time, but you never meant for the consequences of what you meant to do to turn out the way they did.
So you apologize. And apologize. And apologize. You beg and plead for forgiveness. You ask to do any task to prove how sorry you are. And the survivor of your offense still says: “No.” Or maybe, the survivor of your offense accepts your apologies but says “no” to you playing a role in their lives ever ever again.
Well, you’ll probably cycle through the 5 stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance–not necessarily in that order. And every stage will hurt you. But here’s the thing: you don’t own the person you hurt. They don’t have to forgive you or listen to you or reconcile with you because it’s what you want. They get to choose how they deal with how you’ve hurt them. Those are the rules of human decency.
Does that make your grief over what you did any less valid or raw or real? Of course not! But your grief is no one else’s problem but yours. The one you’ve hurt does not need to be hurt again as you explode through your own grief and violate their boundaries when they’ve said “No,” to you through words or actions. Because you’re a good person–a decent person, at least–you want to respect their choices and their humanity. You don’t want to keep hurting them with your inability to deal. So here’s how to deal when someone you love says “no” to forgiveness or reconciliation.
1) Swallow Your pride.
You may think that reaching out to someone who has said “no” to you is you swallowing your pride. You’re groveling, after all. Where’s the pride in that? All over the place. And it’s gross. Continuing to reach out is just your ego wanting to be heard and understood and forgiven. That is you trying to get someone else to give you what you want, at any cost: Make me feel important! Make me whole! Make this hurt I’m feeling go away! That is not their job, ever. It’s yours. Swallowing your pride means putting your desire for forgiveness and reconciliation to the side and centering the feelings of the person you’ve hurt and their desire to have a life that doesn’t include you in it. You MUST respect that. Swallow your pride = Leave the ones you’ve hurt alone forever!
2) Find a SAFE place to write!
Get a journal, preferably a print journal, to keep you away from electronics like your laptop and your cellphone. Because when you hit the anger and bargaining and depression stages of your grief, you’re going to want to text. And you’re going to want to email. And you’re going to want to WhatsApp because WhatsApp has a timestamp and you can tell if the person saw your message or not. And then you’ll want to Facebook or subtweet. JUST SAY “NO” TO ALL OF THOSE THINGS. Back away, quickly!
Get a pen and paper, write down any further apologies, any further guilt you have about what you’ve done and you can even write it like you’re writing to the person you’ve hurt–but write it for yourself. Because you need to heal too. Making a bad choice or series of bad choices that harm other people also harms you, if you have a heart and a conscience, and you get to heal from the hurt you’ve caused, separate from the survivor’s decision not to forgive or reconcile with you. Get it all out on the page–your own page.
If you mess up and reach out to them after they’ve said no, STOP MESSING UP. Don’t go back and tell them that you’ve seen the error of your ways and won’t bother them anymore, just don’t bother them anymore. A SAFE place to process your emotions is with your own self or close friend or preferably, a therapist, if you can afford one.
3) Understand the root cause of why you did what you did.
Most actions taken or words said in anger don’t end up well for anyone, including you. Under anger there is always another emotion, whether it’s fear/insecurity/ or hurt pride. A friend or, preferably a therapist, can help you figure out what the root cause of your behavior was. Even your own writing in journal can help you see why you did what you were doing. Understand that the lies you may have heard growing up or throughout your life, that you’re not good enough, not lovable, not worthy, not enough, may have led to your actions because you believed those lies. For example: Was your behavior a cry for attention/help/love? Understand why you felt so insignificant that you acted the way you did, hoping for someone to tell you that you matter and are loved. Did your fear of your loved one abandoning you lead you to abandon them first? Understand where your fear of abandonment came from. Did your insecurity with who you are lead you to sabotage something for a loved one? Understand how you became insecure with who you are. Perhaps you had uncommunicated expectations of your loved one that they failed to meet and it caused you to explode, or worse, give them the abusive silent treatment to punish them for their failure to comply. All of these behaviors are abusive and unhealthy. Understand why you have trouble communicating your emotions and filter out all of those negative practices by reaffirming yourself. (see #4 and #5)
4) FORGIVE YOURSELF
Accept that you can’t go back and undo the harm. Accept that you can’t fix your reputation with the person you’ve harmed. That is their experience with you and like everything you do and say, once it’s out in the world, impacting others, it no longer belongs to you. So let it go. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Right now, imagine being enveloped in the warmth of love–not from the person you hurt, but Love Itself. Imagine that the very essence of God is holding close and whispering in your ear, You deserve love no matter who you are or what you’ve done. You deserve friendship. You are and were and forever will be a worthwhile human being. Accept who you are and how far you’ve come. Give yourself grace in the areas where you’ve made mistakes. Give yourself enough love to start again, every day. Forgiveness is self-love! Become the source of what you deserve–don’t let what you need exist outside of yourself. You need forgiveness? Forgive yourself! You need reconciliation? Reconcile with your self, the best and worst parts of you. Learn to love every drop of you.
5) Learn healthier ways to process your emotions.
Start to see mistakes as opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Instead of sweeping things that are bothering you under the rug, tell your truth often, so that it won’t build up inside of you and explode onto someone else. Have reasonable expectations of your loved ones and communicate them clearly and often and make sure that your loved one agrees to the expectations before you hold your loved one to it. When your feelings or pride has been hurt by a loved one, communicate that hurt instead of lashing out about something unrelated. The key here is HEALTHY communication with others. Healthy communication is productive and leads to better understanding, compromises or at least parting ways on friendly terms.
Also begin to communicate in a healthy way with yourself. Replace the lies you’ve believed about yourself with these inherent truths that don’t change based on what you’ve said or done: I am worthy; I am loving; I am kind; I am giving; I matter; I am enough. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself these truths everyday. They will be true forever.
6) When you know better, do better!
That person’s negative experience with you does not have to be everyone’s experience with you. Now that you know why you did what you did, you can work on yourself in that area so that you don’t do it to others. And if you do? Forgive yourself again, but quicker this time.
And take heart: Now that you’ve made a huge mistake, you just may be filled with more compassion for others who make mistakes. Let your mistakes make you a less judgmental, less exclusionary and less harmful person to others. Reexamine the times in your life when people wanted your forgiveness and reconciliation and you weren’t able to or interested in giving it to them. If you’re in a place now where you can forgive and reconcile with people who harmed you, reach out to them. That may help heal the current loss you’re experiencing or at least help you to forgive yourself.
People will always come and go from your life, but never let the actions of others become an indicator of your worth as a human being. Hold the key to your own wholeness inside yourself and yourself alone. Be your own cake. Let the rest of the world be the icing. And oh, how sweet the big wide world is. New people and experiences are closer than ever before, thanks to the internet. Go exploring. Find new people to love and new ways to experience and show love. Begin to see love in all you say and do. Fill yourself up with so much love that it radiates off of you and onto the people you interact with.
I promise, love will bounce right back onto you.