May 2017
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how I apologize when I have hurt someone -- 1) empathize 2) explain 3) change
I can't say how it makes other people feel because I haven't asked, but I can say that when this method is used on me it makes ALL of the hurt and upset go away. It makes me feel safe, loved, and understood, and it makes forgiveness the easiest thing ever. (I don't feel that anyone on my friends list owes me any apology, just to be clear)

How I apologize:
I refrain from getting defensive or considering whether or not it is "my fault" -- regardless of my intentions, the point is that you were hurt.
I try to fully understand how my actions hurt you,
     ("so when I did action Y that hurt you because situation/perspective Z")
I empathize with you and apologize,
     ("I can imagine how that would hurt; if I had been in situation/perspective Z I would have felt the same way. I imagine you felt _____; I'm so sorry")
THEN AND ONLY THEN
I explain my feelings and motives,
     ("I can see how it seemed like I just didn't care, but my intention was _____, and I definitely do care")
I figure out how to avoid ever making the same mistake, and
     ("I think that happened because situation/perspective X")
I commit to a change which will keep me from making that mistake again.
     ("I commit to being more careful, avoiding situation/perspective X so as not to do action y")

or to make it simple: empathize, explain, change.

a not-real example:
I said "you poopyface!" when you wouldn't get me some water. You tell me that this hurt you. I take you VERY seriously (despite the fact that objectively I wouldn't have imagined that calling someone poopyface in a joking tone could be hurtful) and say "I'm sorry -- can you tell me why?" You explain that in the past you had had a parent who had manipulated you with using spiteful words to punish you if you didn't do what ze wanted, and my saying that felt like I was trying to manipulate you. I say "oh, wow, yeah I can understand why that would be so upsetting. It's horrible to feel like you have to indulge someone's every whim or get verbally abused. I never want to do that to you -- I am so so sorry." You say "Why did you do it?" (because you are assuming that I had a reason other than manipulating) I say "I was just being silly, I didn't mind even a little bit when you said no. I DEFINITELY didn't want you to do it in response to me calling you a poopyface." I continue, "I think I did it because I didn't realize how it might make you feel. I knew that about your parent but I didn't stop to think. (or, I didn't know that about your parent) From now on I will be much more aware and careful to avoid making punishing remarks, including as jokes." Then I say "I really am sorry" and you say "I forgive you" and then hugs or I-love-yous are exchanged.

It doesn't always work out so neatly, of course; sometimes it ends in a compromise rather than a simple change. If the action that caused pain was something important to me yet not integral to who I am, then I would not change completely but I would try to find some way to minimize the effect on the other person. For instance if I feel like it is important to me to be an omnivore and they find it painful to be close with someone who eats meat, I might cut down on the amount I eat or eat it only when not around them or make sure I support only good farms. The important thing is that I show care and make an effort, and be honest about what I am or am not willing to do so that they can make the best choice for them.

And sometimes compromise is not possible. If someone told me that it hurt them that I am polyamorous (and they weren't lovers with me), I would really question that. I would query as to whether they were offended or genuinely hurt. Some people like to SAY the word hurt when they mean offended or angry because it doesn't sound as confrontational, but that is dishonest. Generally people act in a completely different way when they are hurt as opposed to uncomfortable/offended/angry, so it's not hard to tell. And generally the people I am close enough to to use this method regularly are people who are very clear on their own feelings and would never lie about being hurt when they were really just offended.

Then if they somehow were ACTUALLY hurt by it (which is usually revealed in the "why did that hurt you?" stage), I would say, "I'm sorry that it hurts you, but it is not something I am willing to change -- is it something you are willing to live with?"

It's really important to me not to skip the empathizing step because if I do, the other person will often feel as if I don't care about their feelings and am only concerned with whether or not I made a mistake. And when someone is apologizing to me, if they don't empathize BEFORE explaining then it feels like my feelings are an afterthought, rather than the point of the conversation. But it's also important to figure out how not to make the same mistake, because otherwise it will just happen again.

