One of the most dangerous things in relationships, when procuring solutions to conflicts, is getting an apology that isn’t authentic. One that plays on the sympathies of the empathetic us; because too quickly most of us want to put the issue behind us. “They apologized, didn’t they?” is our inner sentiment, “Don’t be mean, give them a second chance!” we may hear ourselves say.
And we do. Only later do we come to regret that choice, as we see they haven’t learned anything, and we haven’t made any progress in terms of what is right and just and fair.
As we backtrack, we begin to investigate what went wrong and where we let them off, and we begin to take too much responsibility for being too lenient. This is a point at which we need to be reminding ourselves that they are responsible for their actions, and we aren’t.
So, what are the signs of feigned repentance?
- Visible contrition is definitely what we are looking for just as much as we are looking for someone throwing themselves at our mercy. But this is easily taken advantage of. Many tears may be poured out and much groveling can occur, but we need to be aware of why people do this. Our emotional heartstrings can easily be pulled and be played to their tune of Academy Award sorrow. Genuine contrition looks like a commitment to change, the kind of commitment that carries through. Resolutely wrong rather than tearful.
- Sometimes, as we discuss the conflict, the person ‘repents’ by saying very little, perhaps nothing at all, and we can be lulled into thinking that they are admitting fault, that they bear responsibility — because they’re not defending themselves. Some people use this as their own tactic for not saying anything that would incriminate them. By saying nothing, people are very often saying nothing. When it comes to such an important conversation as apology and repentance, we need their engagement. The person who refuses to engage is not going to negotiate and compromise. We may get absolutely nowhere with someone like this.
- Repentance in and of itself is a changing in attitude that translates into transformed behavior. The bitter sorrow expressed in the apology needs to be matched with the earnestness of setting things right, which is sustained behavior change over the weeks and months. Repentance is a journey of honesty and humility and it can’t be done without God’s help. It is a change of heart that is more for the relationship than it is for itself. Use this as a check for a person’s motives. Are they putting the relationship before themselves? Viable relationships feature all parties doing this.
- Too often feigned repentance in one runs in parallel with unnecessary repentance in another. We need to be very well aware of the times we take responsibility in some bizarre way for the infractions of others. If this happens in any of our relationships, we can see it by the patterns that are visible to see. We aren’t talking one-offs here. These things are happening just about all the time, i.e. with regularity.
- Apologies and the restoration of relationships can be, for many couples and in many kinds of relationships, a war of attrition, and the person with the softest and most generous heart can be guilted into folding first and taking all the responsibility. If one person is holding out in a war of attrition the balance of the relationship is skewed.
These are just some of the signs of reticence in a person’s heart to really and sincerely apologize. There are many people who simply cannot or will not go there, into the land of vulnerability, or of concession, or of faith, or worst, of honesty to see when they are wrong.
Written by: Steve Wickham
Featured Image by: Priscilla Du Preez