Somewhere, in a story where you aren’t the main character, you may be a villain. This idea can be hard to accept because we all strive to be good people, but regardless of our intentions, we may still impact others negatively. Maybe the childhood friend of your significant other feels that you stole their beloved person away, or maybe the lifelong friend you often confide in secretly feels unvalued by you.
We may never know whose tormentor we are. We may not even know how badly we had been hurting someone until years later, but somewhere, at some point in time, you may have caused damage to a loved one unknowingly. If you have recently discovered you were a villain in someone else’s life, here are some things to consider as you grapple with this jarring realization.
Acknowledge their feelings. Even if it comes as a shock to you, recognize how the other person feels. It can be a natural urge to want to defend ourselves and explain away the offences, but even if you feel like you do have legitimate justifications for your actions, you still hurt someone. Don’t erase those feelings in the process of trying to defend your own. Acknowledge their feelings as well as yours, even if they may clash.
Apologize, but accept you may never receive forgiveness. Don’t apologize just for the sake of hearing the guilt-absolving statement of “it’s okay, all is forgiven” because you may never end up hearing those words. You cannot undo the damage you caused, but admit the role you played and apologize genuinely for any harm. You cannot force someone to forgive you, and a simple truth is that you may never receive it.
Reflect on yourself and don’t villainize the other person. Use this experience to reflect on how you can treat others with even more consideration and empathy and don’t villainize the other person. Learning about issues you were unaware of or hearing judgements about your character can be upsetting. We might become reminded of disputes where we felt wronged by the person who is now making accusations and want to call them out in response. Don’t let yourself fall into a rabbit hole of blaming others because you may be avoiding flaws you don’t want to admit you have. Take some time and make objective observations. Maybe you feel some of the accusations were still uncalled for, but you can also admit you had your moments of selfishness or insensitivity. Remember, you are not a bad person. We are all still growing.
Open up about your feelings. This can be a lot to process. You may want to talk it out with the person you harmed, but understandably, due to other factors, that may not be possible. Find a friend or a loved one to talk it out with. Let out the frustrations, guilt, sadness, or confusion, and don’t pent up your feelings because you feel like you don’t deserve kindness. It can be shattering to know you’ve hurt someone you care about, but remember, you still have people who value you.
Accept that you did your best with the knowledge you had at the time and forgive yourself. As we look back in retrospect, we can poke a million holes in our actions and feel like kicking ourselves for not doing certain things differently. You made decisions that came out of the circumstances you were in at that time of your life. It will always feel like you could have done something better, but forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made. We need to recognize our regrets and learn from them, but eventually, we must let them go in order to move on.
You may never achieve total reconciliation with the person you hurt as much as you want to. The best thing you can do is acknowledge their feelings, apologize without expectations of forgiveness, reflect on yourself, talk out the whirlwind of feelings you might be going through, and accept that you can’t take back actions in the past but you can move forward and do better. We will never be able to keep track of the hurt we’ve caused or all the grudges we’ve built in others, and it will drive you absolutely crazy to try. Although you will never escape the inevitability of accidentally causing harm to another person, approaching life with a balanced awareness and the will to do good is the best we can do.