You reflected, you decided, and then when you finally got the clarity and strength to ask someone for forgiveness, their response is less than what you had hoped—either they blame you without taking any responsibility or they refuse your apology altogether.
Remember, apologizing is not for the other person. This might sound odd, but in reality, the process of getting to the point of asking for an apology, and then actually asking for it, is the purpose of apologizing. You did the work to reflect, identified what you did, and learned new skills to improve, but if the other person is not in the mindset to accept your apology, it is not your responsibility to change them. It is on you to change you.
A truly sincere apology is one that causes positive change in you, not the other person. If you don’t like how you responded to a situation, change it. Learn a new way to respond. Do something to better yourself because that is the only thing you have control of in the situation.
We cannot control others, only ourselves. Use this situation to motivate yourself to change for the better, regardless of what the other person does. If you were hoping your apology would change the other person, you are apologizing for the wrong reasons, and in certain situations that can be seen as manipulative. Apologize because you felt it was in your heart to do so, not because you wanted others to change.
It might even help adjust your perspective of the situation from a painful situation to a learning experience. Let’s say you had a breakup, and you regret how you handled things. You can’t change what happened, but you can use that situation to learn about what you need in a relationship or partner, or what you need to work on yourself before entering a new relationship.
Oftentimes, when we look back on situations that are very painful, we don’t realize that we are using information or learned lessons we know now that we didn’t know then. Maybe you were very mean with your younger sibling growing up, that you now know caused the relationship with them to suffer as an adult and you wish you had a closer relationship. You might have changed, but they aren’t ready to let you back into their life.
Now consider your situation back then. Perhaps you were left to be the parent for your sibling and your parents put all that responsibility on your young shoulders. Now remember that you were only a child. You couldn’t have known how to be a parent and were only doing what you felt was best at the time with the tools you had. Use this as a learning experience for how you will parent your children, not leaving them that pressure to be a parent to their sibling and using alternatives to physical punishment as you can now see how that can impact them as adults.
Have some faith that things might change in the future in ways we cannot see now. We cannot tell the future; we have no idea how things will be then. The other person may change their mind in the future when their circumstances change, or they are put in a situation that gives them a new viewpoint they didn’t have at the time of your apology. But regardless of if or when this might happen, you still need to do what you need to do to change or be well.
If you’re struggling with moving forward after an apology isn’t accepted, or any other challenges life may throw at you, one of our therapists can help guide you. Whether you just need a perspective of someone not connected to the situation, or help understanding behavior patterns, or learning new skill sets, a session with a JFS therapist can be just what you need. Call (407) 644-7671 or complete our online form to request an appointment today. Telehealth counseling appointments are available. Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurances accepted, and a sliding fee scale available for those who do not have insurance.
Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Director and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy.