Making amends with family is an important part of the recovery process. In fact, two of the 12 Steps (8 and 9) are specifically about making amends. Unlike apologizing, making amends involves acknowledging the hurt, amending your behavior (demonstrating changes through action), and righting a wrong.
Hurting the ones you love is a common result of behaviors related to addiction. Your past drinking or drug use has shaped your relationships with family members for years now, and just starting recovery isn’t enough to repair the damage done. As the holiday season is underway, now can be a good time to make intentional choices to make amends with the people who matter most in your life.
It’s important to recognize there may be times when an attempt to make amends could cause additional harm to the other person. In these cases, making amends can involve helping people more generally, such as volunteering or donating money to a specific cause.
STEPS 8 & 9
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
GOAL OF MAKING AMENDS
Apologies are intended to show you accept responsibility for the harm you caused to another person. Making amends is different, though. To amend something is to make it better or improve it somehow. The goal of making amends is to right the wrong you did once upon a time. The wrong could have involved stealing, lying, causing damage to someone’s property, hurting someone, or something else. As “righting a wrong” can be subjective, part of your goal of making amends is to determine what will be needed to help the situation with each person.
Making amends can involve a direct approach or an indirect approach. In direct amends, you see the person you’ve harmed so you can take ownership of what happened. Taking ownership involves accepting responsibility, of course. Also, you need to be prepared to listen to the other person when they explain how you harmed them and what other consequences it had in their lives. By listening to them, you can begin to do the work necessary to repair the harm. Unlike fixing an object you broke, repairing the damage won’t come from a one-time act. Instead, it requires consistency in how you show respect and care for this person on an ongoing basis.
Not everyone can make amends by being in the same space as a person they harmed. Some people may not be open to hearing a direct amends. The wounds may be very deep and not close to being healed, even years later. In this case, making what some people refer to as a “living amends” is an alternative option. Living amends are about examining what thoughts and attitudes led to the earlier harmful behavior. As you make a living amends, you consciously look for ways to treat people in your life with more care and respect than you did before. By doing so, you’re preparing yourself for the next relationships in your life and becoming able to be a reliable friend to new people.
HOW TO MAKE AMENDS
Each situation in making amends with someone will look and feel different, depending on the nature of your past relationship and the type of harm caused. There are some general strategies to keep in mind as you make your list of people to see and what to say to each one of them.
1. Accept your feelings of discomfort. Being mindful of how you feel can help you remain sincere.
2. Reach out in advance to set up a time to meet in a safe space.
3. Explain what you did wrong. Write it down ahead of time, if necessary.
4. Ask if there are any past wrongs you have forgotten to “own.”
5. Be ready to listen with empathy and ask if they have suggestions on repairing the harm you created.
6. Be prepared to accept their response.
HOW NOT TO MAKE AMENDS
Attempts to make amends can create more harm if you enter a situation focused only on yourself and what you want to get out of it.
1. Don’t talk nonstop, and not give the other person a chance to respond.
2. If a person becomes toxic or abusive with you, don’t insist they change their response. Simply end the conversation and leave.
3. Don’t look for ways to partially blame the other person for the harm you created.
4. Don’t choose a time or place that doesn’t work for the other person.
5. Don’t mask your discomfort with humor, making light of the situation, or try to change the subject abruptly.
Making amends is a great intention that doesn’t always pay off with a positive experience. Some people may not be ready to accept your amends, forgive you, or move on. It can feel disappointing or frustrating to have your offer of reconciliation be rejected. If this happens, remember the purpose of making amends was accepting responsibility and offering to right a wrong. It wasn’t to secure the outcome you imagined or hoped would happen. Also, there may be future opportunities to make amends with that person, so respectfully accept their initial reaction and continue to do the work needed to make amends with others.