Obviously on lesser wounds it's not necessary to go to all that effort -- accidentally stepping on someone's toe is not the same as triggering a memory of abuse. HOWEVER, which wounds are 'lesser' is defined by the person in pain, NOT the one who caused the pain.

Sometimes people seem to take "you hurt me" as some kind of challenge to their honor, thinking that they have to prove that they did NOT hurt you or they are therefore a bad person. (my bioparents, for instance, ALWAYS react this way) But I consider it much more honorable to heal something than to never have harmed it in the first place.


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Comments
Wow.. just wow. I've never seen such a process laid out before. This really is remarkable. Thank you so much for spelling it out. I have to say that it's still so hard, for me, at least, to believe that such a person as you exists, to do this.

I love you, so much.

Oh! and I wanted to edit to add that I feel loved and understood and safe just -reading- this. Wow.
I like this a lot.

I always try to empathize and apologize if someone feels wronged by something I did, even if I don't personally think it was a big deal-- after all, everybody has a different perception. And besides, if it's a friend I care more about their feelings than my own ego. Of course it doesn't work in every situation (like if somebody suddenly decides they hate you with no explanation) but I guess there is only so much one person can do.
Would it be all right if I add this to my memories? I liked the other post you did in the same vein, and to have it all laid out like this appeals to my organizational side. I think that this is something that everyone can use to improve themselves--especially me. XD As usual, great post. Thank you for sharing with us. :)
This is important and is going in my memories.
aerialmelodies Uplifting
You're an amazingly beautiful person. Reading things like this is truly an inspiration. Thank you. <3
shioneh empathy
wow, yes. This was really clearly and beautifully explained and I agree with what you've said, I've put it in my memories (I hope that's okay).

A resounding yes on the importance of empathizing and on taking another person's hurt seriously. The fact that a person got hurt by one's actions is worth empathy and an apology even if the hurt isn't something one can relate to personally.

I think the last part you wrote about is important. Learning to forgive oneself for making the mistake seems like a really important part of being able to be truly sorry and empathic to others.

I've definitely found it hard in the past to fully empathize due to my perfectionism and lack of self-love getting in the way and making the pain of having made a mistake be too much. I think I've got better at this, in fact, in part due to experiences/conversations we've had over time(♥) I can now recognize rationally speaking that making a mistake doesn't mean I am a 'bad person' and somebody saying 'you hurt me' doesn't necessarily mean they are judging me. I still do experience guilt and self-judgement around hurting others sometimes but it's something I can usually put to the side and deal with on my own terms or afterwards. Seeing that being judgemental against oneself actually causes one not to truly be able to empathize and connect with others is a motivational factor for me in trying to love myself more.

Anyway, I think this is a great post and like aurilion said, just reading it sort of fills me with this soft accepted feeling.

Yes to all of this. I've always felt that when you hurt someone, a sincere apology can go a long way toward healing. I also believe that empathy is a hugely important part of a healthy relationship.
This post is incredible. I'm a psychology student, and to analyze this kind of process is just awesome. It's also helpful for me personally. Do you mind if I share this idea with others? Not the personal post, of course, just the idea of "empathize, explain, change (or compromise)"? I feel like it's something that would be valuable to discuss with some people in my life. I of course wouldn't quote your exact personal process, but I like the effective simplicity of that three-step apology.

Your posts are always so amazing; I know I comment sporadically, but I so love reading your posts, especially ones like these.
kschap Me: Sensual
I'm adding this to my memories, as well. :D

This is such a fantastic solution to resolving misunderstandings/hurt in ANY relationship. I need a lot of work on my interpersonal relationship skills when in person, as I'm used to fairly unhealthy environments (so much so that I feel like I'm in one even when I'm in a perfectly safe place), and these are excellent suggestions to follow.

I'm grateful for having you in my life--you're such a wise woman!
rapidrabbit think outside the box
empathize, explain, change

That's very concise, and a really good way to look at things. It's what I make an effort at now, too, though I don't know how well I do at it over all (I'm not exactly surrounded by great communicators, so it's hard when it's never really a two-way street).

