Rationalization: the Disingenuous Apology

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You’ve done something wrong (just try to imagine this scenario) or something that happened lead to someone else’s feelings being hurt, or the topic was insensitive, or whatever, it actually doesn’t matter, one party is hurt and the other needs to apologize. This could be intentional or unintentional, I’m not sure it matters.

“I’m sorry but I thought/didn’t realize/was trying to…”

There are so many things wrong with this sentence I don’t know where to begin.

Yes, yes I do.

There was once a saying going around that said something like the “but” negates everything that came before it, I don’t think it negates it, in my experience, it lessons it. The need to rationalize, the need to explain ourselves, the need to somehow be a little “less wrong” than we are needs to stop. As if they somehow understood your position their feelings would magically go away. There may be a time for explanation, but in the moment of the apology, stop the urge to explain yourself and just apologize, please, it will go a long way, I promise.

People need a genuine apology and to hear that their feelings matter. When we jump to rationalizing we are telling the person that their feelings or experience is not that important. At times, it can even be shaming. “I didn’t mean it that way” can translate to a hurt party to say, “you’re crazy and you are the one over reacting” or “that was all in your head” or “I am more important than you.” Listen to the person, listen to the pain and have compassion, instead of jumping to your own defense.

We don’t like to be wrong, even when we know are. It’s a tough world out there, I get it, stress levels are high and sometimes we snap, or speak without thinking, or make mistakes by simply not knowing. When someone tells you you’ve done something that hurt them, you feel guilt or shame, and that feels bad. We want that feeling to go away, so we rationalize even to ourselves and perpetuate the hurt. The funny thing is, if the person feels heard and receives a true apology then they it will be a lot easier to extend grace and forgiveness. Allow forgiveness a chance to occur… “I was wrong, I’m sorry” and stop, when you rationalize, especially when you feel hurt in the process the cycle of pain continues, instead of stopping and giving an opportunity to heal.

Sometimes we’re not necessarily “wrong,” but still need to apologize. This is a common occurrence when the “thing that happened” is taken out of context. Or possibly they thought it was “for your own good.” Perhaps it really was a misunderstanding, but you probably could/should have handled it differently. Even if it was “the right thing to do” fall back on the golden rule here, treat others as you would want to be treated. Apologize for not extending them a decent courtesy of treating them like a valued person in their lives, and if it’s personal, don’t act and ask for forgiveness later, be upfront and honest.

Apologize first and reengage in the situation (if it’s absolutely necessary) later. Reconcile, know your limits, check your emotions. Allow time for the apology to sink in and for forgiveness to open the heart and the mind. Ask them before you “explain yourself” if they are ready to talk about it. If it’s too soon, it’s too soon. Remember, rationalizing is trying to make you feel better, not them. But talking through the situation can be helpful, give them insight into their process, not to excuse feelings but to foster open communication. “I bottle things up and then explode.” “I thought I was being open about what my needs were, but obviously I wasn’t, what would be helpful next time?” “I really didn’t see things that way, but after knowing how hurt you were I will make sure to check with you/come to you first.”

The “I’m sorry” is just the beginning, not the end of an issue, remember, healing takes time.

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When Healing Hurts

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My first child was born by emergency c-section after 22 hours of labor. My body was exhausted and shutting down. Days later I had an infection in the incision site. It took 3 months of a nurse’s daily attention and another 3-6 months of weekly then monthly attention for my wound to heal. Everyday the nurse would come, I would cry, sometimes because of the pain, sometimes because of the annoyance, sometimes because I just needed to cry.

She would reassure me that I was making progress, that healing took time, that I was doing well. She would even try to show me, measuring the area. “You’re healing,” she would say, “you are.” When it first happened I asked the doctor how long I would have to do this. He was smart enough to lie. “A week?” I asked, “two?” “Maybe a little longer,” he said.

The process took almost 9 months. 3 days to create, 9 months to heal.

Yesterday I had a difficult therapy session. I have a gaping wound in my heart and I’ve done such a good job covering it up that there are some who forget that it’s there.

Like me.

I’m back in that exam room asking how long it’s going to take to heal. I’m naive enough to think it’ll be sooner than later.

Healing takes time, and it hurts. I like to think of healing as such a nice word, we even have services of “Healing and Wholeness” but it is painful. Maybe not as painful as getting the wound, but it’s harder and more difficult. Getting the wound is like ripping off the band-aide, no matter how long it took to get it, it happens and your body can’t feel all the feels at the same time so adrenaline kicks in. When you heal the adrenaline subsides and you feel the pain from the inside out. It’s numbing at times, sharp and stabbing at others and annoying as hell.

If I lay here and don’t move it doesn’t hurt. But that only lasts so long because eventually you have to move and the longer you wait, the more painful it is.

When will I learn, I wondered yesterday, that stuffing down the pain actually takes more work, more energy than simply dealing with the pain?

The pain finds a way out, no matter how hard I try. I get upset at stupid things, or project my anger onto something or someone else. The wound is still there no matter how well I triage it. Allowing myself space to be angry or sad or whatever it is I’m feeling is actually healing, I am healing. But it’s going to take a long, long time. And the process sucks.

