Getting Free By Making Amends
Copyright 2007 Connie B. Shaw
Introduction: Connie Shaw is a speaker, workshop facilitator, author, life-coach and media guest. She has helped thousands of people in eleven countries to drop grudges and grievances and to summon the energy and clarity to move forward with their lives.
Thank you, Jim, and hello, everyone. How would you like to access more energy and to unburden yourself of guilt and resentments through making amends that really stick? How many of you think that making amends would be easier if you had some guidelines and if you could say them aloud to an unbiased third party or even write a concise note to the injured party?
There are many ways to ask for forgiveness and to forgive yourself. But when you know how to do it, the chances are that you’ll easily be able to adopt this powerful new skill-set to dramatically improve your life and relationships. Now first, let’s consider why we make amends and reflect on the benefits of doing so to you and to others.
Love has two sides, attachment and surrender. We become attached to everyone and everything we love. Eventually, though, in the course of our growth, re-locating, aging and death, we will lose or let go of everything to which we’ve clung. That includes a fantasy, an addiction, a comfort, a dependency, a relationship, a liberty or mobility.
The Blessing of Release
Making amends means facing reality. It also usually means that we’ve wronged or misused ourselves or another and wish to acknowledge that and to change our ways. You could say that we have come to want the blessing of release. The power of purging and releasing is very different from the process of internalizing sorrow and loss. Grief is clinging to what has been lost whereas mourning is acceptance and surrender of the loss and leads to freedom. Letting go of our attachment to people and things which can’t be retained includes relinquishing guilt, hatred and resentment.
Until we learn to forgive and to make regular, authentic, accountable amends we cannot deepen our capacity to give and to receive love. We cannot advance in life or in relationships without creating more duplicity and complications. Our mistakes become more expensive in each succeeding cycle.
Reasons for and Benefits of Making Amends
So to review the reasons for and the benefits of making restitution, the main ones are:
1. Patterns: To honestly and responsibly evaluate your patterns which are thoughtless, ineffective or destructive of peace, health, financial sovereignty, happiness or safety, for yourself or others.
2. Strategies: To develop more age-appropriate strategies for contributing to relationships.
3. Release: To receive release of stress, shame, guilt, resentment and anxiety.
4. Trust: To re-establish trust.
5. Courage: To build courage, character and self-esteem through willingness to admit wrong and to change.
6. Accountability: To extend a sincere vow to yourself and the injured party. Very often the phrase “I’m sorry” means “Don’t make me change or have to admit to myself that I’ve been engaging in negative or unacceptable attitudes, values and behavior.
7. Owning it: See it, heal it, improve it, move past it.
8. Reputation: Develop a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness. Actually, you might say that a more accurate title of the last paragraph would be “Preparations for Making Amends” because by the time that we make amends, we’ve already had an epiphany or shift which has caused inner change. Making amends is not about soothing your conscience and it’s not about asking for forgiveness. Some people may not want to forgive you or to accept your amends. That’s not your concern. The key points are your own self-forgiveness and your resolve to change. If you can’t love and accept yourself you can’t love and accept others.
There’s a saying that “Knowledge is power,” yet knowledge is relative and keeps changing with new discoveries. Truly, character is power.
When we make sincere, accountable, believable amends to others, we’re vowing to change. We realize that others have been hurt, betrayed or inconvenienced by our selfishness, preoccupations or disregard of their needs and comforts. It takes courage to look at our character defects, inappropriate patterns and immature values. It takes heroism to say, for example, “I was wrong and I’m sorry. I now realize I was self-centered and thoughtless but now I’m going to require more of myself and improve in this area. This is what I intend to do. Is there anything else you’d recommend?”
Make your intentions specific, reliable, accountable and time-related. For example, in apologizing to someone for your habitual tardiness in meeting him for a date, you could outline your specific plan. You might say, “Jerry, instead of being fifteen or twenty minutes late when we meet at the restaurant after work, I’m going to leave twenty-five minutes earlier than usual to allow for heavy traffic. Furthermore, I’ll bring a book to read in case I arrive early.”
If you have abused another’s trust by not repaying a loan on time you could say, “Now that I’ve repaid the loan, even though it was late, I’ll not be asking you for money again. I realize that I need to stop borrowing money, to keep my spending within my means and to live on a budget. I’ve brought you a small gift to make amends. Your regard means a lot to me.”
Speaking of loans, recently I saw a funny bumper sticker which said, “Beware of loaning your brother money lest it give him amnesia!”
