19

I am not a well organised or responsible adult, and I'm often self-absorbed and careless. Not to the point where I have trouble holding down a job or making friends or suchlike, but enough to ensure that once or twice a year I'll manage to really upset a friend or family member. I forget important occasions, purchase tickets for different events on the same day, say thoughtless and inappropriate things.

I used to do this sort of stuff a lot more, but I've slowly learned to do better by various methods. I can't imagine I will ever be able to do it properly, though: once or twice a year may be as good as it gets. But it's not good enough for the people I care about.

Whenever I manage to screw up, and it's unambiguously my fault, I feel terrible about it. Occasionally there's something practical I can do to rectify the situation, but usually, there isn't. Even when there is, I've still failed at something important, and the fact of that failure still causes upset. I am consumed with guilt and remorse.

I deal with this very badly. I will attempt to talk to the person I've offended but often they're too angry to resolve things and I find it hard to deal with the lack of resolution. I tend to avoid the people in question until they're ready to talk about it, which is awkward if they're in the same house. At the same time, I feel too guilty about the situation to "do" anything positive. I go through the motions: fulfilling practical goals like going to work and household chores but once that's done I sit and do nothing, full of misery. I will cancel or avoid social appointments or anything that might normally be fun.

From the outside, it's obvious this must look ridiculous, like a teenager sulking in their room. It is also self-indulgent, to wallow in my own guilt when what I would like to do - and what I should be doing - is to focus on the feelings of the people that I've hurt.

Even knowing this, I do not know how else I can behave. If they're too angry to talk about their feelings, I cannot focus on them. If there's nothing practical I can do to help the situation, then I can't take immediate action. If I find taking my responsibilities difficult, and I have done as much as I can to change, I cannot invent practical plans to stop the thing from happening again. If I have caused hurt and offence and feel bad, I do not want to fill my time with frivolities.

How, then, can I react in a more mature and constructive fashion?

closed as too broad by Bradley Wilson, Vylix, Crazy Cucumber, A J, Catija Sep 13 '17 at 2:59

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Can you give an example of an offense you committed, the apology you offered, and their reaction and continued anger? More detail will help people to write a better answer. – anongoodnurse Sep 12 '17 at 14:54
  • @anongoodnurse Thanks for the suggestion, and I appreciate it would help, but I feel that would be too personal. – Bob Tway Sep 12 '17 at 14:56
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    Where are you located and what is the cultural context here? People will react differently to offense depending on where they are located. Also, I would strongly recommend making this question about a specific example, as anongoodnurse suggests. We don't know why people are hurt, we don't know how upset people are... it's hard to know any of that unless you make this question about a specific example. – user288 Sep 12 '17 at 15:35
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    I may be wired a bit differently, but if someone doesn't want to accept my apology, then they don't have to. Again, this may just be me, but I care about relations I have with people as much as they care about them with me. It's a two way street, and if I'm doing my best to apologize, they should be doing their best to forgive me*. If they aren't, then why even apologize? They clearly don't value our friendship enough to make an effort.... – Anoplexian Sep 12 '17 at 16:27
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    I don't want to shift the blame if you really think you are to blame and trying to improve (which is already a mature sign), but it is worth thinking whether you are being a victim of manipulation (which may or may not happen to you a lot because of your personality as well as theirs; also something to look at in terms of self-improvement). The adage "before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you're not, in fact, surrounded by assholes" is very true, even if a bit self-serving. If the context is also one of a relationship, then you may want to read datingasociopath.com etc. – Tasos Papastylianou Sep 12 '17 at 17:24
17

You already know (having done this before) how to react after the fact. Apologize, make amends, etc. It may take days, months or even years, but the animosity will fade over time.

What proves to be disappointing (And I empathize, I am horrible at remembering important occasions as well. Thank deity I have yet to forget our anniversary), is the repeated occurrences, which puts the lie to all of your earlier protestations about it not happening again, you'll do better and similar pledges. It basically tells the other person "You aren't worth me remembering what is important to you."

In the modern era, there are many tools available to you to fill this gap. What I have taken to doing is putting multiple alerts on google calendar linked to my smart phone (Or you can put it directly in your smartphone calendar as well). I give myself multiple alerts and lead time to get a card in the mail, buy a present, whatever. This generally means 2 weeks out I get an alert, and another at a week out, and again the day of, so that I can pick up the phone or go see the person.

