The 7 Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Wrongdoing
By: Christine Hammond, LMHC
Everyone does something wrong. It could be gossiping about a friend, belittling a spouse, inappropriate punishment of a kid, lying to a neighbor, or stealing from work. Regardless of the offense, there are steps that a person must take to demonstrate they have accepted responsibility for their wrongdoing.
1. Acknowledge Internally. The first step a person takes is to admit what they did was wrong internally. This is the most critical step because it is not about what others see rather it is a condition of the heart. The person must recognize that their behavior was wrong or hurtful to another person and then choose to amend. Many people fake this first step in order to look good in front of others but without it, no real positive change can occur.
2. Confess to Another. This step can be embarrassing and is often skipped for that reason. When a person has done wrong to a victim, confessing their behavior to another person allows there to be a level of accountability. This other person could be a close friend, mentor, counselor, or spouse. Doing it before confronting the victim, allows the offender a greater understanding of the severity of the transgression.
3. Admit to Victim. There are two good ways to confess wrongdoing to a victim: writing a letter/email or verbally declaring. Making general statements like, “I’m sorry for all the hurt I caused you,” however is not sufficient. This is a way to dodge responsibility because there is nothing specific to hold the person accountable. Rather the statement should be, “I’m sorry for verbally assaulting you by calling you a name.”
4. Declare Understanding. During the confession, it is important to state how the offense hurt the victim. For instance, “You looked sad when I called you that name,” accepts responsibility for a hurtful emotional response. Refusing to state that a painful remark caused unnecessary sadness opens the door for the wrongdoing to be blamed on someone or something else. This step demonstrates a level of empathy for the victim that is essential to repairing the relationship.
5. Erect a Boundary. “If I do this again, I understand that you will…” demonstrates a grasp of the potential future consequences for any further wrongdoing. It is also a way of showing awareness for the severity of the offense. However, some people use this step as a way to control the outcome. Just because an offender states a natural consequence does not mean the victim has to accept it as offered.
6. Give Time. After any offense/confession, the victim needs adequate time to believe the change is real. The offender has lost the right to state how long that time frame needs to be, rather it is the victim that now has that control. Real change, like new habits, takes time to absorb into a person. Usually, several incidents of anger, anxiety, depression or fear need to occur to see if the change is permanent.
7. Be Accountable. Both the victim and the person from step two have the right to question the offender to see if they are following through. A willingness to be accountable to other people for actions and behavior demonstrates maturity and responsibility. A break in this step indicates a person who has not truly changed.
Note that in all of the steps, nothing is required of the victim. It is not the responsibility of the victim to do anything after having been offended. They can choose to forgive or not as they see fit. Instead, all of the steps focus on the actions/behavior/attitude of the offender.
To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.