Therapeutic Apologies 2020-05-11T13:50:24-04:00

Therapeutic Apologies

EFFT has developed a mechanism through which to heal family relationships and support both the caregiver and the loved one to let go of the self-blame they carry on their shoulders.  Ultimately – however – the goal of the intervention is to help loved ones to let go of wounds from the past and accept support more easily when it comes to feeling capable of managing emotions and letting go of symptoms. Therapeutic apologies will not be necessary in all families; however, they can be a very useful intervention if:

  1. Carers recognize a familial pattern of emotion avoidance that they would like to interrupt.
  2. The loved one blames themselves for their mental health struggles and this self-blame is crushing them and/or stopping them from being able to receive help/move forward in recovery
  3. The loved one feels broken or “crazy” due to having mental health struggles
  4. The loved one holds resentment from a past event / issue
  5. The relationship is currently strained (for whatever reason) OR
  6. The caregiver blames themselves for their loved one’s mental health struggles and this self-blame is impairing their supportive efforts*

*Remember – similar to the skill of validating – the injury won’t always “make sense” to you or reflect the “reality” of what happened – it’s all a matter of perspective!*

In addition to these benefits, a therapeutic apology (TA) can free families from blame and interrupt cycles of emotion avoidance in the following ways:

  • TA opens the vault to deal with old hurt and anger, including painful memories
  • TA shows your loved one that you can “handle their pain”, making them more likely to talk to you about other emotional struggles, especially if they think “you can’t handle it”
  • TA helps your loved one to let go of old injuries, especially if they do blame events from the past (it’s only in the past if it’s in the past!)
  • TA helps families to heal old wounds and improve relationships

In order to facilitate a successful repair, it is essential that parents and caregivers follow each of the steps outlined below.

“When we divorced it was a really hard time for everyone – especially for you. I can understand why you didn’t share with us how you were feeling. It must have seemed like I couldn’t handle it since I was in a lot of pain myself.”

“I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you to see us like that. You must have also felt very angry that we didn’t find a way to sort out our problems and sad knowing things would never be the same. I don’t blame you for having felt this way. You were just a child and it must have been really hard for you to cope with all of this on your own.”

“I am so very sorry that you had to go through this. It pains me to think about how you’ve suffered as a result.”

“We should have found a way to protect you from what happened next. We should have seen just how hard it was for you and given you the support you needed.”

Possibility #1 – The Blast:

The blast occurs if, after you apologize, your child repeats how they felt, and/or brings up other injuries from the past. Although this reaction may cause you to feel as though your apology “didn’t work” – it in fact signals the opposite – it is a sign that your child feels heard and understood, and they trust you to continue to validate old feelings of hurt and pain. Resist the urge to fall into the trap of:

“I said I’m sorry – what more do you want from me? I can’t change the past!”.  Instead, repeat steps 1-4 until the blasts subside.

Example of the Blast – Child: “You have no idea how bad it was! And by the way – too little too late!”

Response to the Blast – Parent: “When we divorced it completely turned your life upside down. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you. I don’t blame you for being angry with us. I am so very sorry that you had to go through this.”

Possibility #2 – Denial: 

It is also possible that your child will deny the impact of your role in their pain – especially if they worry about hurting you. In this case, you must insist on shouldering the responsibility for the issue raised.

Example of Denial – Child: “It wasn’t your fault.  You did your best and I chose to bottle up my feelings.”

Response to Denial – Parent: “My actions DID have an impact on you. We were the adults and you were the child. It was our job to find a way to protect you and I am not letting you take that on. Had we seen the signs, things could have turned out differently for you”.