| Family Reflections |

I’m Sorry

If we feel loved, we do less accusing and more apologizing


Apologies are hard to make. They seem to require a small sacrifice of the self, as if one is saying, “I am flawed.”

In admitting to ourselves and others that “I’ve done wrong,” it seems that we’re also admitting that “there’s something wrong about me.” It’s far easier to accept the wrongness in others. She’s so selfish. He’s controlling. Finding brokenness in others is natural and easy. But admitting that we ourselves have some of the same is excruciating and difficult. Why?

The Need for Love

Our ability to spot the flaws in everyone around us actually comes from the same place as our ability to hide our own flaws from ourselves: We need love. When others fail to give us love, we feel better if we tell ourselves that they wouldn’t have done so had they not been damaged from the start. “He’s got a personality disorder — that’s why he can’t treat (love) me properly.” “She’s immature; that’s why she doesn’t give me the care and respect I deserve.” Because we so desperately depend on love for our physical and emotional well-being, we need an explanation to account for its absence.

Meanwhile, our perceived lack of shortcomings proves (to us) that we are totally lovable. We harbor the belief that acknowledging our brokenness renders us less lovable, even unlovable. Therefore it’s best if we don’t see what’s wrong with us.

Forgiveness from Others

Of course, if we could still be loved after acknowledging our flaws, we wouldn’t have to work so hard at self-deception. The problem is that we have good reason to suspect that love will be withheld when we do something wrong. For instance, when we were children, being caught doing something wrong was a virtual guarantee of being rejected.

Imagine that at five years of age, we scribbled on Mom’s purse due to our lack of understanding about different kinds of property. Mom yelled at us, no longer gazing at us with love in her eyes. Instead, when we looked up into her face, we saw anger, disdain, disapproval. We felt worthless, unloved.

Even if we said “sorry,” we got a whole lecture about not drawing on things. We learned early on that doing wrong was costly in terms of love.

But imagine if after Mom discovered the scribbles on her book, she looked lovingly at us and said, “You’re supposed to draw on paper, not purses! Here you go, sweetie — use this pad to make your pretty pictures.” We looked at her face, soft and smiling, and knew that our mistake didn’t render us unlovable. She continued, adding education to her message, “Will you remember that we only draw on paper, honey?” We would have said “Yes, Mommy.” And the lesson would have held because that’s what tends to happen when we leave people whole.

Forgiving Others

When we’re the ones who catch others in the midst of their human errors, we need to be cognizant of how a corrected person feels.

What can we do to ensure that they still feel lovable and whole? How do we look and sound when our child (or spouse or someone else) is doing the wrong thing? Is it clear from the outset that the error is forgiven and that everything is really okay? What does our facial expression, tone of voice, and choice of words communicate?

Love Does It

When we’re the ones who’ve been “caught” doing something wrong, we need to understand our own reactions. Since most of us have experienced some sort of painful rejection when our less-than-ideal actions have been revealed, we naturally tend to find it very difficult to acknowledge our wrongdoing.

It’s even hard for us to admit to Hashem (Who already knows) that we have done something wrong. But Hashem, the ultimate loving parent, has already promised His forgiveness and love.

If we picture Hashem’s response to our confession as even more patient, more love-filled, more kind, and more forgiving than any earthly parent could ever provide, then we should be able to not only admit that we did wrong, but also find it easier to correct our behavior going forward.

Love holds it all together for us. We can access that love and its powerful healing potential by picturing Hashem’s embrace of us even as we err. “Here, sweetheart,” we can hear Hashem murmuring, “Let Me show you how you can easily fix this….”

Ahhh… forgiveness. And love.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 711)

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