Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Step #9 Making Amends

The late Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, a friend and mentor, who was one of the most forgiving and grudge free individuals I've ever known. He worked at accepting and loving everyone and did his best to carry the least guilt possible.

There are two pieces of baggage that are carried around for too long by too many people. I’m calling them the Double G’s. G number one is Guilt. G number two is Grudge. There may be some tangents we can reach out to from the Double G’s, but in my book they all focus back to Guilt and Grudge.

Both guilt and grudges burden us with significant and often extreme emotional weight. Some of them are trivial and, yet, can cause pain and scarring. Guilt or grudges can and, unfortunately, last a lifetime. They can destroy family relationships and friendships. They are sometimes childish in nature, but have grown out of proportion. Often, they can be resolved with simple, direct, honest communication.

Some people simply have a low tolerance for the human foibles of others and will carry a grudge against a person, a business, an institution or whoever or whatever has caused their jaw to tighten. Some people are ultra sensitive and take offense and carry hurt feelings forever because someone who isn’t very sensitive, diplomatic or tactful said or did something that caused some emotional pain.

Here is a fact! Life is short! In fact, life is too short! And, sometimes life ends abruptly with someone leaving this world with unresolved guilt or grudges and there is never any closure or amends. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word amends means compensation for a loss or injury. Amends is also the ninth step in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book and, while I’m not going to go into it as deeply as they do, I recommend you look it up and read it if you’re interested and so inclined.

I’m going to address making amends as it relates to the most common emotional baggage that falls under guilt and grudges. Loss or injury covers a lot of territory, the most extreme of which most people are not involved in.

“It's hard for me to say I'm sorry”

It really is hard to say, “I’m sorry” in so many cases. That subtitle is a line from the lyrics of one of the hit songs produced by the great jazz-rock group, Chicago. The song title is After All That We’ve Been Through. Obviously, I’m addressing the first of the Double G’s – GUILT!

Guilt is an emotion that you learn very early. Once again, your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, religious influences, even your friends teach you about guilt at the very earliest time you can begin to use reasoning at the most basic level. If you wet your pants as you’re being bathroom trained, you’re shamed and made to feel guilty because “you’re a big boy/girl now and big boys/girls don’t wet their pants.” You take a toy away from another child in Sunday School and you’re admonished and made to feel guilty. These are simplistic examples, however, this is where guilt begins.

If you’re brought up in even a moderately religious environment you learn about the “Original Sin.” There are even jokes made about various religions and guilt. Pretty much all Judeo-Christian religions impress a guilt component with sin. You are guilty of this sin or that sin. In some religions you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness.

Guilt ranges from one extreme to another. It can be something as simple as saying something that hurts someone else’s feelings. This is often done without malice, just an error in your choice of words and how you expressed yourself. While at the other extreme it can be causing permanent physical injury or even the death of another person. This sometimes occurs by poor judgment and other times through an accident that couldn’t have been avoided. Of course, there is always the extreme where you actually set out with malice towards someone or some group and purposely inflict pain or injury, physically, mentally or emotionally and often all three.

The point is that most people other then sociopaths and psychopaths will make mistakes in their relationships with others and harbor remorse. Sometimes the other person will be so deeply wounded emotionally that they will break off the relationship, including relations with family members. If the wounding isn’t as deep, the relationship may continue to exist, however, it will be strained and distant. Here is the challenge. Can you, if you made the mistake and caused the emotional wounding or, perhaps, it was a physical injury, stand up to the person you hurt and not only apologize, but ask for their forgiveness?

Guilt is guilt. But, here is another fact. History is history. In other words, once you’ve done something or said something that has deeply wounded someone else, those words or actions can never be undone. It is carved in stone just as surely as the great statues of history were carved in stone. Time will weather the stone and perhaps the sharpness of the original carving will be worn away and softened a little. However, the statue was carved and at least some parts of it will likely remain forever. So, you can’t go back and erase the words you spoke or wrote. If it’s a physical injury, perhaps, it’s something that the person will recover from, but there will likely be a scar as a reminder.


It’s time to start letting go of your guilt. You can’t undo whatever has caused this feeling of guilt. You can’t change what has happened. It’s likely that you can’t fix whatever it is. So, the only thing you can do is let it go and move forward. The present is the only time you have and the future is not guaranteed. So, why carry something into whatever future there is that can’t be undone, changed or fixed?

