by Dale Ryan
Making amends is not easy. It is certainly not instinctive for us. There is a reason why many of us need to spend so much time on Step 8 of the Twelve Steps, in which we become “willing to make amends.” We need to prepare for actually making amends because there is often a deep unwillingness in us.
Something in each of us resists taking this kind of very practical responsibility for harm that we have done. For most of us the problem is simple: Ego gets in the way. We fear the loss of image, the loss of respect, the loss of pride that might come when the truth about the harm we have done is acknowledged.
Some amends are, of course, more difficult than others. I think one of the most difficult amends is when we need to make amends to someone who has harmed us–when the harm has been reciprocal. Our fear is that if we make amends then our wounds will be ignored. But even in the face of such fears we must proceed–even if it seems like the greater harm is the harm done to us rather than the harm done by us. Why? Because the daily maintenance of our spiritual condition depends on engaging in spiritual disciplines of this kind. And our sobriety depends on the daily maintenance of our spiritual condition. So it is in our own best interests to make amends–even in difficult circumstances. We are not responsible for other people’s spiritual condition. They may decide to make amends to us; they may not. It is certainly fair for us to want them to make amend, but whether or not they actually do so is something between them and God. It is none of our business. Our focus needs to be on making amends for the harm we have done. Sometimes that means that we will “do good to those who hate” or “bless those who curse,” but that is the path that Jesus taught his followers to choose (see, for example, Luke 6:27-28)
Being “willing to make amends” is different from forgiveness or reconciliation. Forgiveness is a long, difficult and complex process. We do not need to wait until that process is complete before we make amends for the harm we have done. And reconciliation is usually an even longer and more difficult process. Making amends may be a small part of the process of the restoration of a relationship, but usually it is just one step along a long path. Both forgiveness and reconciliation are good goals. And making amends may be an important part of reaching those goals. But it is not reasonable to expect that making amends will result in complete forgiveness or the complete restoration of a relationship.
When I am preparing to make amends I find it helpful to remind myself that this is something I am doing for myself, to help maintain my spiritual condition. When it comes to actually making amends, however, the focus shifts. I need to focus now on the needs of others. I am doing this for somebody else. It is a gift. This is important because when I am actually making amends it may not feel like it is in my best interests. I may feel anxious or embarrassed. It may feel like I am just getting more shame added to my already enormous stash of shame. But rather than focus on my feelings at the moment, I need to develop the discipline of empathy. It was the absence of empathy that most characterized my behavior when I did the harm for which I am now making amends. So, disciplining myself to be empathic is critical to successful amends making. I need to listen to whatever the other person has to say and to thank them for any response they give. I can’t expect every response to be healthy or to be “just what I needed to hear.”
The focus in Step 9 is similar to that found in Step 12. It is a way of practicing the principles. It is carrying the message in a very practical way. Sometimes the result of an amends will feel wonderful. Sometimes it will not. But no matter how it feels, we will have taken the next step in securing our own recovery and we will be reaching out to another person whom God loves.
In this issue of STEPS you will find serveral perspectives on making amends. May God grant you the serenity, courage and wisdom you need to make your amends.