When You've Received an Apology,
But Just Can't Forgive

Asking Forgiveness

You view yourself as a kind, forgiving person and you hope to always be so.  But something has happened, an apology was owed and has been given, yet you can’t bring yourself to forgive the person or the situation.  

Maybe you’re feeling a little shocked by the situation.  Or you . . .

  • have a previous history with the person that includes distrust.
  • believe that an apology isn’t enough.
  • don’t feel the apology is genuine or from the heart.
  • think the person lied about the circumstances.
  • feel the apology was deceitful.

Whenever you feel you can’t forgive someone, consider doing a little self-exploration.  Perhaps each of you perceive the situation differently and a misunderstanding is at the heart of it.  Is it possible that you receive some satisfaction from being a victim?  Or maybe the jerk doesn’t deserve forgiveness, but giving it will be the best way for you to move on.

A Poorly Timed Apology

Your hesitation to forgive could be stemming from the fact that the apology was poorly timed.  If an apology comes too soon, your doubt of its sincerity can cause overwhelm.  If an apology took too long and the emotional ground is strewn about, it’s all you can do to withhold “Really, now you say it?!”

Particularly with misunderstandings or differences of perception, the apology given too soon can sound disrespectful. 

For example, you feel maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle.  When you meet a coworker for lunch and, at the end of the meal, the server asks if you’d like dessert, your coworker immediately chimes in, “I’m sure Sarah would love a slice of chocolate cake!”

Of course, you’re offended.  And your coworker, seeing your face, offers a quick apology to you and then tells the server, “No thanks.  We’ll pass on dessert.”

The thing is, your coworker thought she saw you admiring the chocolate cake in the dessert case and was simply attempting a humorous acknowledgement of that.  Her humor fell flat and then was compounded by the instantaneous apology.  And all of it was made worse by the fact that the server was standing by witnessing the entire exchange.

Unless you are very forgiving, the only way your coworker can redeem herself at this point is to get back to the office, wait an hour or two, and send you an email explaining her side of the situation – including an additional apology.

“As for forgiveness, etiquette is the inventor of the apology, a device expressly designed to cancel misdeeds. Unlike its successor, the punitive damages award, the apology is available free.  Etiquette also supplies the polite response to an apology: a gracefully murmured, ‘I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,’ and ‘Of course, I knew there must be some explanation.’”

~ Judith Martin, Miss Manners

Dealing with Jerks

Someone deceived you, lied to you, or stole from you.  And now he is apologizing.

You are hurt, feel vulnerable, and really want nothing to do with this person at this moment – possibly never again!  But how should you respond to his apology?

First of all, here is what will not help the situation:

  • Firing back with blame, anger, or sarcasm.
  • Ignoring the person and walking away.
  • Pretending what has happened hasn’t upset you.

However, an appropriate response may be:

  • "I’m still processing this.  I’d like to talk about it later.”
  • "I haven’t forgiven the circumstances or your role in this, but I appreciate your acknowledgement that something is really wrong.” 
  • “Thank you for offering an apology, but I can’t continue our relationship as it has been.

This is the type of person who may be a bit more insistent about receiving forgiveness.  But the last thing they deserve to hear from you is that you've let them off the hook.  Sticking to one of the appropriate responses above will keep decorum in place, while letting them know where they stand with you.

Reconsider Why You Can’t Forgive

When you feel hurt, there are other emotions that go along with that hurt.  These might include guilt – for not protecting yourself from such a situation, and shame – because others are aware of what happened.

Each of these emotions is an underlier to anger.  And if you don’t experience anger appropriately, it morphs into victimhood. 

Victimhood is the place where people seek revenge, gossip about the person who did wrong, and hold grudge matches to see who is “weakest.”  Unfortunately, it is not a nice place to live and people tend to experience miserable lives there.

But anger that is felt, examined, and purged, will lead you on the path to forgiveness.  This doesn’t mean you have to have the person who wronged you in your life, it doesn’t even mean you have to tell them they are forgiven. 

Forgiveness means you have put the past behind you, learned from it, and now walk a clear path forward.  So, even if you aren’t ready to forgive in the moment you receive an apology, consider getting to forgiveness in the future.

Forgiveness is the scent the violet leaves on the heel that has crushed it.

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