This is important. Read and digest these next few paragraphs because until you accomplish this step you can’t move forward. The first person you’re going to ask for forgiveness is . . . YOURSELF. That’s right! You’re carrying guilt because you are human and fallible. Everyone experiences what is called “self-talk.” That’s where you talk to yourself either out loud or in your head. Once again, because you have been conditioned to do what is always right and expected of you, you don’t cut yourself any slack. When you make a mistake you chastise yourself. “Boy, am I stupid.” “That was dumb.” “Why can’t I get this right?” “Darn, I knew I’d be late.” Each of these little self-talk chastisements reinforces a subconscious feeling of inadequacy. Of course, you’re perfectly competent and handle thousands of details day in and day out. However, since the time we were children there has been that conditioning that making any mistake is not good and therefore we harbor a subtle guilt.

Well, once again, here is the fact. You are human. Humans make mistakes. Get over yourself. Simply accept the fact that you’re not perfect. And forgive yourself for being a human like everyone else, who also make mistakes. One thing that I’ve adopted for myself is a WYSIWYG (pronounced wiz ee wig) attitude. It stands for “What you see is what you get.” This simply means that you are who you are and you’re a human who makes mistakes, errors in judgment, misspeaks and a myriad of other foibles. You never mean to hurt or injure anyone and you’ll do you level best to never let that occur – BUT IT WILL! So, others can accept you as you are with all your blemishes and warts or they don’t have to have any further relationship with you. But, that will by their choice, not yours. Since you have accepted them as they are, you don’t have any weight to bear from their choice. Essentially, you’re still going to offend or wound someone emotionally, mentally or even physically. It will happen, but you’re going to deal with it right then. You’re going to ask for their forgiveness and move on. If they won’t or can’t forgive you that will be on their shoulders. You’ve expressed your regret for the incident, apologized and asked for their understanding and forgiveness. There is nothing more that can be done.

Forgive yourself for every past transgression, every mistake, every failing, every time you feel you’ve let someone else down and so on. Remember, the only person in this entire world that you HAVE to live with is yourself. How can you live with and accept yourself if you are steeped in guilt. If you’re a religious person and believe in God’s forgiveness of you as a sinner, then how can you place yourself above your God in passing judgment of yourself?

The Amends List

Now you can move on to the next phase of forgiveness. It’s time to start making another list. This list is basically three columns. The first column is where you’re going to list the name of every person you know you’ve hurt or offended in some way at some time. The second column is going to be where you list a very brief description of how you hurt or offended each individual. The third column is where you’ll list an approximate date or time period when the incident occurred. The date or time period doesn’t have to be exact, it simply gives you a time line and shows you how long you’ve been carrying the guilt.

Who are the people you may have “wounded” in some manner? Well, let’s see – how about almost everyone? Okay, I’m being a bit facetious. But, the reality is that the list can include your parents, siblings, grandparents, spouse (including former spouses), children, other relatives, friends (including past boyfriends, girlfriends, buddies, gal pals, etc), neighbors, co-workers and the list goes on. You’re not going to remember everyone and even if you could, you probably have no idea where many of them are anyway. But, this is another dynamic list that you can keep adding to as names, places and incidents come to mind through association.

So, now you have this list you’ve created. What’s next? First, you’re going to forgive yourself for each or these people you’ve trespassed against. It’s another facet of your own unloading baggage process. Then, you’re going to begin, as the opportunity arises, to approach each of these people and apologize to them and ask that they forgive you. Perhaps you don’t know how to approach some of the people you feel have been hurt the most. It might be better to begin with those people who are closer in proximity to you and also with wounds, pains and scars that are not as severe as some of the others.

Many won’t even remember the incident until you remind them and perhaps it didn’t impact them as much as it impacted you. You both may get a good laugh over it. But, the air will be cleared and you’ve made amends. Some may not be as charitable. They may be grudge holders and just can’t let go. That’s okay! You forgave yourself and you apologized to them. If they want to keep that monkey on their back, it’s their choice, but your monkey is gone. Just as you’re downsizing and simplifying your life and feeling lighter and freer, as you shed this baggage of guilt you’ll feel even lighter, freer and certainly more joyful.

