We’ve all been there- somebody in the family did wrong to you, you decided to confront them expecting a heartfelt apology but instead, they lash you out and make you feel bad for opening up. These scenarios leave us confused and hurt, asking questions like, “Why do they have to respond like that?” “Don’t they love me?” “What should I do to make them understand?”
Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author, has a possible answer.
“Instead of the wished-for outcome, the harmed party may end up feeling re-traumatized. Most people who commit serious harm never get to the point where they can admit to their harmful actions, much less apologize and aim to repair them. Their shame leads to denial and self-deception that overrides their ability to orient toward reality. No person can be more honest with us than they can be with their own self,” she explains.
No matter how well you talk to them, whatever strategy you use, it is less likely for any individual (even your parents) to feel accountable and genuinely remorseful of the violation and harm they’ve done as long as this threatens their self-definition in an unacceptable or intolerable way. However, this doesn’t reflect their love for you- that’s beside the point.
“So, what should I do to confront them? Or should I just be silent instead?” you might ask.
The answer is, protect yourself first. Before opening up to the person who has harmed you, be sure to lower your expectations on getting the response you want and deserve. I know, I know- you long for that sincere apology and acknowledgement but thing is, the capacity of anybody to do that is related to how much self-love and self-respect that person has. And it’s something you can’t force them to have. So speak if you must and do it for yourself. Do so if that’s what you needed regardless of the respond you receive.
As Dr. Lerner says, “Understand that the more serious the harm, the less likely that a genuine apology may be forthcoming, now or ever.”