One day, a few weeks back, I was in session with a client who admitted to an act from her past that was kicking up a bit of shame. In tow with her confession was a resistance to and fear of apologizing.
Curious, my muse kicked in, and I jotted a note on a post-it:
While this client hadn’t actually raped anyone, nevertheless, that phrase stuck out.
And then, I couldn’t help but think about all the people who’ve done something–anything–they’re not proud of, but are currently cowering in shame, too afraid to make amends. (Even years or decades later.)
I’m a trauma resolution educator, coach and guide. I’ve got a good community of people who are open to engaging around the shadowy territories of sexual violence, so I decided I’d poll my people with one simple question:
“Have you ever received an apology for any kind of sexual violence from the assailant? (Rape, date rape, molestation, sexual assault, sexual harassment?)”
The results, out of a hundred responses, broke my heart:
12 “expand here if you’d like”, of which half reported something along the lines of “from ONE, but not the other three” and the other half were “yes, but…”, recounting stories of fake, immature or half-assed apologies.
About 20% of my people have received some sort of apology for sexual violence.
80% have not.
After sitting with those numbers, and the stories of the incredible people in my community, and after recounting the ways that I’ve both received and not received apologies… I’ve come to this perspective:
Apologies can’t and won’t auto*magically* heal trauma, betrayal or physiological patterns of danger response. They don’t undo the deeds of the past. But they can lift the weight of shame, guilt, rage and grief. They can act as valves for opening and releasing energy. And that’s worth a lot.
So without further adieu… 3 things to help you say sorry for raping someone (or other things you’re ashamed of):
1. A little riff on the benefits of apology.
2. The 6 keys of a mature apology.
3. A Madlibs for Mature Apologizing.
A true apology does two things: First, it takes personal responsibility. Second, in the act of taking personal responsibility, it grants you the power to forgive yourself. And self-forgiveness is the fountain of deep freedom.
When you can forgive yourself, not in some hallow bypassing kind of way, but because you know you’ve done the humbling work of facing your shortfalls and acknowledging the ways you may have caused harm… your frequency changes. Your energy lightens. Your soul realigns. Again, not automagically, and not necessarily easily, but deeply and truly.
My people, over and over again, wrote that what they wanted more than an apology was a change in behavior.
However, apologizing can be a threshold you cross, a way to awaken to your capacity to change.
Especially if you apology maturely.
And here’s the thing I really want you to know (because throwing around the words “mature” and “personal responsibility” can trigger feelings of emasculation and resistance):
I’m not here to finger wag anyone into apologizing. It’s really your call whether you choose to apologize, or not.
But let me be clear. My motive for teaching mature apologizing is this: I want you to feel free. Deeply free.
So free that your energy really does change and you really do have the power to create ripples of healing with your personal work of self-forgiving.
Mature apologizing –> self-forgiving –> feelings of freedom –> positive ripple effect.
Here are the 6 qualities of a mature apology (for anything at all):
1. A mature apology gives without needing to receive in return. In other words, it does not solicit a certain response from whoever the apology is being given to. It does not try to coax forth certain emotions, manipulate perspectives, or receive validation, apology or forgiveness.)
2. A mature apology cleanly states the actions and beliefs that caused the other harm. No “sorta” or “kindas” involved. A mature apology owns what it’s apologizing for.
3. A mature apology demonstrates real empathy. It is able to see, say and apologize for how it must’ve felt for the other person.
4. A mature apology makes known its devotion to doing things differently.
5. A mature apology gives no excuses for its behavior. Sometimes explanation can be helpful if it’s coming from the place of service–as in, if you have new insight about why you acted the way you did that might actually give the person a healing sense of understanding, go for it. But check your motives first. If telling why is just a way for you to excuse yourself and elicit a favorable response, I’d leave the explanation out.
6. A mature apology carries within it a the knowing that in atoning you’re bringing the shadow into the light, and this act is an act of emancipation, energetic unshackling, holographic unwinding. It creates opportunities for emotional justice. It may not be everything. It can’t undo what’s been done. But can it can create more space for shame to melt and healing to happen. For you and whoever you hurt, simultaneously. And that is a worthy endeavor for everyone.
Alright. Those are the keys. Here’s the practice:
The Madlibs for Mature Apologizing.
I have no clue how you feel about me, but I can only assume it’s ________. That’s neither here nor there. This is not a letter asking you how you feel about me, nor is it a letter that’s trying to change how you feel about me.
This is a letter about _______ [doing the right thing for us both / atoning and apologizing / fill in your truth].
I’m sure you remember that time when ________ [Say what you did. Keep the ‘sorta’ or ‘kinda’s’ out of it. Get really clean and clear.]
What I did was _______ [wrong / truly shitty / unfair / based in terrible judgement and true insecurity / harmful].
I’ve spent a lot of time ________ [thinking about it / feeling guilty about it / avoiding the reality of it], frankly, but now, I just want you to know that I am wholeheartedly sorry.
I’m sorry I treated your body like _______.
I’m sorry I didn’t _______ your heart.
I’m sorry that when you _______, I _______.
I should’ve _______, instead.
I’m sorry I didn’t make space for _______.
I’m also sorry that when you _______, I _______.
I should’ve _______, instead.
There’s no good excuse.
Moving forward, I am committed to _______.
I will never again _______.
And I will become the kind of person who _______, _______ and _______, for the sake of _______ [putting an end to rape culture / creating the kind of world where humans feel safe to be human / creating the kind of world where people expect safety in sex, not danger… etc.]
I sincerely hope that this letter brings you _______.
I do not need your forgiveness, _______, or _______. Nor anything at all from you.
But I did want to express these things to you, in case they could be of service, especially considering ________.
Wishing you all the best.[Your name]
And of course, feel free to amend this madlibs to fit your truest truth. Take out or add in whatever’s extraneous or missing.
Sending you love & luck on this brave journey.
May your heart feel wildly free. May your freedom be wise and true. May you do the stuff of evolutionary saints. It’s time.
PS–Wanna excavate your story so you can tell it anew? Sign up for my mailing list to get all the details about EXCAVATE: A Secret Bad Girl Writing Class. Starts Monday May 16th.