Thought for the Day: Earlier this week I reposted an article, Sorry May Be The Hardest Word In Any Language, on why learning to apologize is vital to healthy relationships. One of my readers, María Gilbert
"there are some apologies that we don't hear, and yet they're the loudest."Maria was speaking about times when people's remorseful behavior is an attempt to apologize. However, her comment made me think about the times when someone apologizes to us, but we fail to hear them. My previous blogpost addressed the importance of owning your mistakes and apologizing, but what are the hidden dangers of not hearing apologies? The title of this post is intentionally ambiguous. In addition to the possibility of not hearing a sincere apology when it is given, it also refers to holding a grudge when apologies are not forthcoming. Both can cause serious harm to our mental health. Read on to see the hidden dangers of not hearing apologies...
Have you ever been so angry that you were unable to hear an apology and forgive someone? Did you think the apology was stated in the wrong tone of voice? Or was their wording wrong? They may not have said the words you had been waiting to hear or failed to address what you considered the most important issues. Even sincere apologies may not feel sufficient if you have held on to grievances for too long. Have you ever accepted an apology, but continued to bear a grudge, kept your distance and stewed in anger toward the person you accepted an apology from?
This can happen even when the person is no longer in your life. Did someone say or do something that hurt your feelings in high school? Even though you have not seen them in 10 or 20 years, do you still hold onto your anger with them? Are you still angry with a parent who has passed away for playing favorites? Do you resent the sibling who was favored by that parent? Have you spoken to your brother or sister about your feelings, or do you keep your distance finding reasons not to include them in your life? What is the cost of holding onto anger and refusing to forgive? What would your relationships with these people be like if you resolved these issues? How would you feel if you no longer harbored anger towards them?
In many ways, the inability to forgive is the flip side of the inability to apologize. Both have many of the same detrimental effects on one's mental health. Although most people see holding a grudge as a way of getting back at the offending party, the anger actually hurts the grudge holder. Often the offender has forgotten the issue and moved on in their lives, but the person holding the grudge is still in pain.
Holding a grudge is like trying to stop a volcano from erupting. Imagine how much energy it would take. Holding anger in can lead to physical ailments like high blood pressure, heart conditions, and ulcers, to name just a few. Letting it blow, on the other hand, can lead to acting out, getting into frequent fights, breaking things or even criminal behavior. Exaggerated angry outbursts with family and friends, may be fallout from displaced anger. Another common danger is that the energy exerted trying to plug the volcano of a grudge leads to fatigue and depression. Holding grudges leaves little energy for more positive activities. Like the little Dutch boy with his finger stuck in the dam, we can do little else in life when we hold onto grudges. We become stuck unable to enjoy our lives to the fullest.
You may be thinking, "Some things are unforgivable." Should war crimes, sexual, physical or emotional abuse simply be forgiven? In these cases, many people's mental health is compromised as well. They remain bitter, angry and unable to trust others. In these instances, language and semantics can impede the healing process. Surely, the concept of forgiveness doesn't make sense when dealing with overwhelming, unjust abuse. However, if you simply replace the word "forgive" the aggressors with the words "let go" of anger towards the aggressors, you can be released from the negative impact of the abuse on your life.
Although you do not have to forgive an aggressor to let go, you do need to acknowledge and feel the anger. Letting go will help you stop allowing the abuse to hurt you. Whether or not the aggressor has asked for forgiveness, this is a way to stop being abused and become a survivor living a fuller healthier life.
In these situations, there may be another parallel to learning to apologize. To apologize, you must look at your behavior and accept responsibility for actions that you have taken that hurt someone else. To "let go" you need to stop holding onto the anger which may be seen as your responsibility as testimony, i.e., bearing witness to the crimes of the other. To let go, you need to stop taking responsibility for acts which were never your responsibility in the first place. In a way, it is learning to forgive yourself for things that were out of your control.
Whether you are angry and unable to hear someone else's apology or refuse to let go of your anger and resentment for acts you feel are unforgivable, carrying and holding on to the negative feelings is hurting you. The hidden danger of not hearing apologies is wasting precious energy that could be spent feeling joy, love, hope and living life to the fullest.