Stealing, depending on its context, can be a criminal act. If charged, you can be held accountable in a court of law. Even if you don't face consequences via the legal avenue, you may opt to take responsibility for your actions on your own accord. At the very least, you owe the person from whom you've stolen an apology and the return of his stolen items. Be aware that forgiveness is not owed to you; it is a gift that you may or may not receive. However, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of receiving it.
Say that you are sorry, and mean it. Make eye contact, and acknowledge your offense. Muttering a "sorry" while looking at your shoes will surely not be as effective as saying something like, "I apologize for stealing money from your purse." In her PsychologyToday.com article "The Forgiveness Protocol: How to Apologize When You Have Hurt or Harmed Another," psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton, M.D., explains that you may need to apologize multiple times throughout the course of redeeming yourself.
Acknowledge the Effects
Be aware of the impact caused by your actions, and allow this awareness to be known. You might say, "I realize that your are hurt and feeling betrayed, and that you were unable to purchase groceries because of what I did. I understand that you may not be able to trust me now." While doing this, you allow the person you've harmed to vent, complain, scold or cry. This will help the person you have betrayed feel that he is being heard, Lipton explains. You might also clarify the lesson you've learned from the incident, as well as what you will do to prevent it from happening in the future.
You may not be able to completely right the wrong that you've committed, but you can come as close as possible. Return what you have taken, or at least the cash value of the item you stole. Making amends is something that can take time, but it is a critical part of resolving the issue. Remember, too, that trust is something that won't be easily restored. Another part of this process is sincerely communicating your shame, guilt and remorse over your actions.
When you've done everything you can to earn forgiveness, it may still not come. Remain patient and hopeful that you will be forgiven in time. If forgiveness does come, be aware that it may not equate to a full restoration of the relationship you've harmed, according to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. She also warns that forgiveness is not an indication that the person you've hurt will forget or completely excuse the incident. Despite the outcome, this experience is likely to be a lesson in accountability, redemption and humility.
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.