If you put in an honest effort to fixing the actual problem (YOU), then the people you have hurt will recognize this, and the apologies and amends will both become easier, and more likely to be accepted. Yes, it may take years, but it should happen.

  • This is a great answer. It gives positive measures one can take to reduce the number of potential infractions. It directly addresses the OP's statement, "If I find taking my responsibilities difficult, and have done as much as I can to change, I cannot invent practical plans to stop the thing from happening again." I'm not sure it's what the OP expects as an answer, but it is what the OP needs to do better in the future. +1 – anongoodnurse Sep 12 '17 at 15:06
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    I think very much that the promising to change and never actually changing is extra offensive to people after a while. Stop saying you'll change if you aren't actually going to, or have plans on how to do it. I also agree in this day an age, there isn't much of an excuse for missing events or scheduling two events at the same time -- the fact there are common tools everyone has to help with this must also really extra annoy people -- you're basically telling them they aren't worth any effort. There isn't an easy answer here, you have to put more effort in if you want to keep relationships. – mbw Sep 12 '17 at 15:42
11

You say:

I'm consumed with guilt and remorse... I will attempt to talk to the person I've offended but often they're too angry to resolve things and I find it hard to deal with the lack of resolution. I tend to avoid the people in question until they're ready to talk about it, which is awkward if they're in the same house. At the same time I feel too guilty about the situation to "do" anything posititve. I go through the motions: fulfilling practical goals like going to work and household chores but once that's done I sit and do nothing...

You are contradicting yourself a bit here, so I'm not sure what you're doing when. Time-frames are fuzzy. Being consumed with guilt and remorse isn't bad, but it is "you-focused", whereas an apology is "them-focused." Maybe that's where the issue lies.

What to do in some ways depends on the offense. Most things - most, but not all - can be taken care of by an immediate and effective apology.

The person is angry. Most angry people want you to apologize, so they will give you a chance to do so. An immediate apology is almost never inappropriate. If they are still angry after the apology, either the apology was inadequate, or they were so hurt that they need more time to cool down.

A good apology consists of four things:

-the heartfelt "I'm sorry" part
-ownership of what you've done
-a promise to do better
-restitution

For example, you're supposed to your mother's birthday party, and you never show up.

As soon as you see them, you apologize.

-Mom, I am so, SO sorry!
-I can't believe how thoughtless I was, and how badly I hurt your feelings. What I did was wrong, and was totally inappropriate.
-I promise I will try my best never to do it again. I'll write it on a post-it note and put it on my mirror. I'll set my phone to alarm me. Whatever it takes.
-Please let me make it up to you. I'll take you out to the restaurant of your choice. You name the day.

That's only a bit over the top, but it's a "them focused" apology. If someone is still mad at you after that kind of apology, it must have been grave indeed, or they are oversensitive.

If you can give an example of an offense you committed, the apology you offered, and their reaction and continued anger, please do. More detail will help write a better answer.

If after the above apology, the person is still angry, that is on them. You need not hide away. Try again, then do what you normally do, with a look of sincere sorrow on your face if they see you.

If they choose to hold grudges, that is usually not your problem, but usually theirs. There is an important difference. People who hold grudges do so for a lot of reasons. If they do it because it's the fifteenth birthday you forgot, it's your problem. If it's the first birthday you forgot, it's their problem. Don't let people make their problems yours.

If it's the third time you forgot their birthday, add this to the apology:

I know I've done this before, and you have no reason to believe I won't do it again. You have a perfect right to feel that way, but I'm asking you to forgive me. Please tell me how I can do better.

6

Several of the existing answers are about how to apologize effectively and include excellent advice on that front.

Taking your question at face value, though, you say you already know how to apologize, try to make amends, etc. but the issue is that the steps you take don't necessarily result in an immediate resolution and repair of the relationship. As you put it:

I deal with this very badly. I will attempt to talk to the person I've offended but often they're too angry to resolve things and I find it hard to deal with the lack of resolution. I tend to avoid the people in question until they're ready to talk about it, which is awkward if they're in the same house. At the same time, I feel too guilty about the situation to "do" anything positive.

It sounds like your problem is about how to manage the negative feelings after hurting someone's feelings badly enough that a sincere apology doesn't fix it. This answer focuses on that aspect of your question --- how to manage your feelings --- rather than what to say to the person you hurt.

