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Everyone makes bad choices sometimes. But sometimes those bad choices are so bad that the person we’ve wronged cannot or will not find forgiveness for our actions.
It may be that we had a bad read on a situation and made a wrong decision because of it. It could also be that we were an unhealthy, toxic person doing things that toxic people do.
Maybe it was an act of harm that we didn’t realize was abusive at the time. Or maybe we didn’t pay enough attention to the harm we inflicted because we assumed that the other person would just get over it or suck it up.
People make the wrong choices a lot. As you build healthy boundaries and start enforcing them, you find that other people will regularly bounce off them. Sometimes that means cutting people out of your life – or being the one that is cut out.
What do you do when someone won’t accept your apology and forgive you?
1. Set aside what you think should be.
“I apologized! Why won’t they forgive me!?”
Some people apologize only because they feel guilty for their actions. It’s not because they actually care about how their actions affected the person they’re apologizing to.
Many people can tell when an apology is not genuine or when the giver of that apology isn’t actually sorry for what they did. And if they can’t, it’s something they will learn sooner or later just by trying to have relationships with people.
Forgiveness is not for the apology-giver. If you think it is, or if you think it’s there to remove your feelings of guilt, you will have a bad time with apologies.
Forgiveness is something that the aggrieved person gives because they don’t want to hold onto that hurt and anger anymore.
But they may not be willing to do that. They may not be far enough along on their own healing path to give forgiveness for how they’ve been wronged.
Or they might be so angry that they will not forgive. There’s a reason that person is choosing not to forgive, and it’s probably a serious one.
2. Examine the quality of your apology.
Did you make a good faith effort to actually apologize? Or did you passively throw out a, “I’m sorry you felt that way.” and got on with your life?
Did you take any time to sit down, consider your actions, and pen a proper apology? If you didn’t, your apology might be rejected because the person just feels like you aren’t sorry or don’t actually care.
Do you actually make meaningful changes after your apologies? An apology doesn’t mean anything if you keep doing the same things that caused harm before. You have to do things differently. If you don’t, they’re going to assume you’re just lying, feel guilty, or just don’t want to deal with the consequences of your actions.
There are different elements to a good apology. One of those elements is a change in offending behavior that caused the rift in the first place.
3. Take responsibility for the harm you caused.
Did you make it clear that you accept responsibility for the harm you caused?
Tossing out an “I’m sorry” typically won’t be good enough. You need to acknowledge the pain and harm you caused the other person by owning what you did. It may not have been your choice, but it is still your responsibility to fix it.
Be direct in your acknowledgment of the harm. Be clear that it was your fault or responsibility that the thing happened and correct the mistakes.
4. Know that forgiveness is their choice.
Ask the person “why?” if they choose not to forgive you.
This is part of healthy communication in your relationships. By asking “why?” you can get to the root of why the person doesn’t want to forgive you.
Maybe it’s a hiccup in communication. Maybe it’s because the person is still angry at you and hasn’t worked through their own anger yet. Maybe it’s because they view the action as something too grievous to give forgiveness for. Or maybe they just don’t believe that you’re sorry.
Even if they don’t choose to forgive you, their why can guide your future choices and actions, so you don’t make the same mistake again.
5. Try letting some time pass and apologizing again.
The wound might just be too fresh and painful to forgive you right now.
Give the person some time to think about the situation and your initial apology. They may need more time to work through their own hurt to come around to a point where they want to forgive you and let that wound heal.
Your willingness to apologize again is also a demonstration that you have been thinking about them and the damage your action caused. This will further help demonstrate that you are actually sorry and not just saying that to avoid your own discomfort.
Don’t beg for forgiveness, though. That’s not how healthy relationships work. Ask no more than three times.
6. Don’t sacrifice your self-respect for forgiveness.
People aren’t always good. Some people will look at your quest for forgiveness as an opportunity to exert control over you by using your guilt as leverage.
Those who use manipulation to get their way with other people will hold their forgiveness and guilt as a hostage to be used against you whenever they feel convenient.
The way you can tell the difference is with the person’s “why.” When you ask why, they should give you a reasonable answer to why they can’t or won’t forgive you right now.
Valid reasons are not enough time has passed, it still feels hurtful, it doesn’t seem like you’re actually sorry – answers that have actual substance to them.
A person who wants to use your guilt as leverage against you usually won’t give you a direct answer or will make it about the quality of person you are:
“You don’t deserve forgiveness because you’re a terrible person.”
“Why bother? You’re a garbage person who’s just going to do it again.”
“Ha! Why should I?”
These kinds of answers are a good indicator that some distance from that person might actually be a good thing for you.
7. Let the situation go.
The greatest act of compassion you can show yourself when someone won’t forgive you – and it doesn’t look like you can ever mend that bridge – is to forgive yourself and let it go.
We are all flawed people doing the best that we can to get through this life. Sometimes, we do bad or toxic things because we don’t know any better, and we’re still growing. Sometimes the person you’re apologizing to faces similar hurdles on their own path of growth and development.
If the person won’t accept your apology and forgive you, well, hey, that’s just how it goes sometimes. Chalk it up to a learning experience, look for the lesson, and strive to not make that same mistake in the future.
And you never know, things may come back around in the future where you can make amends, and they can accept your apology and forgive you.
Still not sure what to do when someone won’t forgive you? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
Further reading on apologies and forgiveness:
- How To Get Someone To Forgive You: 6 Steps To Ask For Forgiveness
- How To Apologize Sincerely And Properly And Mean It
- How To Forgive Yourself: 17 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- How To Forgive Someone: 2 Science-Based Models Of Forgiveness
- How To Write A Forgiveness Letter For Self-Healing
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry