Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to apologize to someone you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without imposing upon them

A recent Savage Love Letter of the Day contains a twitter thread on whether or not a man should apologize to a woman he only now realizes he assaulted back then.  (I can't find the original discussion - it might be from a podcast.)

I've seen this question - whether to seek out someone you've wronged in the past but are no longer in contact with so you can apologize to them - asked in various forms in various advice columns over the years, and the argument against doing so is the same every time: the wronged person may well have moved on and the apology would simply dredge up old bad feelings, with the end result being that the apologizer feels better for unloading/doing what they perceive as penance, but making the wronged person feels worse.

But today my shower gave me an idea for how to apologize to a person you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without dredging up any bad feelings.

Post an apology on your primary online presence (blog, facebook, twitter, whatever). Do not use the wronged person's name, but do include enough details that they'll recognize themselves in the apology.  Ideally the post should be public, but if you don't have it in you to make it public it should be visible to as many people as you dare.

If the wronged person ever thinks of you, they'll google you. If they care, they'll start reading through what you've posted.  And they'll find your apology and see themselves.

If the wronged person ever mentions you to a mutual acquaintance, and your post has reached the mutual acquaintance, through the natural combination of social media and gossip mill, the mutual acquaintance will tell the wronged person about the post, and the wronged person will check it out if they're interested.

If the wronged person isn't thinking about you, this won't intrude upon their lives at all.

In either case, your emotional needs are still attended to. If your emotional need is to express your remorse, it's put out there and they'll receive it if they're in a position where they're seeking out information about you. If your emotional need is for penance, you'll get it by admitting your wrongs in front of all your followers.

In short, everyone's needs are attended to, no one is imposed upon.


laura k said...

That's a great use of social media.

The standard argument against -- dredging up old feelings -- is wrong, in my view. I think if you realize after-the-fact that you have hurt someone, you should reach out to them to make it right. I actually this is a must.

The person you've hurt probably have moved on, but probably they would still appreciate the acknowlegement, the validation of their feelings. Re-visiting the past may be somewhat painful, but the pain will almost certainly be less than the good feelings the apology will bring.

I've had late, after-the-fact apologies given to me, and they were very meaningful. I've also given them, and I'm sure it was meaningful to the recipient, too.

So what did Dan Savage say?

impudent strumpet said...

I don't know what Dan Savage said, I haven't been able to find the source that those tweets are responding to. That's why I suspect it might be a podcast - I have his column in my feed reader, but I'm not into podcasts.

I think if one of my old bullies approached me, I'd feel nervous/suspicious about their trying to contact me. I'd imagine it would be worse if it's an abusive former partner. I don't know if an apology would outweigh that. I know an apology from one of my bullies wouldn't change anything about the damage done.

laura k said...

That's a good point. There are people in my past from whom an apology would be meaningless, too. I guess the only times I've been apologized to way after the fact, the offense wasn't so large, so the contact didn't bring up a lot of pain. I guess you could say I wasn't traumatized in the first place, so the apology didn't re-traumatize me.

But to clarify, I didn't mean the apology would outweigh the offense. It would just be given and accepted, and meaningful.

This may be too personal to answer, in which case please ignore, but do you ever wonder if your bullies now understand what they did and regret it?

I also am not into podcasts.

impudent strumpet said...

It doesn't make a difference to me if they understand and regret it, the damage is still done and their regret isn't going to undo it.

Now that I think about it, there is a petty, unattractive corner of my brain that wouldn't mind if they were regretting it and feeling bad about it persistently. That part of my brain would like it better if they didn't get the opportunity to apologize (because then they'd keep feeling bad), but that part of my brain probably shouldn't be listened to.