On Apologies and Radical Acceptance

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One of the most difficult battles of my life has been coming to terms with others’ unwillingness to apologize. I apologize compulsively- I’m sorry frequents my lips as often as my name, if not moreso- and I haven’t been able to imagine why others can’t do it.

I was talking with my dear therapist the other day, on this subject. I was weeping about what I experienced over the summer, and I said to her that I thought that something that would really help me move on would be an apology from those involved, who neglected to help me. My therapist immediately replied “and you may never get it.” If I still subscribed to DBT, this would be the moment that I’d have to practice the Radical Acceptance skill. And technically, that is the way forward.

But my therapist knows better than to tell me to Radically Accept, anymore. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s simply that the skill can come across as invalidating if you don’t pad it beyond recognition with intentional validation. Here’s what it ended up looking like.

“What you went through is horrific. You have every right to be devastated and angry, even almost a year later. You deserve endless apologies. But in order to reduce suffering, we have to come to terms with the fact that they’re living in their own world of morality where an apology may not seem like the right way to go.”

That’s exactly it. I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to apologizing, so I can’t easily comprehend what I’m seeing when others don’t follow that standard.

We all isolate ourselves into our own little realities, and insulate ourselves against realities that make us uncomfortable. A world in which people don’t take accountability for their actions horrifies me. I pretend it doesn’t exist, that everyone is operating how I am. But where does that leave me when they don’t?

Everything is always my fault, I muck everything up all of the time, I am inherently corrupt.

If I can just understand- and this practice is much more physical, rather than intellectual, than it seems- that others are not holding themselves to the same standard as I am, that people will make mistakes, that they’ll spin stories such that they can protect themselves with neurotic false realities (as we all do), then I can greatly alleviate personal suffering.

Take the summer for example. I know that the folks who did it likely tell themselves that they did the best they could, that they did nothing wrong. I know that’s protective, delusional thinking. However, it serves me in no way to continue to hold out for an apology from them. People are predictable in their self preservation. If I spend all of my time battling that predictability, I’ll be left scraggly and weary and unable to function.

So, summer folks, I dare you to apologize. Girls from my old school, I dare you too. I’d get along more easily if you did. But know that I’m going to survive the absence of an apology. They don’t think like I do, empathize like I do, almost no one does, anyway. That has to be okay, and it is. What other choice is there?


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One thought on “On Apologies and Radical Acceptance

  1. Validation-something we all desire and, it seems to me at 54, few are caring and wise enough to give well. So I often am my own validator, as you show yourself to be by blogging here. Congrats on finding your Voice! It’s a huge step in healing for many of us. My own recovery dances around acceptance a lot – that other theme above- relative to my sense of wholeness, healedness. If I’m still unsafe, vulnerable or confused, I keep up defenses and won’t accept-though I may pray for help to go in that direction. My biggest challenge is to accept Myself though; to believe I am loveable and truly loved. God and I are working on that daily!

    As to apologies-here’s a big one for me. I had long hoped- for and imagined my dad apologizing for burning all my possessions when I had a breakdown at age 19. But a leopard doesn’t change his spots just because I need it to, or as a reward for my growth! So to regain my power, I had to let go of any expectations about his treatment of me. I had to face that this was part of a pattern, that he treats everyone coldly, and that I had never received respect, love, etc. from him. I took a year away from him, no contact, but much personal journaling, and I grieved as if from his “death.” I accepted I didn’t really have a “father,” never really did – and that grieving helped me let go. I felt freer to treat him as a new person, with less pressure to meet my expectations. And less pressure on me to be a “loving daughter”. It was such a positive “mourning” experience that I have been less afraid to let go of other people, experiences and expectations since! … I look forward to reading your other posts-peace-Theresa in Maine

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