This is an important message to those of us who have been harmed by a family member who has never apologized, felt remorse, owned up, or oriented to the reality of the harm they’ve done. Perhaps the injury occurred recently–or decades ago.
The most urgent issues—those where we feel most desperate to be heard and understood—pertain to violations of trust by people we have most relied on. Often in my work as a therapist, the harmed party wants to confront the wrong-doer, often a parent or other family member, in the hope of receiving a heartfelt apology.
A heartfelt apology is one that would include a clear acknowledgment of harm that was disregarded at the time, and validation for the fact that certain events or communications occurred and were emotionally damaging to the hurt party.
Instead of the longed-for outcome, the harmed party may end up feeling re-traumatized. Most people who commit serious harm never get to the point where they can admit to their harmful actions, much less apologize and aim to repair them. Their shame leads to denial and self-deception that overrides their ability to orient toward reality. No person can be more honest with us than they can be with their own self.
Before you open up a conversation with a person who has harmed you, keep in mind that protecting yourself comes first. Reduce your expectations to zero for getting the response you want and deserve. Speak your truths because you need to speak for your own…