Jul 12, 2014 | By Tim Stoddart

The Difference Between Making Amends and Making Apologies

12 Step Recovery

making amends vs making apologies

There is no shame in making mistakes or in recognizing them. In fact, those who are able to stand on their own and admit their wrongdoings are courageous and admirable people. From the cradle to the grave, we will all make errors in judgment and struggle to find a way to make peace with those whom we have wronged. In many instances, a sincere apology will suffice. However, when misdoings are results of addiction, a simple I’m sorry, will not do. Consider making amends

If you are working a 12 step program, than we suggest talking to your sponsor about these kinds of things. He or she will be able to guide you on your path.

What are the Differences between Apologizing and Making Amends?

There are many profound differences between giving someone an apology and making amends with them. Simply put, an apology is like putting a band aid on a wound; it covers the source of the pain until it eventually disappears. When you make a sincere apology to someone that you’ve hurt, it makes you both feel a little better but it doesn’’t really do anything to correct the situation that you have caused. People who have made reckless decisions due to addiction cannot simply un-do the pain and often irreversible heartache that they have caused by issuing a simple apology. In most cases, the victim of the abuse, neglect, or crime will need a much more prolific and profound interaction with you before any attempt at reconciliation can be made.

Making amends is the best way to reconnect with the people who have been deeply hurt as a result of your actions. Addiction has the ability to irrevocably sever the most intimate bonds of family and friendship. Whether your goal is to amend a family relationship, a work relationship, or to humble yourself before others whom you have offended, making amends is an important step toward rectifying a broken situation.

Part of the reason why taking inventory is so important is so you can be self aware and know when you are acting in a way that could be harmful to another person.

The Importance of Making Amends

Making amends is an integral part of personal growth and healing. It is so imperative to make amends with those people whom you have wronged that it is outlined, clearly, in Alcoholics Anonymous. Steps eight and nine of the Twelve Steps specifically call for amends.

What are the Types of Amends?

Direct Amends deal with taking personal responsibility and confronting the person whom you want to reconcile with. You will intimately discuss the reasons why you did what you did and you will fix, re-pay, or repair any physical damage that you have caused, to the best of your ability. An example of this would be repaying a debt or repairing or replacing broken or damaged items.

Indirect Amends are ways to repair damage that cannot be physically undone. If you have committed a crime in the past or are in a situation where you cannot confront the people whom you have offended, there are ways to make amends, indirectly. If you physically assaulted someone or committed theft, a way to indirectly make amends would be to volunteer in a shelter or take part in a program that will directly benefit others who need assistance. Sometimes, people who were involved in a drunken driving accident may take the step to become an organ donor. These are all selfless examples of how making indirect amends can help to heal a situation.

Living Amends is a positive way to display to others and to prove to yourself that you have evolved from the person that you used to be. Living amends is a promise to yourself that you have made a genuine lifestyle change. This is a marked end to the destructive patterns that you have been living with and a beacon for change and prosperity.

Making amends with somebody is a crucial part of your personal growth and of their healing process. Only make amends when you truly understand the situation and when you feel a sincere call for atonement. For, it is with this momentous step that you alone are able to bring peace and closure to shattered relationships.

30 responses to “The Difference Between Making Amends and Making Apologies

  • Robert F. Yoder III

    10 years ago

    What an awesome write-up.
    Definitely worth sharing.

    Robert

    • Excellent article that sorts out the differences here. It is so about taking sincere and genuine responsibility for the harm done to others whether through addiction or not. Have shared on FB.

  • Kate Wilson

    9 years ago

    Thanks for the great article! I love how you clearly parse out the difference between apologizing and making amends. I feel like it’s difficult to really conceptualize what it means to make amends with someone, and this was a great definition that would be truly useful to everyone. I came across a great quote about making amends: “Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations” (source: http://www.12keysrecovery.com/blog/stay-track-amends-year/). To me, this is essential — that making amends be done completely without expectations.

    Anyway, thanks for the great article!

