I got a text from my ex the other day.
In it, he told me how terrible he feels right now.
I ignored him at first, but then a few more messages came. I told him not to talk about himself the way he was talking about himself. He told me it’s how he feels.
I got a little irritated.
Then, something clicked.
Other people who have done things that hurt me deeply have tried this too.
Other people have told me how bad they feel about themselves and the consequences of their actions after they’ve hurt me.
Other people have – in one way or another – tried to make me take responsibility for more than my fair share of the situation.
And, for some of them, it worked…for a little while.
As I was considering this, something else clicked and then I thought, “how dare you?”
How dare he try to gain my sympathy.
How dare other people try to make the hurt they’ve inflicted upon me about them.
Is it selfish of me to not want to help them get through their hurt, anger, etc.? Maybe some of you will say so, but I don’t think it is.
When I make mistakes – big or small – I apologize. And I mean it. And I do things to make things better and to demonstrate that I won’t make the same mistake again. I mean, I even apologize to my kids (this is a completely foreign idea to some people I know who think parents shouldn’t apologize to their kids). When I screw up, when I overreact, when I do something I realize I shouldn’t have…I apologize. I explain what happened (not as a justification, but so that they understand), and I apologize.
My ex, my mother, my sister, others?
No meaningful apologies.
Instead, they turn it around and try to make it my responsibility that they are now hurting, stressed, angry, etc.
For example…. Several years ago, I contacted my mother because my sister was going into drug rehab. We hadn’t spoken in several years (her choice, not mine), but I felt we needed to present a united front to best help my sister. I actually said to my aunt, “She doesn’t need to have a relationship with me, if she doesn’t want, but I really feel we have to work together to best help E.”
When the phone call came back from my mom, the first thing she did was demand an apology. She wanted me to apologize for all that had happened between us when I was a young teenager. She insisted (and she actually said this to me) that I take full responsibility for everything that had happened between us.
And you know what? I did.
And you know why? So, we could get to helping my sister. This was not about her, and it was not about me, it was about helping E the best we could.
But, here’s the thing. I wasn’t fully responsible for what happened between us. Did I play a role? Sure I did. I was also a young teenager going through a pretty stressful and traumatic time with my parents’ divorce and the bullying at school because of it. But, yeah, okay, I played a part. I did/did not do things that I should not/should have done. Looking back, it still wasn’t anything like what many of my friends were doing, but that’s okay. She wasn’t their mother. She was mine, and I did things to hurt her. However, if you’ve been reading this blog or you know me personally, you know that she also did things to hurt me. She did things that – as a mother myself, now – are unconscionable to me.
But I had to take full responsibility. I had to make her feel better before we could move on with helping my sister. So I did.
That’s one example. I have others from my ex, my sister, long-time friends. They’re all pretty well the same. It, somehow, ends up being my responsibility to put things back together. My responsibility to make the other person feel better.
But it’s not my responsibility.
Again, and I’ve said this before, I’m nowhere near perfect. No matter how big or small, I had a part to play in every situation or relationship in which I’ve ended up being hurt. Of course I have.
Like my mother (and others), my ex has never apologized for his (significant) part in what happened between us.
Maybe he will one day. I don’t know. I don’t know if it will matter.
What does matter is that I will no longer allow people who have hurt me to put it on me.