Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why you should never wait for an apology

I lived most of my life telling myself the same story. It began with "I was wronged." Then "They didn't appreciate me," it went on. And it wrapped up with "No matter how hard I try, how much I give, I always get taken for granted and never seem to get full credit."

It didn't matter whether I was referring to my personal or professional experience. Same story. The employers who milked me for all they could then shunted me aside to hire and promote fresh blood. The friends and relatives who dismissed me with callous remarks and thoughtless behavior. On and on it went.

One day my massage therapist asked me, "What do you get out of telling yourself that story?" (She became my business coach—shout-out to Carolina Lopez!)

That ended the story-telling right then and there.

I saw that it was a sick pattern. It's the opposite of empowering when you keep projecting the past onto the present and future. It might have felt comforting at the start to have a place to lay the blame for disappointments and a reason for festering resentment. But then the comforting turns into self-coddling. You nurse your boo-boo too long and before you know it you're stunted. An emotional gnome.

The breakthrough was realizing that it was a story. That's all it was. I could change it. I could reframe it. I could start from scratch if I wanted. And it doesn't depend on whether the people I've cast as oppressors ever own up to bad behavior and apologize. They likely won't.

I can tell that I've moved on, from re-reading this post I wrote on my List of Unjust Utterances back in 2010. It's a short compilation of the mindless things people have said to me that raised the fur on my back. They don't have an effect on me now. Maybe enough time has passed, maybe very few of those people are still in my orbit. 

Or maybe I truly don't care what people think of me. Those people, in particular.

Just for sport, I tried to imagine what it would be like to meet each one again and be offered apologies. Here's where it gets ugly.

Not because I wouldn't accept the apologies—I would, without hesitation. But what I realized was that just to be able to imagine them apologizing, I would have to set aside my long-held judgment of them as nasty people. Whoa! 

Me: good. Them: bad. If I can't tell myself that story anymore, I'd have to...give it up and um, grow!

Easier to just carry around a memory file of them as villains.
Easier to imagine myself taking the high road and forgive them without being asked.

So let's consider this quote from Robert Brault: "Life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got."

Yes, it allows you to move on. Don't wait for an apology; act as if you already accepted it. BUT: don't paint yourself as the big-hearted hero and the other person as evil incarnate. Leave room for the possibility, if not the probability, that they might wake up and evolve at some point.

We don't hold the patent on sainthood.