  • Hey there. Last night, my mother, who drinks at least a whole bottle of wine every night, called me an asshole to my face at dinner. I just got a new, high paying job, bought a house and my wife has a chance of getting pregnant as we have had fertility problems but now have 12 viable embryos to choose from as a result of IVF. I was just talking about how happy I was, proud of my wife, family and myself. During the great recession, I was making $9 per hour handing out food samples at Sams club with masters degree. Now i am an important part of the sales division of my company. Big changes. Thank god everyday multiple times per day. So I was just proud of myself and happy and was sharing all this at dinner when she lashed out at me. An asshole? At nearly 40 years old, having worked my ass off for my little corner of land, having suffered for it as well… she cut me to the core. I almost passed out, the words were so hurtful. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, I was in so much pain. This morning, she texts me, apologizing. Look, i want this apology to be real but i know it’s not. She’ll be up to her antics sooner or later. How can i approach this siuation? I have some ideas but I’d love to hear from the community. Thanks.

    • OMG, so sorry you had to endure such embarrassment! If it’s any consolation, it’s the booze talking and not her. You are definitely NOT an @sshole, if anyone is guilty of such, it’s her. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. B*tch is probably just jealous. Most alcoholics are.

    • Remember to treat those who hurt us as sick friends. She is not a bad person, even if you internalize what was said. Just a sick person, who is not well and of their right mind. Prayer and forgiveness for the offender have done work in areas that I honestly had the most difficulty in finding peace over. Forgiveness is a powerful Use it! From one addict to another. Take care!

    • I’d say cut her out until she gets real help. She can’t keep hurting people who are good and have good lives. You’re a good man and her behavior shouldn’t be rewarded by more interactions. She should start having consequences. Cut her out until she gets sober and starts making wise decisions. You really don’t want your future children around someone so toxic anyway. Congrats about your life man! This is what this country needs more of!

    • I would say have an early dinner with her and leave before she gets too drunk.. don’t allow yourself to be in that vulnerable situation. but don’t make it an issue for you because its not your issue. al anon.

  • Earlene Stjulian

    8 years ago

    You tell her how you feel that you love her and you want her in your life but she have to make some changes in hers and stop hurting the people she loves or you would have to move on with your life all you can do is pray for her and hope she make amends with herself and you.God bless…

  • Thank you for clarifying the difference. My mother in law has not liked me since the first day she met me. Yes my addictions did not help they only justified her feelings. It has been 6 years of my husband being requested to make a decision of them or me. I am a type of personality who has no filter verbally. Again another reason why the MIL doesn’t care for me. I recognize I need to make amends to her however the anger and pain she has caused me and continue to cause our families I am lost to figure out if I make amends what would life be like? Pretty certain there would be no change. Therefore I do not believe she deserves my apologies or amends. I have forgiven myself when it comes to her, I have made amends to myself regarding her.

    So do I or don’t I make amends?

    • Ask your sponsor. They know more off the details of your life and cam guide you better than strangers reading one paragraph that you have crafted with your own biases built in.

  • Esmerelda

    8 years ago

    Why is it always about what the addict needs for their recovery? How about what the victims of addicts need for their recovery, like being left the fuck alone! Rarely have I seen an addict or narcissist truly step into the shoes of pain of their victims. Truly own, let alone bear witness, to the trauma they have caused.

    From an addict and narcissist’s perspective, it’s never about “what I can do for you,” it’s always “what you can do for me.” In the case of amends, the addict/narcissist wants release for themselves despite the real impact on the victim of reopening a wound or making it worse.

    As one who was victim to a sex addict’s behavior, I really wish he had never reached out to me six years later. His attempt at amends was all about him and clearly demonstrated he was not owning anything about his behavior. He manipulated my compassionate nature and left me feeling far worse about what I had experienced with him than I had before. Does he have a clear conscience now? I hope the fuck not.

    • That’s aweful Esmeralda.
      As addicts trying to get better that is one catostrauphicly bad out come. I don’t think it’s only about addict being better and F off the victim. Often it does heal both parties but I can see how yours was not and gives me some insight and pause on how to handle my own situation.
      How do we make amends when the party we did wrong to caused a lot of pain for us too?
      I’m 7.5+ years in and am wondering if sleeping dogs should just be left alone. Do I wait for a decade to pass?

