Therapeutic importance of apologies to abuse survivors
Strong emotions are often involved in abuse claims because of the nature of the survivors’ injuries; their dignity is violated, their trust is betrayed, there has been a huge imbalance of power and they have no control over the situation. The years following the abuse are riddled with feelings of self-blame, self-doubt, guilt, shame, resentment and unhappiness which lead to an array of mental health difficulties. As such, abuse survivors are driven more by the need to heal than by financial gains.
Monetary damages that are awarded in abuse claims can compensate victims for tangible losses, such as loss of income, but they cannot redress the emotional and psychological harm caused as a result of the abuse.
Apologies acknowledge a wrong rather than a loss and therefore provide moral recompense by addressing the very personal nature of the harm suffered. This plays an invaluable role in the healing process for survivors by validating their experience. This is why we routinely seek an apology for our clients.
Survivors of abuse carry a debilitating burden throughout their lives, thinking they are in some way to blame for what happened. An apology has the power to shift that burden from the survivor to the wrongdoer, which can have a strong impact on their sense of wellbeing and self-respect. The recognition that they are not to be blamed for what happened can be the catalyst in removing their feelings of guilt and self-doubt and in assisting them to forgive themselves, which is one of the most important steps towards healing.
As an apology is a moral act, demonstrating respect, it empowers the survivors by reinforcing their moral worth. Further, the act of apologising places the wrongdoer in a humbling position. This helps to redress the imbalance of power and loss of control which a survivor experiences during the period of abuse itself and restores their self-esteem and social status.
Apologies have always been an integral part of social discourse and civil society because they heal psychological wounds and reconcile damaged relationships; a failure to apologise can escalate feelings of anger and indignation and is also anti-therapeutic as it re-victimises the survivor.