Making Reparations

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Some spend a significant portion of their lives holding on to painful feelings of regret about the state of their relationship with someone important to them. They want to make reparations, to say they’re sorry, but they don’t know how. They are afraid of receiving a negative response, of putting themselves out there only to be shut down. They might rationalize their hesitancy as not wanting to cause any more harm than they have already caused, or on the grounds that this person has probably moved on so there is really nothing left to be said.

If the above fits for you we have some ideas that might give you the courage you need to move forward with a plan for making reparations. If you’re honest with yourself, the reasons you have come up with for not reaching out are designed to protect you from having to expose your soft underbelly. If you are the one who needs to make reparations then it means that you were the perpetrator and the other was the victim. This means that power has probably always been important to you and in this relationship you were the one who wielded it, defining the parameters of your interactions, of what was and wasn’t okay to say, think, and feel. By reaching out you are reversing roles, possibly becoming a victim yourself. This feels dangerous for any of us, but especially dangerous for those of us who have always placed a premium on being in control.

Just like this person couldn’t control your actions before, you can’t control how they will respond to you now. But the thing is that even if the response is as chilly and painful as your worst nightmares your attempt will still be worth it because you will be helping yourself too. We become the people we want to be not through our thoughts or wishes but through our concrete actions. If you reach out in a spirit of care and love then caring and loving you will be, at least in that moment, and this is something you can keep building upon. Just like your problematic actions defined you before your loving actions can define you now and this is precisely where redemption lies, not in some metaphysical realm where saying you’re sorry in your own head magically washes away everything you have done.

A good place to start is to write a letter. Spend a significant amount of time crafting it, a few days or even a few weeks. Make sure you say what you really want and need to say. Written communication lets you organize your thoughts in a way that a live conversation can’t match. Be honest, and above all make sure that every word is loving. Ask people you trust to look it over and give advice on how to improve it. You should be focused on growth. Stay away from placing any blame on the person you have wronged. This might be the only chance you get so make it count.

You are risking a lot by opening yourself up to hostility and rejection but you are risking much more by keeping your desire to reconcile to yourself. If you haven’t forgotten what happened what makes you think the person you have hurt has forgotten? Having the courage to try to make amends will hopefully help this person get some closure, an essential ingredient for psychological well-being. It will certainly help you by making your actions sync up with the kind of person you want to be.