As we anticipate holiday gatherings and the new year ahead, it’s an opportune time to consider our personal relationships.
Do you have regrets about any interactions or conflicts with others? Do you owe anyone an apology for what you said or did? Chances are, someone will come to mind.
It’s human to have conflicts. Yet, frayed connections with others can affect our health and well-being. Thankfully, the simple act of making amends can transform ill feelings into forgiveness…and stronger relationships.
Indeed, researchers have found that when we can see how our behavior has negatively impacted another person, and we sincerely express regret for our harm to the person directly, making amends can be beneficial for both parties involved.
The Healing Power of Making Amends
Amends are powerful. Merriam-Webster says that to make amends is to “do something to correct a mistake that one has made or a bad situation that one has caused.”
Mental health experts have noted that when amends are made in this manner, the recipient will often feel understood, which can facilitate forgiveness and restoration. Additionally, the person making amends is much more likely to be able to accept their humanity and forgive themselves.
According to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, the inability to self-forgive is associated with low mood, anxious feelings, and weakened immune function. Also, holding on to painful feelings that others have caused, and replaying the situation over and over in your mind, can negatively impact your cognition, emotions, physiology, and general health.
Amends and the Recovery Process
The practice of making amends has been adopted by most religions. It’s also a key tenant of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Before recovery, the alcoholic or addict may be self-destructive and self-centered. They often hurt those around them. However, in the early stages of sobriety, the recovering addict begins working through several steps that allows for greater acceptance, faith, honesty, accurate self-appraisal, and humility.
Once on solid ground, the recovering addict is then ready to address the damage they’ve caused in personal relationships by working the amends step. The goal of the process is for the addict to develop the best possible relations with every human being they know.
Before they’re halfway done with the process, the AA program provides the opportunity for transformation where the addict will experience a newfound freedom and feelings of connection to others, while feelings of guilt and shame gradually diminish.
Interestingly, whether recovery from the addiction actually occurs, research appears to confirm the healing process embodied in the amends step of AA. One study found that “conciliatory gestures” or amends promote human forgiveness, stating that peacemaking offers of compensation and owning up to one’s responsibility can increase forgiveness and decrease anger.
5 Simple Ways to Make Amends with Others
The benefits of making amends are available to everyone. It’s a simple act, but it isn’t easy. AA and mental health experts offer these suggestions to ensure the best possible outcome.
- Prepare. AA has a preparation step prior to making direct amends with someone. It’s used to detail specifically what you’re making amends for and to resolve any grudge the other person may have. Amends are about focusing only on your transgressions. Discuss any resentment you may have with a trusted friend or counselor ahead of time so that it doesn’t thwart your efforts.
- Choose a good time and place. Make sure the person knows you need time to talk, without distractions, and in person.
- Acknowledge the harm clearly. State what you did that had a negative impact on the other person. Own up to what you did. Be clear and concise.
- Express remorse. Talk openly about your feelings. You may feel shame, humiliation, or remorse. Communicating this shows you genuinely regret the suffering you caused. Be careful not to provide excuses or blame others.
- Make amends. Apologize and express your desire to repair the damage you’ve done. If your amends is for loss or damage of property, offer compensation or replacement. If it’s for something such as a violation of trust, the amends might involve stating what steps you’re willing to take to improve your trustworthiness, like going to marriage counseling. If you don’t know how to make restitution, it’s okay to ask.
As humans, we all make mistakes. Owning the harm, expressing regret, and correcting the mistake is what’s most important.
When Amends Aren’t Possible
There are instances when amends can’t be made. Either the person isn’t reachable or is no longer alive. Also, there are situations when making amends could cause more harm. For these situations, amends may look different.
Some people will donate money to a deceased person’s favorite charity to make amends or instead of making a direct amends, they’ll read an amends letter to a trusted friend. Usually an inventive way will become clear to those who are willing to think outside the box.
The Ultimate Gift
The consensus among researchers, mental health experts, religious leaders, and those in the recovery community is that tremendous good can come from owning our mistakes, expressing our regret, and doing what we can to make things right. It’s a gift to everyone involved.
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