#The Power of An Apology: A Therapist’s Reflection on Healing
Written By: Kacey Wehr, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist & Mental Health & Wellness Specialist.
I Am So Sorry …
For the last couple of weeks I have been pretty quiet on Social Media, I haven’t been writing, and frankly, I haven’t had the bandwidth to do much beyond taking care of my basic needs for food, sleep, and a minimal degree of personal hygiene. Honestly, I’ve been overwhelmed and sad for the state of our country and the collective pain and social movement that has been sparked for People of Color around the globe. So many feelings have been coming up that for once, I couldn’t put them all into words. I have been actively following, reading, and keeping up with everything but I felt stunted and inept, I felt shame around not doing more, and for not being more directly involved, but I am guessing I am not alone in this.
I have spent quite a lot of time, reflecting on my privilege, reflecting on my work as a therapist who spent years working with minorities and People of Color who were systematically oppressed, and who struggled to rise above those systems, despite the obstacles, and wondered if I could have done more to help. I look at the incredible progress being made across the United States right now as new laws are being passed to prevent issues, provide oversight, ensure consequences for violence and killings by law enforcement and I am filled with relief to see these changes beginning to take hold, while simultaneously feeling such sadness at the fact that it has taken so many deaths, and so much violence towards People of Color, for us to rally to this cause.
So where do we go from here? How do we begin to help the healing process? How do we make amends for the many, many injustices? Well, when someone has been hurt or experienced pain, one of the first things we teach small children is how to apologize and help make it better, so maybe we should go back to basics and look at the power of words in the healing process, cuz we gotta start somewhere. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
The Power of An Apology:
Believe it or not, there is a right way to apologize and sadly, not many people seem to know how to do it. Saying “I'm sorry” is only a tiny, itty-bitty component of an apology but misses some of the most critical components. And let’s face it, those two words without the accompanying elements (including actions) mean jack by themselves, so let’s break it down.
- Say what you are sorry for - This is your opportunity to share how you are feeling and why you are sorry. This stage of an apology is all about expressing remorse and demonstrating empathy and an understanding and acknowledgement of the other person’s feelings. (For example: “I know it doesn’t even come close to being enough but I just want to say that, I am so sorry. I am so sorry for the many years of oppression, for the violence, racism, xenophobia, societal oppression, and hatred perpetrated against you and other People of Color. I cannot imagine living in fear for myself and my loved ones day in and day out from a system that is supposed to be there to protect you . I cannot imagine being hated, rejected, passed over, violated, or killed because of the color of my skin. I am so sorry for all the grief you experience every day that you hear of another Person of Color being assaulted, wrongfully convicted/arrested, or killed.”)
- Take personal responsibility - This means acknowledging to yourself and the person(s) you are apologizing to, how your actions or inactions have contributed to the issue and let me tell you, this part is a tough pill to swallow and is one of the most often missed elements of an apology. It may be tough to say what you’re sorry for, but having to take a look in the mirror and really explore what you did or didn’t do that led to causing someone else pain, misery, or some other negative consequence is NOT easy. Expressing remorse is valuable but not enough on it’s own. Being clear about your part demonstrates that you understand the issue from the other person(s) perspective and have reflected on your part in the process/incident and feel remorse for it. (For example: “I am sorry that I personally have not done more to fight this battle with you; that I have sat passively on the sidelines knowing that this has been going on, and that it has taken me so long to add my voice to yours in fighting for justice and change.” )
- Do what you can to make it better - This means putting your words into action and is the most critical piece of the apology. In Positive Psychology this concept is called “restorative justice” and at its heart is building empathy by asking yourself, what can I do to repair things? What can I do to help heal the hurt I have caused? What can I do to help pick up the pieces, build trust, rebuild this relationship? With the Black Lives Matter movement, it is an entire population, so reparations can and should be more involved and ongoing. (For example: “I promise to use my privilege and power to amplify your voice and will no longer stay silent. I will stand up to prejudice when I encounter it and will do what I can to fight to make changes in the systems I encounter to empower People of Color, and to protect and fight for those that cannot fight for themselves. I will make my voice heard in the election and vote for politicians that fight for social justice and will be an ally in this cause, and I will support local businesses of People of Color as often as I can. I will continue to learn, grow, and explore my own privilege so I can more fully understand how I impact the People of Color I come into contact with, work with, and know. I will do my best to acknowledge my privilege and create safety in my work as a therapist, provide better support, and hold space for the grief and pain my ignorance and inaction has caused. I will do better, and I am deeply sorry.”)
Remember That Healing Takes Time :
These wounds and violent abuses of power we are seeing against People of Color are nothing new; they have been festering for centuries, and we have all been complacent in allowing it. It took a pandemic and the dismantling of our life and country as we knew it to set the stage for us to get ‘woke’ to these atrocities that have been going on right under our noses. It’s also important to realize and acknowledge that although we are seeing positive changes as efforts are being made in cities across the US, true healing and meaningful changes will take time because at the heart of these issues are years of systematic racism, xenophobia, anger, fear, ignorance and hundreds of thousands of minorities and People of Color who have faced generations of being oppressed, abused, assaulted, and killed- a few apologies, several days of protests, hashtags, and a few cities making changes isn’t going to be enough to undo the trauma that has been perpetuated. This is just the beginning of the fight; these are just the first steps. This is the beginning of the battle yet to come, but at least we are moving towards healing and towards a future where diversity is celebrated and cherished, and where liberty and justice truly are for all.
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” - Michelle Obama
Kacey Wehr is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with degrees in Child Development, Psychology, and Marriage & Family Therapy. She has six years experience providing therapy, psychoeducation, developing trainings and workshops, leading support groups, and has over seven years experience in Education having taught Early Education for preschoolers, High School, and Undergraduate Psychology. She has extensive training and experience in Trauma Informed Care, Crisis Intervention, Grief & Bereavement, Complex Trauma, Child Development, and is a Certified Crisis Counselor for victims of relationship abuse/violence and sexual exploitation. She has devoted the majority of her therapeutic experience to working with and empowering young adults, new parents, couples, and families with complex trauma history. She believes in integrating holistic health approaches in her work and attained a Certification as a Wellness Clinician which enables her to utilize aromatherapy in her mental health support. She also is trained in acupressure for labor and has assisted in the labors and births of several of her closest friends as they brought their littles ones into the world. In her free time she enjoys singing, all things crafty, watching movies with her daughter, nesting and home decorating, cooking and eating yummy foods, and traveling the world with her husband (so far they have been to 27 countries and over 40 cities around the globe!). She is here to help other mothers navigate the crazy journey that is parenthood, relationships, challenges with mental health, sex and intimacy, and walk this journey with you, sharing her experience and expertise.