The Overcoming of Shame

Shame, boat loads of shame, day after day, more of the same. ~the Avett Brothers

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I am visiting one of my oldest friends and his wife for a few days. She and I are very similar in personality, (which is really not surprising) and I am amazed by her. She has 4 kids, is ex-Navy, a stay at home mom and loves it. She shows me that it’s okay to love your kids and also not be that kind of mom that lives through your kids, that you have needs too, that your needs are also valuable, that this is the way to not only survive, but to thrive in life.

I need people like Jessica in the world, I am privileged to know her.

Yesterday afternoon we had returned from the beach, the two of us and the six kids, everyone was showered and clean and we sat them down to watch the Lego Movie. As we were talking we got on the conversation of living our lives in the open. It’s a common thing we extroverts do. I mean we all have secrets, yes, but the reality of the extrovert is that we process out loud, which means that some of the things “normal” people (read introverts) would keep private, we just kind of put out there.

Then she said something I can’t get out of my head; she said that she had to get over a lot of shame to live that way. Then last night I found out that Robin Williams died. Shame came back to me. Not me, as in my shame, which I have plenty of, but just being reminded of all the same we all carry with us.

I obviously don’t know the intimate details of his life, but we do know depression, addiction, and I dare say, shame, has a lot to do with suicide.

I wrote a sermon about healing and reconciliation not too long ago, you can read the whole sermon here or listen to it here, but here’s the quote that’s pertinent:

The researcher and author Brené Brown has some helpful differentiations in this way, she says: “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Guilt- psychological discomfort for failing to live up to our values or beliefs.

Shame- feeling unworthy of love and unworthy of connection.

One of these is healthy, one of these is not. I cannot read scripture in any way that does not prove to me over and over again that God believes we are worthy of connection and relationship, I cannot and have never read scripture in a way that says that God believes that we are unworthy of love.

Love and life are far more important than any shame that we may feel for failing to live up to expectations. Love and life are valued by God far more than anything else in this world. When shame overcomes us, we must struggle that demon away, remembering that love and life are valuable, that shame is not the voice of God, God does not shame, for God is love and life.

I believe in the words of Revelation 21, that a new heaven and a new earth will come, that every tear will be wiped, that mourning shall cease. I do not believe this is a cosmic event though, I mean maybe it is, but that’s a whole other blog post. That these “new beginnings” are part of the ebbs and flows of life.

I also believe and hold strongly to the words of Psalm 30- that joy comes in the morning, that God will turn our mourning into dancing.

These things have been true in my own life, and even as I write now I mourn a great loss in mine, I live in the hope of these things. But in order to do that, shame has to be put in its place.

Shame is not the voice of God, love and life are.

Integration

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How do you forgive, how do you heal?

This is a question that I not only have asked myself many times over in my life but people ask me on a regular basis. Forgiveness and healing are often at the root of why people turn to or against faith. I had a beautiful morning with a dear friend and this topics was discussed between us.  Here are some thoughts I have.

I cannot heal myself, neither can you heal me. The power of forgiveness and then the healing that comes from it can only be extended by God. Yes, you give into the healing power, but only God can actually do the healing and forgiving.  This of course begins with prayer, various forms of prayer and time. This is not to make you feel helpless, this is just a reality.  I am a smart woman, and I have a large ego, but there are some things I cannot will into existence.  I cannot command myself to forgive. I may go to therapy, talk to every person I know, do every exercise possible, but until I understand that healing and forgiveness cannot be achieved on my own, I will be stuck. (This is a lesson I have to relearn on a regular basis, by the way…)

Time is essential.  I was once told that I knew I had forgiven someone when I could think about the person or situation without negative feelings arising.  At the time I truly thought that was impossible. Years later, I can begin to see that is true. Time does not heal all wounds, but over time this “thing that just happen to me” shaped who I am.  Hopefully for the better, and that integration can be healing and should not be rushed.

Accept that you are changed. There are things that just happen to you. Shit happens, it doesn’t always have a purpose or a meaning, sometimes it’s just shit.  However, it changes us, each and every experience we have changes us. Accept this, incorporate it into your life, learn from it, grow from it, or express it. Don’t hide, let the secret out, don’t be ashamed, it just is, even if “it” is something you did wrong or are embarrassed about.  Talk, write, sing, jump, kick it out. Bottling these feelings of shame or joy will only eat you alive. Curse at God, love yourself through it. Know that you are different physically, emotionally, and spiritually from every relationship you have. Ones that are good and ones that cause harm.

Stay in relationship This is the hardest of all. If possible- let me repeat that- IF POSSIBLE stay in relationship with the person or people.  Healing comes through relationships. There is a reason why atoning for ones sins is in the 12 step program. The person may never know or understand how they have harmed you and that can be almost as, if not more, painful then the act or acts that took place. This is not possible with everyone. Some sins are harmful to your person and you need to break the relationship off. Then do it. This harm could be physical or emotional. Or the person may have died, or you don’t even know who they are.  This happens, healing can come from it, but in my experience it is harder. I hate that it is, but it is. Life may be “easier” by not being in relationship with them but at what cost? You have to decide this for yourself, is the weight of holding the hurt larger or smaller than the weight of being in relationship? This is not an easy question to answer and may take multiple trials and error.  

Essentially there is no easy answer (and I certainly don’t have them), healing is complicated, because it comes through love, the love of God. Forgiveness is an extension of mercy and again, only comes from God. So if there is something you are in need of healing from or for, let yourself off the hook to “fix it” as soon as possible, and open yourself up to the healing powers of grace. May it be so for you and for me…