It may take some time to approach those people who you may have some very deep guilt about. Perhaps these might be parents or your current or a former spouse. You’ll want to keep procrastinating. DON’T! Remember, you only have the present. Tomorrow may never come for you or the other person. There are things that need to be said and it can weigh very heavy on you if something happens to the other person and the words are never spoken. Some of those words are “I’m sorry,” “I apologize” and “Can you forgive me?”

But, there are three words that can be spoken between all people to bridge wide relationship voids after you’ve apologized and asked for forgiveness. Those words are “I love you.” No matter how the other person responds or whether they forgive you or not, you have released your guilt and while “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” won’t change what happened in the past, it releases you. When you tell the person you love them, you are indicating that no matter what position they take, you truly care about them and respect their right to assume their position. Nothing more is needed. The entire encounter may last for only a few moments or it may open a door that’s been closed for too long.

Finally, some of the people you need to make amends with will have already passed away. You can’t face them and make your amends. If they are in a cemetery you should consider visiting their grave and making your amends there. I realize it’s just a stone marker placed over a buried casket with what’s left of the shell of the person and perhaps you don’t believe in an afterlife or a spirit. But, perhaps, it will just make it easier for you to let go if you visit that gravesite and talk to them out loud as if they could hear you. It surely can’t hurt and it might just make it more real for you.

In the future, I hope you’ll learn to not let this guilt build up and weigh on your mind and heart.  Think of all the time that passed that you could have spent enjoying those people you made amends with if you had only eliminated the baggage when the incident occurred. Life is too short!

Let It Go!  

I have a nurse friend, actually, she’s a psychiatric nurse, who always tells me, “Let it go!” when I go off on a rant about some injustice or issue with someone. She tells me that her granddaughter tells her to “Let it go!” when my nurse friend gets into a snit about something. I thought I was getting free mental health counseling, but as we’ve all heard, “Out of the mouths of babes . . .” The point is that we all allow things to get to us and sometimes we just don’t want to let go.

Grudges are totally useless. Basically, a grudge is a feeling of ill will or resentment towards someone who you feel wronged you, offended you or hurt you in some manner – emotionally, physically, financially or whatever. People who hold grudges can’t let them go. They won’t forgive the person they hold responsible and ultimately, the relationship is either very strained or terminates at worst.

I held a grudge against another business person in the recording industry once. He rented a very expensive, custom-built recorder my business owned for a weekend project. I told him I had a studio session that required the machine be back in my studio by a certain time, early Monday morning. We needed to get it reconnected in our system, check the alignment and be ready at a prescribed time for a recording session with a client. Monday morning came and the recorder was not back in my studio by the prescribed time. Actually, he arrived with the recorder while the client was standing in my studio wondering what was going on. Needless to say there was a lot of anger in that studio by then.

But, that’s not the worst of it. He rolled it in, said a hasty “I’m sorry” left a check on the desk and ran back out the door. We quickly lifted the recorder onto the platform in the control room, hooked up the myriad of cables, turned it on, threaded the alignment tape on the tape transport (this was back in the days of analog, reel-to-reel tape) and looked at the pattern on the oscilloscope. It was horrendous. There was something terribly wrong. Upon closer inspection, we found that the playback head had severe gashes in it, the stainless steel tape guides had been severely crimped and bent, but were turned so they weren’t noticeable from the front of the heads and the wires on the back of the head were resoldered and jury-rigged since they had been ripped out of the head. This was severe and very costly damage and, of course, meant that there was no recording session (lost revenue) that day or for at least a week and a half.

I called the party who had rented the recorder and he said he had no knowledge of any such damage. He refused any responsibility. Needless to say, he was off our rental client list. Two years later I discovered through someone who had been with the offending individual who had rented the recorder that weekend that when they were bringing this extremely heavy and awkward piece of machinery down a flight of stairs, they lost control of it and it slid down the stairs striking the head assembly and causing all the damage.

That’s a long story to illustrate the result of that incident in my life. I held a grudge against that guy for well over 20 years. I told everyone I encountered who might know who he was. I dissed him at every possible opportunity. I told people if he ever crossed a street that I was driving on I’d run him over and then back over him to see what I hit. I harbored vehemence about this individual for all those years. One day, it finally dawned on me that he probably had no idea I was carrying this grudge, this anger about this injustice that he had done to me. He probably forgot all about it. But, all that venom was still eating me inside every time I had a chance to stir it up and relive that incident. The only person who was hurting over this was me and I just kept hurting myself over and over. I finally “Let It Go!” I just decided that I had wasted enough of my life and time over something that was over, done and was never going to change. It was history. Now I only tell the story, as I just did, as an illustration of how futile and dumb a grudge is.

