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"What should you do when you say a shitty thing to someone? I am generally careful about my words, but I made a joke that was actually not very nice to someone I care about. I have recognised what I did wrong, apologised to the person whose feelings I hurt, and respected their need to be distant from me for now. But now, all I want to do is fall into a spiral of self-hatred and never leave my house again for fear of doing something shitty again, which doesn't feel healthy or productive."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

I want to start by telling you that, given the context of this question, you have already done two incredibly wonderful things: First, you’ve recognized that your misstep affects two people – yourself, and the person you care about. Second, and most importantly, you’ve prioritized the needs of the person you care about by recognizing, apologizing, and respecting their space. The importance of those actions cannot be overstated. So, so many people who are in a similar position to you, Anonymous, get so wrapped up in that self-hatred part of the equation (and we are gonna get there, hang tight), that they do not prioritize the overarching respect that is so critically important to the person who has been hurt by their actions or words.

I want you to begin by acknowledging the respect you are giving to the person who you’ve hurt. That is a productive, positive action that you have taken and are continuing to take.

Now listen to me: you are not defined by one moment, one action, one utterance. What defines any person is the way that they respond, learn, and adjust after they do something that has hurt another person (or a group of people). Yes, of course, it would be just lovely if no one ever said words that hurt others, never took actions that caused harm… but that just isn’t possible. We do not live in a utopia, we live on a planet that is riddled with misinformation, complicated and troubling messages, and a whole butt-ton of inter-personal feelings. The truest path on this little planet to a place of healing and growth is found by learning from the moments where we all, inevitably, misspeak or misstep.

Once, at a speaking event that I did years ago in Tennessee, a student expressed concern, and hurt, during the Q&A. With the room full of hundreds of students, she said to me, “during your talk you said that people were either LGBTQ or straight. I am a trans woman and I identify as straight, and that really made me feel erased.” My eyes likely got as big as dinner plates as I realized what I had done – I had used my words in a way that not only caused this person to feel erased, but that had potentially misguided a room full of people! I felt horrible, but I also immediately realized that this person speaking to me deserved an immediate apology, recognition, and a promise for change. And, that is what happened. I apologized. We had a long, incredible conversation about gender, sexuality, and erasure while the audience listened, and I changed that part of the event forevermore so that I wouldn’t ever misinform anyone else on that false dichotomy.

Now, that doesn’t mean I never misspoke again, Anonymous. It does mean, though, that I never misspoke in that way again, and that I became even more vigilant about choosing my language and constantly, consistently educating myself. You will leave the house again (you must! you’ll at least need some gummy bears from time to time), and it is completely, 100% possible (and even likely!) that when you do you might hurt another person through your words or your actions. You are not a perfect person. You do not know all the things about all the people or even all the things about your own language!! No one is, and no one does. What I can promise you, though, is that you have learned something from this experience, and you can use that knowledge to help you make better choices and choose better words in the future!!

So. When you feel that pang of “what the fuck did I do,” turn it on its head and make it productive. That’s how you escape from a self-hate that will always, only be unproductive! In the morning, when the moment flashes through your brain and you wince and start to spiral, find a quiet spot and meditate. Clear your brain. Help your emotions to find a place of balance, because that balance will better guide you and your words next time. In the afternoon, when you think “what the hell is WRONG with me, how could I have done that,” find a book, an article, a video, a podcast that has informative, balanced content so that you can be better informed and educated. That education will help you to understand the world around you in even more complicated and nuanced ways, and that will also help to guide you next time. In the evening when you start to sink into a deep, desperate longing that it had never happened… remember that it did happen, and that you are learning from it, and that is the way that the world changes. Keep working on yourself, continue to respect the needs of those around you, and please, please leave your house. That courage, Anonymous, is what will help change things for yourself, and for a whole lot of others.

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“Is it okay to reach out to an ex out of the blue to apologize for less-than-cool things I did while we were dating? Are you supposed to just let the past be the past and not bring it up or does owning up to your mistakes help the friendship?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

The short answer here is: yes, you can and should absolutely reach out to apologize to any person who you feel you may have hurt in the past. The short answer isn’t always the answer, though, so LET’S DIG IN A LITTLE BIT MORE, ANON. **shovel emoji**

The longer answer gets a bit more complicated, and it has everything to do with the dynamic of your past relationship and your current relationship. Even if you and your ex aren’t speaking to each other right now, you still have a relationship with this person, and taking care of that relationship does notalways mean following the short-answer rules.

If you and your ex broke up a few weeks or even a few months ago, and you know that they were incredibly heart-broken and also very hurt by some less-than-cool things that you did, there is a (good) chance that they may just be beginning to heal those wounds. They may just be beginning to move on and take the first few incredibly important steps toward their without-you future! That is so important and so it should always be treated with the utmost care and compassion.

That doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) ever get back in touch to bring up those old things, but it might mean that NOW isn’t the best time. Think about what you want to say, and why you want to say it. Will you be able to say the things you need to say and then still allow your ex to move forward, even if they aren’t able to forgive you right now? Are you wanting to apologize because you know that this apology will help out your ex, or does it have more to do with you wanting to heal your own heart? Do you think that there is any chance that this apology might confuse your ex, and make them think that you are trying to rekindle anything?

Take those questions and thoughts and turn them over and over again in your hands. Think about your ex, think about what you’ve both been through, try to tune into what they might be doing on their own right now to help heal their heart, and see if that helps you inform your decision.

If you do decide, after all of that thinking, that an apology might really, truly help, then my advice is to write your apology in a letter or any email. Don’t ask questions (don’t ask for anything as a matter of fact) and be incredibly clear about your intentions. Your intentions are to apologize. Your intentions are to only help and not to confuse anything. Tell them they don’t have to respond. Be clear, be compassionate, and ensure that every word in that note is written with your ex’s wellbeing in mind. A letter gives your ex the space that they may need right now, it doesn’t put pressure on an immediate response, and it keeps physical space (which is often very important to moving past a breakup) between the two of you.

The most important thing to becoming friends with someone who you’ve dated is caring for the relationship through all of its many stages, and closely listening to what it (and your ex) needs. <3