Someone you kick out of your life might come back later to try and make amends. How do you prepare for that?
Being an active alcoholic meant that a lot of people wound up telling me to get out of their lives, to put it mildly. The process of getting sober involved a lot of amends-making directed at those people, and most of them were receptive and kind and welcomed my apologies.
Not all of them were so welcoming, as I’ve written before, which was a difficult surprise for me. I’d had some image in my head that somewhere out there was an all-powerful protocol I could follow for restoring any relationship, no matter what the damage done, but to my dismay I didn’t find any magic spells or scripts I could read at people to get any result out of them that I wanted.
A big part of that lack of effectiveness was on me - I might not have had clarity about what I was making amends for, it might not have been appropriate to approach someone to make amends at all, and I might have gotten emotionally activated mid-amends and gotten muddied about what my intentions were in the interaction.
Another source of difficulty in making amends is that a lot of boundaries are put down in moments of critical anger and sadness, which means that final communications can be emotionally blunt and difficult to return to when the person on the other end of the boundary is looking for an understanding of how to make amends (if at all).
So when I set down boundaries now I try to set down the kind of boundaries that I wish I’d gotten long ago, boundaries that are compassionate and clear and that explain exactly how the person on the other side of them can contribute to me going forward (and this includes explicitly asking for them to give me space indefinitely). If I don’t do that, then I paradoxically open the situation up to a further loss of control down the line, in the case that the person on the other side of the boundary reads a book or joins a group or takes a personal growth course that pushes them to clean up their past somehow. Even if their heart’s in the right place, I’d still rather not have them guessing and flailing around about what they can do to set things right with me.
Is this victim blaming? I get how it might look like that, putting the responsibility on the injured party to assert their needs more effectively, but I don’t think that’s what it ultimately is. I’d assert that this is a case of taking power anywhere we can find it. Compassion and clarity are important things to bring to any kind of conversation, but boundary-setting conversations are where those values make the deepest impact of all.