Helping Others to Make Amends and Resolve to Change
There’s another topic we need to cover, which is that of helping less aware people to make amends to you and to help them to develop a plan to change. The types of people who would fit into this category are loved ones with whom you would like to maintain a relationship, such as spouses or partners, children, siblings, parents, friends or colleagues. The key factors are that you value the relationship, you are bound to the person in some way, and it’s desirable or necessary that you interact periodically.
An example of this would be a story told to me by my friend Mary who told me how she was able to get her brother Michael to change a thoughtless habit which had caused her injury. When Michael, who was a reclusive forty-four-year-old bachelor, came to visit Mary, he habitually left the toilet seat up. Mary, who was fifty-four and who lived alone, had hurt her back on the porcelain rim when she had fallen in, due to not realizing in time that the seat was up.
She valued Michael but had reminded Michael countless times to no effect and since he had forgotten his promise to change at least seven times, Mary was fuming and feeling hurt and discounted by the time of his next visit. After cooling off a bit, she decided to sit down with Michael and to deliver a calm “I message,” coupled with a question. Instead of saying how thoughtless and inconsiderate Michael was, Mary calmly stated how she felt and how it affected her. She said without rancor, “Michael, when you repeatedly leave the seat up, I feel nervous and stressed because I have to remember to do something which is unnatural to me. I have to be hyper-vigilant because I’ve fallen on the rim and hurt my back twice. Now I know that you’ve developed strategies all through your life to train yourself to remember certain things, such as paying your taxes, rotating your tires and making eye exam appointments. If you’re really serious when you say you value me and our relationship then I’ll take you at your word. But words and behaviors must match if they’re to be worth anything. I’m wondering if you’re really willing to train yourself to put the seat down and what strategies you’ve used successfully before that could work. What’s your strategy for change?”
Michael blushed and said that he supposed he could tape yellow sticky notes on his bathroom wall at home until he had routinely mastered the new habit of putting the toilet seat lid and top down. Then he started on a “poor me” story about how distracted he’d been lately. Mary calmly told him that her experience of him was that he usually responded to any criticism with a justification or rationalization. She wasn’t interested in excuses but she was looking for near-term, specific change. Michael said, “Got it. I’ll do it.” It took him about a week to engrain the new habit in his daily routine.
Making a Resolve and Having Choices
For Mary, the relentlessly cheerful insistence on a real behavior difference coupled with a request for a strategy-commitment made the difference. She also told me that she had decided to meet her brother in a public place in the future, such as the library, park or a restaurant. Although she hadn’t mentioned that to him, she believes that he felt her resolve at a deeper level and knew she meant business. The lesson there is to know your options and to be prepared to act on them.
To review, I’ve created a memory device to help make your amends easier and more effective. Write the word amends on the left margin of a sheet of paper, vertically. A-M-E-N-D-S. Beside the A write “admission of error and accountability.” M stands for making it right. E is for erasing shame, guilt and grievances. N is for NOT repeating the same mistakes. D stands for determination to change. S is for a sincere tone and strategy for change.
Now we have amends: admission of error and accountability; making it right; erasing guilt and grievance; not repeating; determination; sincere strategy.
Amends to Departed People
“But,” you might ask, “what if I need to make amends to someone who has moved away or even died? Then what do I do?”
That’s no problem. You can write them a letter and read it aloud to a trusted friend, life-coach, therapist or Twelve-Step Sponsor. It’s important to write it out and to speak it aloud to get closure on the issue and also as practice for making amends to those who are available in person or by phone. It’s usually better to not make amends by e-mail since without a visual reference of facial expressions and body language, there’s too much of a chance that you’ll be misunderstood and that the problems will be compounded.
It’s important for you to be specific about your mistakes and to outline the ways you intend to change, and by what date, and how frequently.
A famous author used to say that “Sorrow and loss are an inevitable part of every life. But we needn’t become hardened and cynical. Our job is to keep our hearts open to giving and receiving love. We can become better or bitter. Choose better.”
Passing it On by Assisting Others
Once you develop a momentum of making amends you’ll have a new skill-set with which to assist others to do the same – if they’re interested. Remember, when availing others of your new ideas and skills, only work with response. If people don’t respond to your offerings of help or insight, they’re not ready. Ask your Higher Self to bring you people whom you can serve. Then make it a habit to “Tell the truth faster to yourself and others.”
Finally, as you raise your vibration and develop more integrity you might come to the conclusion that not everyone is mentally healthy enough to have a front row seat in your life.
To make lasting change by reinforcing the fifteen or so new skills and concepts in this podcast, you may download the free article and study it carefully. Be alert for chances to practice the skills with others until they’re an automatic aspect of your character and integrity – which are priceless.