You have betrayed a partner or a friend’s trust. It wasn’t your intention to do and you wish that you could undo it. Of course this isn’t possible but there is still something you can do. Apologize. In the book “The Power of Apology,” psychotherapist and relationship expert Beverly Engel states that an apology is the most healing gift that you can give to someone that you have wronged. A sincere apology lets the other person know you are aware you have hurt them and you are sorry for doing so.
Offer a sincere apology. You should never apologize to someone just because you should. If you are not really aware of and sorry for the harm you may have caused the individual, any apology you offer will be insincere. According to “The Power of Apology,” a sincere apology has the potential to build love and trust, so this should be your intent for apologizing -- to begin building trust again.
Don’t make excuses for betraying your friend or your partner's trust. You need to take full responsibility for what you have done. Making excuses is an attempt to minimize the consequences of your behavior. Doing so will negate your apology.
Understand that the individual may still need some time to heal. Remember an apology can be very healing. But healing is a process that happens over time. Honor the person’s need for time to work through his or her feelings about your betrayal.
Because trust is the foundation of any intimate relationship, be ready to recognize that the betrayal may mean the end of the relationship. Individuals tend to be more aware of this in romantic relationships than in friendships, but according to the book “Hurt Feelings in an Adult Relationship,” betrayal can be a “cataclysmic event” and have a more damaging impact on a friendship than a romantic relationship.
Forgive yourself even if the person you have betrayed does not. According to blogger and interpersonal researcher Juliana Breines, self-forgiveness is essential to one’s psychological well being. After you have taken full responsibility for the betrayal and offered a sincere apology it is up to the individual to decide if she wants to continue the relationship. Even if she forgives you, you still need to forgive yourself. Holding on to guilt and shame for what you have done and tried your best to repair can be damaging to your psyche. Forgive yourself, let go, and try to learn from the experience.
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Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.
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