I am consumed with guilt and remorse.

When you've hurt someone you love, guilt and remorse are the normal, healthy response. It sounds like you're spiraling out of control, though, which isn't good for you (and it doesn't help the person you hurt either). This kind of obsessive focus on your negative feelings is sometimes called rumination in psychology. It's related to depression and anxiety, and just like depression and anxiety, it can be very hard to overcome on your own. As you've seen, just wanting not to have this negative reaction, or knowing that it's not helpful to behave like this, doesn't mean you can stop it on your own.

Even knowing this, I do not know how else I can behave.

Because you have a predictable pattern that results in these feelings/behavior (you forget something important -> a person you love is upset -> you fall into despair and inaction), you may find cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) especially helpful. It's one of the most common kinds of psychotherapy, and it's designed to help you break out of exactly this kind of negative cycle. From the Mayo clinic page on CBT:

CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

If you can work on managing your own negative feelings in the wake of one of these hurtful mistakes, you'll be in a much better place to focus on the person you hurt. You'll be able to listen better, apologize better, pay more attention to how they're feeling, and maybe even see new ways forward to repair the relationship more effectively.

4

This is a piece of advice I gave a friend of mine a while back. He never seemed to resolve an argument or fight with his best friend and after this it worked out for him. There's a small plan you can follow to resolve conflicts or arguments that were inflicted by you.

1. Apologize!

I know it might sound like pointless or unimportant to you, but the opposing party will be thankful for this eventually. Show them you acknowledge this was your fault and that you are sorry for making them feel this way.

2. Try to fix it

As you said, not everything is fixable. Try to figure out (and ask!) if there is anything you can do to make it up to them. If there is not, be okay with that. Prodding and bugging for a way to make it up to them is only going to make them more aggravated. Immediate action is not always wished for.

3. Offer change

This might be the most important step: tell them how you will make sure this will not happen again. If it's a social matter, think of something that will stop the problem from repeating. Did you break anything? Tell them you will be more careful next time.

4. Next time

Yes, next time. Running away is not the solution. It is probably very unlikely you did something so bad to them they never want to see you again, so don't shut them out! Give them a few days to cool down and keep doing social activities with them. Show them you really are their friend and you mean no harm to them. Showing them your good side will help them overcome the issue.

  • 1
    Thank you: while I appreciate this advice, it's not where the focus of my question is. I know to do 1 & 2. 3 often feels impossible. 4 I already do, given time. What I'm hoping to find out is a better, more mature and more positive way to act when "sorry" alone isn't enough to resolve the situation and it's going to take days - or more - before tempers cool. – Bob Tway Sep 12 '17 at 14:03
-2

I'd advise talking to a professional Psychologist about this. It seems like this may be something that requires their diagnosis.

Worst case, you lose a few hundred bucks, which is a small problem compared to your predicament. Best case, you actually find help and useful, workable ways to get through life.

So, why not?

As a side note... when you anger someone, after waiting for them to cool down you could just tell them something like:

I'm really sorry I did that, but I have no idea why I did it. I don't know why, but sometimes I'll do these things which make people angry. I regret it after the fact, and believe me I do, but I can't help myself doing it. (etc, keep going).

On the one hand, it's the truth. If they're smart, and care about you, it could lead to an interesting conversation where they learn to understand you better and realize you just do these things. Maybe you'll also learn a few things.

On the other hand, this is a basic manipulation technique where you enlist someone's help to make them forgive you and agree with you, so it is a bit unethical.

  • Your post reads like "I screw everything up and I can't help it." There is nothing wrong in seeking help from a professional psychologist. And I would trust a professional, qualified psych a lot more than any armchair philosopher on this website... – peufeu Sep 13 '17 at 0:34
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    It's so funny to see stuff like this (your assessment of my answer) on a site called IPS. I don't see anything wrong with counseling someone to see a therapist. I upvoted @RoseHartman's post with great enthusiasm. I'm not trying to be unkind. I just wanted to reinforce that I see nothing wrong with recommending a therapist. – anongoodnurse Sep 13 '17 at 0:49
  • @peufeu I changed shrink to Psychologist. A shrink is a Psychiatrist - I reckon that a Psychologist is what you mean. Please revert if I got it wrong. – Volker Siegel Sep 13 '17 at 2:37
  • @Volker - you're right, thanks – peufeu Sep 13 '17 at 14:54

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