The power of making amends

September 22, 2010

What does it really mean to make amends?

The subject came up with a friend the other day.

I always thought making amends meant an apology and asking for forgiveness, but apparently, not. Even more than an apology, it’s “restoring justice.” I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The example G. used was this: Suppose I borrowed $100 from you and never repaid it. Making amends is not simply apologizing, it’s apologizing AND repaying you.

It’s not always possible to make restitution for a wrong. But when it is, it’s usually a big part of making amends.

Amends are necessary to living an honest and whole life. When we’ve wronged someone, it becomes a roadblock, not only to the relationship with the person, but also to life.

Making amends helps restore homeostasis. Removes the wall. It liberates us so we no longer have to avoid that aspect of our life.

I can see why it’s a big part of the 12-step thing.

As a crisis communications consultant, I learned early the effect of a simple “I’m sorry.” Many people don’t understand just how powerful it is. Making amends is several orders of magnitude more powerful.Here’s the rub: to make amends, we have to accept that we were wrong. And that’s the hardest thing for many of us. We want to build elaborate rationales for why we were right. Or revise history.

“We fought all the time,” someone I used to date once said.

I’m sure he thinks that. That’s his rationale. It’s not how I remember it.

But of course, the facts are the facts and they don’t change no matter what we choose to remember.

So. When my first husband left, I was…devastated. Like so many divorced people, my version of events made me far less culpable than he. I was right. Or at the very least, “righter” than he was. He was wrong. I hung on to that version for years.

Eight years, to be exact.

At that point, I couldn’t escape the truth: that I’d been equally culpable, and I knew–without a doubt- in exactly what way. I could no longer be dishonest with myself. Not if I wanted to look myself in the mirror.

I couldn’t hold on to my need to be right. I felt roadblocked in relationships and in my life and knew I had to apologize, to make amends. It was a necessary step for me to move forward with my life.

So I found his phone number and called. (Even back then, pre-Google, it wasn’t hard to find a lawyer.) You have to understand that we hadn’t talked in all that time. My call came out of the blue.

Let’s just say he was surprised to get the call and at its content.I did it for me, not for him.

I did it to remove a wall that I felt was keeping me from living a full life. I did it to regain my integrity. I wanted nothing from him and how he felt about it had nothing to do with it. The issue was how I felt.

Fast forward 20 years from that apology. We remarried, all those years later. That’s right. We divorced and 28 years later, remarried. Hadn’t seen each other in all that time.

How did this happen? Well, that’s a story for the book I’m writing.

But how it started was simple: it started with making amends.

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