Also, I suspect our mutual stubbornness to this sort of thing (at least in its rawest, most difficult form) was probably a cause of our original parting. So I suppose if our relationship is of note, we've both made progress in this arena. :-P
Thank you so much for sharing this.
Hmm...This is a very interesting subject and I do agree with most of what you say in situations when I've said something wrong, been too impatient or acted in a way that really hurts someone..

but it also makes me wonder about the situation when one feels hurt by something the other person believes in. A situation where there is nothing to apologize for. I mean.. where does the limit go for our responsibility over other people's hurt & feelings? And when should we understand or let the other person also see that there is something about her/him that reflects what we say, do or believe in in a way that hurts her/him even if we do not intend to hurt her/him?

I think it is always very important to be kind and I do feel very bad if I hurt someone and I do apologize if I do something that hurts the other person but there is so many situations when it seems that people get hurt by how they interpret my decisions or who I am. They have so many expectations about who I should be and when their expectations are not met they feel hurt. Should I then apologize for not being who they think I was? Should I be the one to change my beliefs to avoid hurting her/him? I honestly do not know.. that's why I try to explain my point of view first because most of the time in situations like this I just do not see why should I apologize for what they reflect if it is not something I've meant it to be or when the hurt comes from their ego reflecting the thing in a painful way. But of course I do learn from all these things and learn to be more flexible and kind but so long in my life I've been apologizing for my whole existence and been so afraid of even the slightest possibility to hurt someone or make someone angry that it has been a very useful lesson for me also to understand where the line goes and when the apology is really needed.

belenen honesty
Well, I think it is always okay to apologize if your actions have hurt someone, even if you feel objectively that it is not your actions that caused the issue but their own way of reacting.

Also, I wrote about this before we were LJ friends but essentially, someone being offended is not at all the same as someone being hurt. It is their responsibility to learn the difference. Some people tend to be made uncomfortable by how I live my life. Let's take the example of polyamory. If someone told me that it hurt them that I am polyamorous (and they weren't lovers with me), I would really question that. I would inform them that it is a vital part of who I am and something that will never change, and that if it genuinely hurts them then I am sorry but it would be best for us not to be friends. But I would query as to whether they were offended or genuinely hurt. Some people like to SAY the word hurt when they mean offended or angry because it doesn't sound as confrontational, but that is dishonest. Generally people act in a completely different way when they are hurt as opposed to uncomfortable/offended/angry, so it's not hard to tell. And generally the people I am close enough to to use this method regularly are people who are very clear on their own feelings and would never lie about being hurt when they were really just offended.
Oh, I can relate to this. I must admit that my understanding about people's "negative" responses is very limited because somehow I lived in a home where any negative expression was regarded as bad thing (unless it was complaining about money or wrong doing by society or a conventional expression of sadness when someone died) and it has been a difficult path for me to learn to understand people's reactions and see when they are hurt, offended or angry. My mother was always so emotionally dominating in these matters that any expression of these were very hard for me to deal with. I never learned a healthy & balanced way to take other people's negative feelings or express mine. And I am still trying to learn.. Sometimes it takes me to a point where I just think every reaction is a reflection of something we have inside but then there is this compassionate side of me who feels it is important to be kind and try to be a peace maker whenever possible.

It is just so difficult. Human communication!
belenen honesty
I agree almost completely with this comment -- I disagree with this: all hurt and offense is a reflection only of the person feeling hurt. I do think that all offense is a reflection purely of the person offended, but offense is very different. I see a point of hurtful conflict as something which is the responsibility of both people -- it's not purely my responsibility to not be hurt and it is not purely the other person's responsibility not to hurt me. I was writing this from the perspective of the one who caused pain, so I didn't include much of my process in dealing with my own pain, and I haven't thought that out as thoroughly (this was an intuitive process that existed long before I translated into words). But I'll have a go.

Let's say someone does something and I think, "ow! that hurts!" I then ask myself WHY it hurts. Perhaps it hurts simply because I am very sensitive that day and just can't take any abrasiveness -- in that case, confrontation is not necessary because it will resolve itself (though I still may express my pain without any desire for others to change!). But if it is something that would always hurt no matter how wonderful I was feeling, then I consider how close the person is to me. If they are very close, I want to solve it immediately (whether through changing my mind or their behavior or both) so that it doesn't form a pattern which breeds resentment. If they are less close or the pain is minimal, then I consider whether or not it already is a pattern. If it is, I may confront, if not, I may refrain.