    • Im sorry you had to deal with that. We have it in the step, except when to do so would injure them or others. It sounds like that step wasnt followed correctly. Please dont let one persons mistakes and perhaps selfishness make you jaded to the entire process. One bad apple does not spoli the bunch, but it does taste like shit when you try to eat it. Some people get a lot better in time and through really being honest and working the steps. Some people neec to keep trying and may never get it. Im sorry you had a bad experience. You mqy want to try checking out some alanon meetings. Its for families and others affected by addicts. It can be a great support structure to deal with issues caused by addiction.

      • As I understand it, AA has a 95% failure rate. I’m not surprised with self-indulgent dragging up the past and Godbothering is the basis for the programme.

    • Exactly. The same selfishness that makes them behave badly, makes these inappropriate and clumsy attempts at seeking forgiveness all about them. Most victims of drunks / addicts of any kind just wish they’d FOAD. We’re not interested in your recovery or otherwise. Get better or don’t. But don’t bother your victims with even more self-indulgent BS and call that making amends.

    • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!! THIS!!! I don’t care if it is written in the steps “unless it hurts you or another.” Do you really think that someone who was using is going to objectively know exactly how their behavior impacted someone in the past? Just because a recovering alcoholic THINKS they can contact a person and it won’t hurt them does not make it magically so. This makes me spitting mad!!

      The steps are written all about “we” will do what “we” must for “our” recovery and to get “our” spirituality,… blah, blah, blah… We, we, we, me, my, I, ect. The victim is NOwhere in that consideration. How in the hell do you expect to get right, when you may be hurting by “making amends” for your own selfish reasons.

      I have people who are in my past for a reason. If they contacted me with this nonsense, they would get a big F-you and a restraining order. I know I am not the only one. A very dear friend of mine was very badly hurt by a man several years ago. The were only together for a few months, and he stole from her, and destroyed her self-esteem. She describes it as “being shredded.” To him, maybe a few months meant that it was nothing. A great example of how alcoholics are not the best at reading other people or whether someone was hurt or not. When it was over, it took her years to get over the hurt and trauma. Out of the blue last year, he contacted her, and she was completely caught off guard. His message was supposed to be an apology and in it, he complimented her and called her an “amazing woman” and told her she didn’t deserve how he acted. REALLY?!?! Did he think that adding in compliments was a good thing? Is he really the person who should be validating the fact that she did not deserve his shit? Utterly clueless! She was in shock and called me shaking and crying and in complete distress. She did not want him contacting her, she did not want anything to do with him, and yet she was questioning whether this man who hurt her so badly deserved a message back, or if she would be a bad person for not accepting his “apology.” I had to explain to her that it was part of his AA program and that it was one of the steps he had to go through according to the program. His reason for contacting her was nothing more than his attempt to fulfill this step to go to the next one. She would never have heard from him otherwise. I had to explain to her that his message was about HIM, about HIS so-called “healing”, and about HIS program. It had nothing to do with her. It is shameful and disgusting that the alcoholic is encouraged to contact people he may have traumatized, because doing so often retraumatizes his victim. It is not fair to the other person. I told her that the distress she was feeling was a clear sign that he did not deserve any more of her pain or attention, and when she was able to get through it, she could let his message and him fade into history.

      It is an outrage that anyone would leave their victim trembling and shaking for days or weeks, knowing that they would go on to get pats on the back for a job well done. This is NEVER okay, and it needs to be taken out of these ridiculous twelve step-programs. It is absolutely not okay to traumatize other people for one person’s recovery. It is completely unacceptable to be so selfish as to rake up the trauma of someone else’s past, just so someone who hurt them can cross a notch off on their belt. It is 100% selfish.
      It is not now and never will be okay to contact people that have been hurt for the sole purpose of getting a token or recognition for taking a step in their own recovery. If they need absolution in order to carry on, get it somewhere else. They do not get to go back later and trigger people and expect them to forgive, and then after causing them extreme distress, passive aggressively gaslight them by disguising it as “giving them an apology they deserve.”

