Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
I have worked the Twelve Steps for most of my adult life because I am a codependent. An on-going, recovering codependent.
There are specific spiritual practices I follow, all of which are intended to nurture my soul. I don’t follow those spiritual practices to please any external authority and I don’t do them to check them off my to-do list. I do them to keep myself centered and at peace.
My spiritual practices strengthen the inner connection I have with God, and at this point (Day 73) of sequestering at home during this pandemic, I have come to understand in a new way that working the Twelve Steps is a powerful way to Keep Hope Alive.
Today I return to writing about the challenge of Step 9 with a new understanding about that Step that comes as a result of spending this time at home. I also have a new understanding of what my teacher/sponsor said to me when I first took Step 9 under her wise guidance.
“A superficial apology isn’t enough when you have hurt someone by your behavior or your words. You don’t have to grovel, but in your inner being you must feel the weight of what you have done to another person. You must be truly sorry, and that comes from seeing clearly what you did and how it affected that other person.”
There is a tendency in all of us humans to dread having to face ourselves clearly and honestly, but there is nothing as healing as being truly sorry for the hurt and harm you have inflicted on another human being, likely someone you have said you love. “At times, you even have to feel disgusted by what you have done,” she said.
I have never forgotten that moment. Being disgusted with myself wasn’t what I really wanted to feel. In fact, the word repelled me. Looking back, I realize that what I needed to do was be willing to be willing to feel the full weight of how my behavior had harmed other.
When you realize the effect of what you have done on someone, it is natural to want to pull away from that acknowledgement. It is typical of all of us to want to blame the other person (If you hadn’t done (or said) that, I wouldn’t have had to do what I did.)
It is common for us to minimize what we have done (It wasn’t that bad! or I didn’t mean it.) It is common for us to deny that we did what we did or to try to move our load of guilt onto the back of someone else (He made me do that! or to ask, What was your part in that?) Worse, we may try to wiggle out of even an apology, not to mention an amends, by claiming that we were just kidding. “Can’t you take a joke?” we may ask.
Owning up to our sins of omission and commission (what we failed to do out of neglect, apathy, innocence or outright rebellion) or (what we actually did with willful intent, malice, stupidity or ignorance) is hard enough. Recognizing how we may have hurt another person takes regret to a whole new depth.
“It’s not enough just to apologize when making amends,” my sponsor told me. “Real amends requires you to feel the abject sorrow of knowing that you could do such a thing to another human being. ”
And to get to that level of regret requires empathy for the other person.
To make amends in such a way that healing can take place means that I must be brave enough to move beyond acknowledging not only that I did the hurtful deed, but that I understand how that affected the other person.
To have empathy means that I can feel with another person, but not for him. “I hate this for you,” my spiritual director said to me at one time. “I wish this had never happened.” And in those simple words, he acknowledged that he understood the depth of hurt I had experienced. With those words, he communicated, “I am walking with you on this hard path.”
As a codependent and an empath, I’ve had to work for a lifetime to differentiate between what I am feeling and the feelings of another person. Too easily I have taken on another’s bad moods, fears, sorrow and anger, and part of my painful growth has been to recognize that just because I pick up, carry and even express or act out others’ feelings like catching their colds, that is not really authentic love. It is feeling with another person and caring for another person in a way that benefits the other person is the point, right?
Empathy means that I have to get over myself enough to imagine what it must feel like for that person to have been hurt by what I did.
Empathy means that I have to honor the boundaries of my life and the other’s life enough to imagine why what I did has done harm to another.
Empathy requires me to understand from a child’s point of view, perhaps, how my decisions changed that child’s life from the child’s point of view.
Empathy requires me to stop my cajoling and re-writing the script, looking on the bright side and asking my child to agree with my cheery attitude long enough to understand the child’s point of view. Allowing a child or anyone else to have his own feelings about a situation means that I don’t get to talk the person out of her feelings just so I will feel better.
And why is it that empathy comes so hard for us?
Perhaps empathy is hard because once we feel with another person, we become afraid we will be pulled into a deeper well of grief or guilt, shame or self-loathing.
Perhaps empathy is hard because we think that if we feel with another person’s sorrow, we might have to do something we don’t want to do. Indeed, we may feel powerless before the gravity or the size of another person’s feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to do something right then to make the other person feel better. Or perhaps if we feel with that person, we may be swallowed up in guilt for what we did.
My dad told a story about a little girl whose friend had lost her mother. In telling her own mother about the day the child returned to school, the mother asked her daughter how Susie did on her first day back.
“It was so sad, Mom,” the child reported. “All she could do was put her head down on her desk and cry.”
“And what did you do?” the mother asked.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I just went over to her desk. I sat down beside her and put my head down and cried with her.”
Sometimes making amends means you and the person you have hurt have to cry together.
Tears are the body’s way of praying, I’ve been told.
In this season of pandemic and confusion, nurture your soul.
Keep on doing your spiritual practices, and wherever and whenever you need to make amends, do so.
Grace to you —
P.S. Because of the length of time between my last post on the Twelve Steps, I will be completing that series as well as continuing the current series, Keeping Hope Alive.” Today I blend the two emphases in one blog post.