I see it as my responsibility to adjust to the outside world, AND my responsibility to refrain from causing hurt if I can. And in order to have balance, I require my very close relationships to also take on that responsibility -- to do what they can to refrain from causing hurt to me.

Of course, if it is a personal boundary then I will always confront whether it hurts or not. It doesn't hurt me for someone to tell me I'm disgusting, for instance, but that betrays a disrespectful mentality which I refuse to associate with.
belenen honesty
oh, and another thing -- usually the conversations don't run quite so simply, but delve more into the 'why it hurt' and 'why you did it' bits. So in a way it's like having that same "why am I hurt" conversation, but rather than having it alone, having it with the person who hurt you. So the purpose of the conversation is partly to prevent/cure the hurt person's pain, and partly for both people to learn more about each other. That is ESSENTIAL in a relationship like mine with my partner, because we are such TOTAL opposites that we need to take every chance to learn. Since we have hardly any mutual interests we don't have as wide a range of opportunities as some people might have. People who are more alike might not need those same opportunities (though they can't hurt, I don't think!). I also use these conversations often with Aurilion (and used to with Hannah) not so much out of need but more out of desire to learn as much and as fast as possible.
I really agree with this (and the other comment too) and that's very much the way I see my & deal with my own hurt as well. I always ask myself what part of me reflects the pain and why. Of course it does not mean I accept any kind of hurtful & negative behaviour from others as I am not strong enough to not let a constant negativity affect on the way I see myself but when it is about everyday situations or disagreements with friends I try to see where does my pain come from.

But I feel there is so much more to learn about how other people see things and deal with them and how the language between us can be found & built. As I never ever want to hurt anyone.
belenen honesty
Well, saying "you hurt me" is kinda shorthand for the longer, gentler statements -- I was imagining this exchange with someone very close, with whom I've had many of these conversations. And I would generally say "that action hurt me" rather than "you hurt me." If I was casual friends with someone I would be much less blunt. And I do not put up with "should have known better" attitudes. In my arguments a person is innocent until proven guilty -- I do not assume that they did the thing to hurt me, but for another, legitimate reason. And I expect the same assumptions when I hurt someone else. I probably should have included that in my post ;-) I may edit it after finishing this comment, thanks!

Like if someone doesn't want to hear profanity, I think it's unreasonable for someone to say, "It hurts me when you curse."

I don't think it is unreasonable to say that because it is simply a statement of the way someone feels. It could be followed by a request for change but perhaps the speaker does not expect the person to change, or is okay if the person does not change. I don't think it implies a request for change, not with an honest person anyway. Perhaps some people say this with an implied request; but I ignore implied requests as a rule. If they make no specific request, I assume they are being fully honest with me and would add a request if they wanted to make one.

Like the vegetarian example-- I'd never, ever compromise my diet for someone else. I think that's asking way too much of someone, and that if a person wants others to eat a certain way around them, they're being very, very demanding and childish, letting their discomfort rule their relationships.

With me, I am on the fence about vegetarianism anyway, and food isn't important to me at all, so it's a compromise easily made. So it's not ALWAYS a demanding/childish request, because someone who feels like me can easily say yes, and someone who feels like you can easily say no. Perhaps the person asking is willing to handle it if necessary, but would like to see how you feel about it first. The other person can't know ahead of time what is a firm boundary for you and what isn't (unless you have previously stated it, of course). I think it is always okay to make the request -- you just have to be willing to fully accept whatever answer you get.

Now, for an issue I am NOT on the fence about -- let's take the example of polyamory. If someone told me that it hurt them that I am polyamorous (and they weren't lovers with me), I would really question that. I would query as to whether they were offended or genuinely hurt. Some people like to SAY the word hurt when they mean offended or angry because it doesn't sound as confrontational, but that is dishonest. Generally people act in a completely different way when they are hurt as opposed to uncomfortable/offended/angry, so it's not hard to tell. And generally the people I am close enough to to use this method regularly are people who are very clear on their own feelings and would never lie about being hurt when they were really just offended.