  • A way it was describe to me that made sense is that when we apologize we are asking the person harmed to take action. We are asking them to forgive or forget, but the action lies with them. When we make amends we are the ones taking action. While the other person may not accept this suggested action, we are the ones doing something.

    To use a weights and measures analogy, an apology takes the event, incident, wreckage…ect, off the scale so the scale is balanced at zero. An amends adds weight to the other side of the scale so the wreckage is still there and acknowledged but now the scale reads zero and balance is achieved because action equal to whatever the issue is has or will be achieved in time.

    • Then take responsibility for your actions and leave the other person in peace. If you are not asking the victim to do anything, then they do not need to be retraumatized. It is not like you need them to forgive you in order to take responsibility. It is not like if they said “no, I won’t forgive you – you pig, leave me the fuck alone,” that you wouldn’t just carry on with your program anyway. So therefore, stop being selfish and leave the victims alone.

      • I’ve read several of these comments/ experiences from seemingly a victims point of view. I understand solely how much heart ache, pain, distrust, stress, and words said that will echo in your mind forever. But I am also someone who has bipolar and tried to regulate myself to be societies definition of “normal” I a man great at making excuses because I am in denial that a mental illness can cause so much damage in ones life. Either way you try to make amends it may come across as a lie or manipulation but until you have lived the ups and downs and felt the pain from the people you had hurt you become a bit colder. When you are the reason someone has to call themselves a victim and genuinely love or care for them it takes a piece of you because you didn’t get to chose to be this way. Who would? Sometimes help isn’t just from a pill it’s from understanding you will never understand but it’s just as hard. Hurting people is never okay. Doesn’t matter why or what, but when you realize it when your emotions are steady it’s one of the worst feelings in the entire world. There is no cure there is medicine to help you get the day. But there will never be medicine that can take away the pain one feels from hurting someone whom they wish only the best for, especially if they lose frIends and family because if this. It’s very lonely at times but you make the best of it through nature and the little things that remind you you’re human too and it’s okay. Because you can try to control it and do your best to stay stable.

      • I’ve read several of these comments/ experiences from seemingly a victims point of view. I understand solely how much heart ache, pain, distrust, stress, and words said that will echo in your mind forever. But I am also someone who has bipolar and tried to regulate myself to be societies definition of “normal” I am great at making excuses because I am in denial that a mental illness can cause so much damage in ones life. Either way you try to make amends it may come across as a lie or manipulation but until you have lived the ups and downs and felt the pain from the people you had hurt you become a bit colder. When you are the reason someone has to call themselves a victim and genuinely love or care for them it takes a piece of you because you didn’t get to chose to be this way. Who would? Sometimes help isn’t just from a pill it’s from understanding you will never understand but it’s just as hard. Hurting people is never okay. Doesn’t matter why or what, but when you realize it when your emotions are steady it’s one of the worst feelings in the entire world. There is no cure there is medicine to help you get the day. But there will never be medicine that can take away the pain one feels from hurting someone whom they wish only the best for, especially if they lose frIends and family because if this. It’s very lonely at times but you make the best of it through nature and the little things that remind you you’re human too and it’s okay. Because you can try to control it and do your best to stay stable.

  • In this day and age of social media/technology etc. What is the best way for me to admit and take responsibility for poor choices and actions with high school
    “friends” 35 years ago. I was so unhealthy – mentally, physically, impulsive, insecure, had bad anxiety and insomnia and an undiagnosed thyroid condition (hoshimotos) – that I simply was not of a right mind in any area of my life. I used alcohol and pot to self-medicate in social situations.
    Through “the Grape Vine” I am told so and so is still upset and at a recent Reunion I could feel cold shoulders. My name is “mud” to most due to gossip and slander. I feel I am a victim too. I knew my mind was dysfunctional and I was scared, since my anxiety always affected me interpersonally.
    By the time I was 25, Alanon and God changed my life. Lots of progress, still not perfection. I am not at all the same person,
    I haven’t been in contact with a few I owe an amend to (overdue, but I forgot and they haven’t.) Do I Facebook Message them, do I write a letter, just try to find a phone number. I live far away from them. I wish I could tell my health saga so my classmates might cut me some slack.
    Please advise. Thanks folks.