So, are you holding any grudges? There is a reasonable chance you may be. It’s most likely that there won’t be as many grudges you hold against other people as there is guilt you’re carrying. But, once again, you want to make a list with the person’s or organization’s name, the incident and the time period. Perhaps, your grudges won’t be as severe as the story I related. On the other hand, maybe they are more painful, severe or seemingly unforgivable.

Maybe your best friend stole your girlfriend or boyfriend who you intended to ask to marry you or you were expecting to be asked to marry him or her. Possibly your spouse had an affair and broke up what you thought was a solid marriage. Perhaps you worked for an employer for a number of years, had performed well, always achieved high performance evaluations and when a position opened up for a promotion in the company you were qualified for, they gave someone else the position from below your level or hired someone from outside the company. Then there’s the possibility that you loaned something to a friend or relative and they returned it damaged, dirty or even destroyed. The scenarios can go on and on.

Of course, maybe you’re a grudge holder. In other words, you just like holding grudges against people and making them feel bad. It gives you a feeling of power over the relationship. Just about anything is a reason for a good grudge. Someone arrived late for a lunch date and you had another appointment and had to leave right after the other person arrived. You asked to borrow something and they couldn’t for some reason or just wouldn’t loan it to you. Someone was going to pick up something at a store that you needed and forgot to get it and it inconvenienced you. Again, the list of possibilities can go on.

The thing is this, none of these issues matter. A grudge is a senseless waste of time and energy. It doesn’t change any of the issues I just outlined nor would it have changed the issue with my recorder, especially over 20 years later. So, what’s the use? Is this a form of punishment? Is this supposed to bury the other person in the depths of guilt so they’ll feel miserable for the rest of their life? Ultimately, the loser is the grudge holder and if that’s you, then you better do something about changing your thinking.

So, you have your list of grudges, the people you’re holding the grudge against and the time period when the grudge was initiated. One by one, go down that list and “Let it go!” If the person you’re holding the grudge against knows that you’ve been harboring these negative thoughts and feelings all this time, then you owe it to them to go to them and apologize. Wait a minute. Did I say you, the grudge holder, should apologize to the person who triggered your grudge? I most certainly did. If you’ve given them even the slightest reason to deal with any guilt over the incident, especially if they apologized and may have attempted to make amends with you at some point in time, then you need to release them from that guilt.

If they don’t know you’ve been harboring this grudge and, perhaps, don’t even have much of a relationship or any relationship with you, then simply let it go. Bury it. Life is short. Why give yourself ulcers or make yourself susceptible to some other diseases or degeneration by creating a negative environment in your own body. Forgive the person, apologize for holding the grudge and just let it go. Once you do, again, you’ll feel freer and happier with your own life.

Making Amends Leads to Freedom

The bottom line is that we’re all human. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we say dumb and even hurtful things. Sometime we do things that are thoughtless. Sometimes “life happens” and the result is that someone gets hurt or offended. Carrying guilt around for years is just plain useless because whatever happened to cause you to feel this guilt is not going to disappear from history. It is what it is. Face it! Deal with it! Make amends to the person or people who have been offended or wounded in some way.

The same goes for grudges. A grudge, ultimately, doesn’t really hurt anyone except the person carrying the grudge. It’s another 800-pound gorilla on your back. Life has enough challenges, difficulties and complications without adding your own lead-weighted, useless baggage to the load. Let it go! Again, make your amends.

Forgive yourself. God does and so does the universe. Then forgive everyone who you feel has ever transgressed on you. Then forgive everyone you’ve transgressed upon. Life is short. You can never have enough friends no matter where they come from – family, social friends, co-workers, whoever, wherever. Learn to say simple things like “I’m sorry” and “Can you forgive me?” And then learn to incorporate the sincere use of the three words, “I love you” as it pertains to the specific relationship (remember there are at least 15 ways to define the use of the word love in Step 8 on Relationships).

Living Guilt Free and Grudge Free, the Double G’s, is going to make you freer and happier. You’ll gain or regain stressed or lost relationships and live a richer and more fulfilling life. Just let the Double G’s go and live free.

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