Recognising our wrongdoings allows us to embrace the opportunity to heal our relationships
In recent years, Australia Day has become a day to make amends - to recognise the wrongdoings and mistakes we have collectively made as a nation against First Nations people and to learn and grow from them.
Making amends is important for healing. Each of us needs to recognise how our behaviour has hurt and affected others. Once we do this, we can embrace the opportunity to try and repair the damage.
Here, we speak to South Pacific Private Senior Family Therapist, Leanne Schubert, about the process of making amends and why it's so crucial to our recovery journey.
1. What is the best way to make amends?
Making amends is a deeply personal process. It forms a crucial part of the 12-Step recovery from addiction and refers to the act of addressing the problems and issues within relationships with people who may have been hurt by our actions because of the addiction. Step 8 of the 12-Step recovery process states: “we made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”, while Step 9 states: “we made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to make amends, but it’s essential to be in the right space of your recovery. The best way for one person might be to write a heartfelt letter, while for others it will be meeting up face-to-face and having a deep conversation. It’s essential to make amends for past wrongdoings - even the ones that people might be unaware of - to move forward in your recovery.
2. How is making an apology and making amends different?
Simply saying ‘sorry’ is unfortunately not enough for many people to make amends. Addiction can cause deep hurt, anger and sadness, so for many people an apology isn’t enough to address these feelings. When you make amends, you are not just using words, but actions to show that person that you are a changed person and have established a better way of life in your recovery.
3. How can making amends help us in our recovery?
Making amends is an integral part of the healing in our recovery. It helps us let go of the feelings of shame, guilt and fear that can fuel addiction. It also helps us repair and build healthier, stronger relationships with our support network - which are usually our friends and family.
4. When should I begin making amends?
Each recovery journey is different and when we attempt to make amends is up to us individually. However, reaching out prematurely in our recovery and without a plan can pose challenges for us. It’s important to be ready for tough conversations and to think about what we want to say and how to express it clearly. Making amends forms part of the 12 steps, and is the focus of step 9.
5. How should I begin the conversation and what should I say?
Taking the first step and having a conversation with someone we’ve hurt takes courage. We obviously don't want our actions to cause further hurt, stress or damage. With an important conversation such as making amends, it is important to choose your timing and show respect to the other person by checking if the timing of an important conversation is suitable to them.
An important part of the process of making amends is to acknowledge the reality of the impact of our behaviour on the other, and to acknowledge the other's feelings. This can go something like, "I hear that when I lied to you, you thought you didn't matter to me and you felt hurt and scared that our relationship may be over. I'm sorry I lied to you". It can also be healing to share with the other person how you feel. And that may go something like, "I am sorry I lied to you and I feel ashamed of myself".
It is also important that we do not choose to justify our behaviour in any way as this has the effect of negating our apology. It can be helpful to inform the other person of how we will make different choices about our behaviour in the future. We need to be careful not to make promises. When we promise to change our behaviour, we may set ourselves up for failure and the other person for disappointment. That may go something like, "I am sorry I lied to you and I feel ashamed of myself. I will make my very best effort not to lie to you in the future".
6. What should we do if a person doesn't want to hear from us?
Sometimes a loved one doesn’t want to hear from us, regardless of how we’ve changed in our recovery or our desire to make amends. It’s important not to force someone to meet with us or hear us out if they don’t want to. We must respect their boundaries and their right for space.
At South Pacific Private, making amends forms a part of our Family Program. If you’re struggling and ready to start your journey through recovery, please call our team on 1800 063 332.
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