10 Things to Keep in Mind When You Apologize For Being a Bully (or anything)

Here is my advice as a therapist and a person who was bullied. My bully apologized twice. With my experience I say PLEASE TAKE CARE OF HOW (and WHY) you apologize.

  1. Why are you doing it? Are you doing a Mark Wahlberg? Do you just want to be “absolved.” He wanted the pope to “pardon” him, because apparently that’s a thing. You can’t ever “erase” what you did. Part of truly making amends is understanding that.

I don’t just say that as a survivor of bullying but as someone who has made mistakes too. If you are doing it to be completely forgiven to stop feeling bad know that probably isn’t going to happen. Wait on reaching out to the person and do more exploring. CLEARLY YOU (AND MARK WAHLBERG) NEED TO FORGIVE YOURSELF FIRST!

2) NOTE POWER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN YOU! I’m SURE power differences were there, and they most likely still are. Was the person smaller than you? Not as smart? Smarter but less popular? Were you prettier? Hotter? Did you want to be? Did they have less money or more? Are they a minority? Are you? Are you both male? Both female? Are you male and she female? How were you different?

If you look at this you’d be surprised at how you most likely had privilege they didn’t. (Mark Wahlberg bullied an Asian girl.) These factors can make huge differences in what actually happened and how you apologize. In my case my bully was male and I am female. He was able bodied and I had a physical disability. As we got older the bullying took on a sexual assaultive tone. So, it was so much scarier than some kid just bullying another.

3) You can’t expect a specific reaction. Again explore yourself. Imagine different reactions from the person. Imagine if they didn’t forgive you. How would you feel? Would you be angry with them because you are expecting forgiveness. If you do feel that way know: IT IS OK BUT… you aren’t ready to actually reach out to them yet. Do it if, and when, you are ready for them NOT to forgive you.

4) Do NOT make it about you when talking to the person, unless they ask. I know people who receive these long-ass email apologies. They say things like: “I’m in recovery now.” “I’m working on myself.” “These are all the amazing kind things I’m doing now.”

As a therapist I have no criticism on you working on yourself. This is great! But, the person you bullied probably doesn’t want to hear it. They may hear: “This erases what I did to you right? RIGHT? Please, tell me it is all okay now. ”

You’ve worked hard to be a better person and that makes the world better too. But, it isn’t a true apology if you only want the person to see you and you don’t want to know about them. All the work you did on yourself is best kept to yourself unless they show interest.

5) As with #4, the same could be said for sharing why you did what you did. Even if it is the best excuse in the world. My bully was abused. (In fact, most bullies are abused.) For me, knowing some factors about my bully (abused, financial trouble) helped me understand some things. Note that the person that you bullied may not feel this way. They may not care to know. Of course, the world should be sympathetic to that. You should be sympathetic to yourself, but don’t expect the person you bullied to forgive you due to whatever reason you have.

6) When you apologize keep the setting in mind. Maybe no one does anything in “public” anymore. But now all of online is public. My bully approached me in public two times. He used to attack me physically so imagine how I felt with this person coming up to me. The settings were both horrible- (a funeral and a bar.)

Ask yourself when approaching this person (even in email): How would I feel if someone I was scared of approached me in this way. Would I feel safe? Would I be scared? Would I feel like I had to respond, “Yes I forgive you.” just so they would leave?

7) I have to repeat this one. DO NOT do this in any kind of public setting. This includes online, in tagged Facebook stuff or whatever where the person is pressured to respond. Again, in my story my bully approached me with his group of friends, both times. This is exactly how he would bully me. It took me years (and years) to realize why I felt so horrible.

Why I was afraid and angry. I don’t think he meant harm, but he surely meant to do it with an entourage. I imagine this is how he did everything with a lot of crowd support. He also could get that crowd to turn on me, even though he wasn’t doing that anymore it still felt the same.

8) If you want to truly apologize keep the focus on the other person as much as you can. Make the initial apology short and sweet. “I have thought about how I treated you and I know I made things hard at that time. I think about that and you and I’m so sorry.” No excuses or big speeches. If you want more from them, keep in mind they don’t owe you anything. You can say, “If you want to talk more I would like that.” If they show interest you can talk about what was going on with you, or what is going on with you. If they seem to want to talk you can ask them what is going on in their life and be interested.

9) In the event that it goes really bad … You should respect their feelings. They can say something to the affect of “You ruined my life and it’s not okay.” Just restate how sorry you are. Hear them out if that’s what they want. Don’t argue with them. However this doesn’t mean you have to take verbal abuse. Don’t verbally abuse back. Again just restate the apology and then say that you need to end the conversation. You can say: “I hope one day you forgive me.” But, never say “You should forgive me.” or “You have to.”

10) Know all you can really do is work on yourself, but you can work to stop bullying! Be aware of bullying and teach your kids better. Don’t tolerate it when you see people doing it to others. Yes, bullying can happen to adults among friends and in the workplace.

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