Then if they somehow were ACTUALLY hurt by it (which is usually revealed in the "why did that hurt you?" stage), I would say, "I'm sorry that it hurts you, but it is not something I am willing to change -- is it something you are willing to live with?"
belenen honesty
I admit I wouldn't apologize for it because I wouldn't be sorry

I wouldn't be sorry for my own behavior, but I would be sorry that they were hurt. I take it out of context of my actions and focus solely on the fact that they were hurt, and then I am sorry for it. It's like if I was relaxing in a chair and someone tripped over my legs, I would be sorry that they fell while not being at all sorry that I was relaxing all sprawled out. Which is why I specify "I am sorry that it hurts you" rather than simply "I'm sorry" or "I'm sorry that I hurt you."

I like this commentation! ;-)
belenen amused
that's so interesting, because I once had a huge misunderstanding with Hannah over the word 'sorry.' I told zir I wanted zir to be sorry that zir actions hurt me, and ze thought that I meant I wanted zir to feel guilty for zir actions. But we didn't uncover the difference in definition for a long while and when we finally did it was like OMG SO SIMPLE WHY ON EARTH DIDN'T WE FREAKING DEFINE THE WORD. Since then I try to remember to define words when they become a point of conflict. heh.
belenen effervescent
that's awesome! ;-D
belenen artless
by the way, would you like me to screen your comments after replying?
saturnsdaughter mymorphine - Kamui
Sometimes people seem to take "you hurt me" as some kind of challenge to their honor, thinking that they have to prove that they did NOT hurt you or they are therefore a bad person.

This is how my mother has always reacted to my being hurt, and over time it's become a challenge to not react the same way when I'm on the other side. I do agree with you that it's much better to try and heal something then pretend it never happened, but fighting off learned behavior can be tough sometimes.
This is kind of what Jason and I do when we're at our best. Lots of times though we get stuck in that part of understanding why such and such a thing was hurtful. Like we're just talking about different things or something, that's always frustrating.
It can be hard...
I think there are hurdles that people need to be prepared for when working out such things.

1. Is it's easy to get defensive, even if you start out well. Sometimes if you're not making any headway in either your apology or getting someone to understand. You can resort to defensiveness or a passive-aggressive "just forget it".

2. I think it can run into issues when one part doesn't want to discuss. This can make it difficult. Because the offending party doesn't always understand what they've done wrong. And often gets frustrated when the they aren't told, because it can lead to a state where they feel it is futile. They can't please or avoid offense because they're not sure what they're doing to cause it.

3. A lot of times, one needs to put away any sense of fairness. It is not unusual for one party to get upset over something that they themselves do, but not see or understand that they do the same thing to the other party.

For example, I might quickly retort why my wife didn't do x. But will back-pedal about why I didn't do y.

4. It's also important to just remember you love this person. And that marriage and communication take work. Don't give up. It can be too easy for one or both parties to give up. Not express to the other, nor be willing to listen. Don't give up.

:-)
I like this, except I feel that it is missing something--stating explicitly that you take responsibility. A friend once did something to me that I was working on forgiving, and her apology made the hurt WORSE, because she tried to mitigate it by alluding to the fact that she was hurting badly at the time that she committed the wrong toward me. I had already been quite gentle with her because I knew her own pain played a part in the pain she caused me, but she basically refused to take any responsibility for it, and I didn't see any way for our friendship to carry on as normal if she wasn't going to do that.

Another example is that recently, I felt sexually harrassed by two attorneys I work with sometimes. They made comments about my new tattoo (which is on my foot) that were overtly sexual in nature. These men are quite a bit older than me and in relative positions of power compared to me and this made me very uncomfortable. When I confronted them (separately) one of them said "Oh my goodness, you are right, I am so sorry. I really screwed up and I have no good excuse. Please forgive me." It was fairly easy to move on after that. The other attorney said "I'm sorry if I said something that offended you." I have a hard time taking that "apology" seriously.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.