    • Do them a favour Don’t contact them. They really don’t give a shit what you did 35 years ago. It’s delusional narcissism that make you even consider the possibility that they would be interested in dragging up the past with them just to make yourself feel better.

    • I can’t tell you what to do. But if you do, then tread carefully. Very careful. Some people say you should NEVER do so, EVER. Yes, self-indulgence has very mixed connotations. This is very thorny.

  • The thing about “amends” is it’s just the same old selfish behaviour, applied to a different scenario. Drunks don’t make amends for the person they’re making amends to. They make them to feel better about having been an asshole. It’d be much more helpful if they’re just stop being an asshole, and stop looking for forgiveness for the unforgivable. Most people that have been approached by a self-indulgent drunk trying to make amends just wish they’d fuck off. Either be a better person or don’t. But by dwelling on the past and sucking your past victims into your present self-indulgence, you’re failing to do either.

    • “The thing about “amends” is it’s just the same old selfish behaviour, applied to a different scenario”

      I have observed this Rachel , especially in the fellowships that encourage doing the steps quickly. Self obsessed newcomers who have switched the chemicals for the highs of recovery running around bothering people with insincere apologies. I’ve also seen a lot of recovering addicts who have gained insight and awareness from working the previous steps thoroughly and over time that are making specific amends where necessary (financial for example) and are approaching the step in a tactful manner. I think the truth is that more than half the bitter ex’s and let down lovers we engaged with while high we don’t owe amends to at all, They had equal responsibility for being in that situation at the time and are still likely to be the toxic people we met. To look them up and and try and find healing with people who are probably still in the problem is no use to anyone. Also It’s generally accept that people who freely label others as “narcissists” are exactly that themselves.

    • Rachel,
      Your concerns are absolutely valid and on point. The snarky asshole comment about people labeling narcissists being narcissists themselves, is a petty asshole response that was unnecessary. Using your valid comment to make passive aggressive digs at the victims of a raging alcoholics past, is a sign that someone has not made the progress they think they have.

      Thank you, Rachel for bringing up a very important point. AA is doing a huge disservice to others by encouraging their members to think only of themselves.

    • AnonymousFirst AnonymousLast

      5 years ago

      I couldn’t agree with you more. As someone who has 13 years experience in AA and has recently transitioned to Refuge Recovery, there were two things that always bothered me about AA. 1. Why do I have to introduce myself as a disease when I’m trying to build my self-esteem. 2. What good is the amends process when it begins and ends with selfish reasons.

      Sure, the 12 steps were a good start for me but eventually, I had to discover why I did selfish things to begin with. Only then could I be truly sober and free from an addictive mind.

      It wasn’t the pain that made me drink. It was my relationship to pain.

  • My experience is kinda the opposite. My family member stole from me and then turned other family members against ME to cover their tracks while “in her disease”. She has been in and out of sobriety several times but the latest seems the most solid. She “worked her program” astonishingly fast (her new addiction I suppose) and without a word or amends of any sort to any of us she has pronounced herself finished with the 12 steps and now is looking for someone else to sponsor. I do appreciate the difference between amends and apologies because when things happened she did apologize but it had all the value of saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. While I don’t need or want a big teary rehash, I was kinda looking forward to bringing a comfortable closure to the whole mess. We are all on good terms, loving and supporting our addict but I do still feel the sting sometimes because her behavior “in her disease” was so outrageous. Quite frankly I think the whole program is just another disease, only this one doesn’t involve felonies and organ failure. I mean I do prefer THIS one over the heroin, but I’m sick of the self-righteous crowing over their “success”. I think addicts ARE narcissists no matter what they do or do not put into their bodies and will absolutely do whatever makes them feel better 100% of the time. Some feel better by revisiting their failures and making amends, others feel better acting like it never happened. Either way it’s just not real to anyone but them, and it’s not about anyone but them.

  • Steven D. Hess

    4 years ago

    This article doesn’t even define what an amends is.

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