I have recently become aware of a remarkable difference of opinion regarding the mechanics of being forgiven and regaining the trust of those whose trust has been violated. On the one hand are those who believe that the violator should directly engage with the violated in making amends and seeking forgiveness, and that the violated are obligated to provide a road map for making amends that–if successfully followed by the violator–absolutely guarantees redemption and the restoration of trust. On the other hand are those who believe that the violator should affirmatively eschew any engagement at all with the violated, and should attempt to demonstrate continuous ongoing new-found trustworthiness in venues that are completely dissociated from those in which the trust was violated.
A stated rationale for the former is that if violators are not given the incentive of guaranteed road maps for redemption, then they will neither admit to their violations nor attempt to make amends. A stated rationale for the latter is that the very act of engagement with the violated driven by the goal of redemption is itself a sign of untrustworthiness and another betrayal of trust.
I have been through this shitte in my birth family, and I have seen with my own eyes folly of the former view and the truth of the latter. Key to demonstrating true contrition is making the following clear to those who have been wronged: (1) I respect your right to have no dealings with me, now or ever; (2) my efforts at making amends are driven not by my selfish interest in regaining the rights, privileges, and power I have lost as a consequence of my violations of trust; (3) I embrace the fact that no matter what I do, trust may never be restored, yet I still make amends and demonstrate my trustworthiness on an ongoing sustained basis.
These two different views of redemption are based on two different assumptions about the relative importance of the interests of the violator and the violated. Underlying the former view is the assumption that the loss of rights, privileges, and power by the violator is more important than the restoration of safety and autonomy to the violated. Underlying the latter view is that the safety and autonomy of the violated is paramount and must be respected by third parties–and, centrally, by the violator–regardless of the consequences to the rights, privileges, and power of the violator.
Violators need to make amends because they recognize it is the right thing to do, not so that they can get their cookies back, and it needs to be transparent to the violated that this is what is motivating the violators actions. Like I said, I’ve seen this all play out in my own family, and this is the only way to actually restore trust. Of course, if the goal is really just to regain lost rights, privileges, and power, then other tactics might be perceived as tenable.