Relational Rupture and Repair. The Art of Apology.

The importance of accountability (owning mistakes and shortcomings) can’t be understated in creating emotional safety in relationship. While this makes solid intellectual sense, it can be a difficult concept to practice.

It is likely we have all experienced apology without accountability. It is also likely we have been in the position of offering apology without understanding the significance of taking or demonstrating personal responsibility. This said, it is one of the most important attachment and relationship concepts that we can practice. Genuinely understanding and consistently owning our part in a relational rupture (a disconnect) and offering relational repair (returning to connection) through accountability provides the needed foundation of trust in relationship.

This is a key component in all relationships, and it is particularly important in parent-child relationships. It is also one of the more difficult to truly understand and practice. It is easy, for some, to get stuck on the notion that owning our mistakes or apologizing to a child is unwarranted. This seems to be most connected to an unawareness around the importance of emotional safety, experiencing the child’s feelings as inappropriate or upsetting, or the ideology that this (owning of mistakes) may cause a child to disobey or disrespect the parent.

Research in parent -child attachment demonstrates that children who experience environments where personal accountability is modeled ~grow into more secure adults. They become adults who are empathetic, responsible, attuned, and can reciprocate in their relationships. These are cornerstones of secure attachment and come through experiencing attunement in early relationship.

The concept of relational rupture and repair has its roots in the early attachment work of John Bowlby. Bowlby recognized the importance of parental attunement in creating ones eventual ability to engage in reciprocal relationship and provided the avenue for many to further research the life long impact of early bonds. These early relationships are where our neurobiological tracks (so to speak) are laid. Research shows that by the 3rd year of life (due to the exponential growth of the brain and the many associations it makes) our relational strategies are in place. They are then reinforced through time with further association.

If we were fortunate enough to grow in an environment where feelings were acknowledged and validated, and we were held safely accountable in our efforts toward independence, we generally grow into adults who trust, are trustworthy, and can reciprocate in relationship. In regard to understanding repair or owning of mistakes in a parent -child relationship reliance on relational as opposed to behavioral strategies are important. One such strategy is the Time-In Strategy. In essence a strategy for building relational attunement. The Time-in reinforces the importance to owning one’s own mistakes along with listening, sharing, and engaging the child in problem solving, along with support of natural and applicable consequences.

One of the most well-known, researched and recommended versions of the strategy comes from Circle of Security International (COS). It is the go-to strategy within the model (known as Circle of Security Parenting (COSP) and utilized to assist parents and children within the repair process after a relational rupture has occurred. Overall, COS provides an easy to understand and applicable roadmap in normalizing parent-child reactions, building perspective around the many nuances of interaction (and its future trajectory), aiding parents in understanding how their own histories impact parenting, and utilizing key relational strategies. The Time-in strategy utilized within the model recognizes there are times when either a child or parent may be to dysregulated (to emotionally upset) to engage in an immediate time in and provides guidance in how to navigate these moments as well as those moments when a time-in will flow easily. You will find the guide sheet for this excellent strategy here. Links to COS and COSP can be found in the resource section of this article.

In short synopsis, it is recommended when a parent makes the inevitable parenting mistake (and causes rupture or disconnect) he or she engages the child in relationship (a time-in as 0pposed to a time-out) to regulate the child’s feelings and provide connection in problem solving. This again enhances trust and provides the foundation of what will become the child’s internal (automatic neurobiological imprint) in responding in future relationships. While the specific guide sheet shared is in regard to parenting children birth to 5, the strategy can be modified to use across the lifespan (birth to 100 ~plus).

In example when an infant cries a parent ideally responds with soothing care and gentle words. This (again ideally) occurs on a consistent basis. This provides the future imprint for trust in connection. However, there are circumstances in which a parent may not respond or may respond harshly or dismissively. In turn if this occurs consistently this will become the imprint the future expectation in relationship which dictates belief and behavior.

In an ordinary example, a parent may come home from a long day’s work to meet his or her teenager who hasn’t done the chore(s) instructed. The parent might charge into the teen’s room demanding they get up and get the chore done. The teen in turn may meet this with anger or accusation. In this scenario a rupture in relationship has occurred. Of course, the teen needed to do the chore. This could still be achieved without the rupture. Once the rupture occurs the repair (apology with ownership of responsibility) follows. This is the place some find difficult. The thinking around this may include; “It was expected they (the teen) should have done what was expected and I (the parent) wouldn’t have gotten angry”, or “they (the teen) never do what is expected this is the only way to get his or her attention”. In reality (as supported through research) children grow into teens and adults who (barring specific diagnosis, or neurodevelopmental disorder) do what they have been taught to do through experience and relationship.

The repair could look something like this; the parent (after both have calmed) approaches the teen stating “I would like to talk with you about what happened earlier”. Ideally the teen is open and can hear. The parent continues along these lines, “I spoke to you harshly earlier. I wish I hadn’t. I know that must have hurt you. I am sorry I did that. You didn’t deserve this.”. The parent then invites the teen to share his /her experience (again this may be difficult but listening through the teens feelings is important). Once the teen has shared the parent validates (not agrees) with what was shared. When both are calm the parent might state “I need you to know while I understand you lost track of time. I do need and expect the chores to be done when I get home”. From here problem solving or natural consequences (if genuinely needed) will be provided. This could take many forms. What should occur is reconnection with solid modeling of how to take ownership of mistakes. This again creates the experience of empathy, accountability (for both in the relationship) and provides for reciprocity.

In an example regarding future roadmaps and relationships, let’s say this same teen in later life is married with his or her own children. He or she is now equipped (if situations like the above were part of the overall experience) to provide this to their own partner, children, and in relationship in general. In example (and there could be as many varied examples as there are relationship combinations) lets say our teen is male and has grown with this foundational example of repair. He is married and his wife is expecting their first child. They both work and arrive home at approximately the same time each day. On this particular day, traffic was awful, he has learned there are pending layoffs at work, and he is worried. When he arrives home his wife greets him with a less than enthusiastic hello. (Her own day has been full, and her body continues to respond to the needs of pregnancy). He feels dismissed with her hello and meets her with his own dismissive words. Possibly stating “what’s wrong with you today”. As we can imagine this could take many directions, but maybe she says “I’m tired, there’s no need to be rude “. Both feel dismissed and an argument ensues with both going to their own corners of their home. At some point someone needs to offer repair or apology. Either could do this. In this scenario, he has a roadmap and can say (just as he was taught) “I am sorry I snapped at you, that must have hurt you, can we talk”. Ideally, they do, feelings are shared, understood, and validated. Further they reconnect, share their worries about the future, and future-plan.

In reality most of us do not have this intrinsic roadmap. We move forward with our histories in tow (bumping up against other’s histories) and inevitably cause and experience disconnect in our relationships. We do this (as our parents may have before us) with little conscious awareness of our part in this dance. One of the most important pieces of understanding we can gain is an understanding or our part in the dynamic of our relationships. This isn’t easy, it in fact is most often painful. It requires looking at our histories and the places where our needs were not met. This doesn’t always mean there were highly traumatic experiences (though this may be the case). It often means there were places where our parent’s, who didn’t have an informed relational roadmap, did their best but missed the mark at times. This said, it is important to remember that attachment research indicates if we as parents (barring abusive or neglectful behaviors) can attune even 30% of the time we can raise more secure children.

Overall, in regard to relationship (whether it be parenting, friendships, colleagues, or intimate relationships) ruptures are inevitable. If we are willing to see this and offer or engage in repair (apology) we will experience and create emotionally safe and trust building experiences.

As always, it is my hope that something written here will resonate with you. I am always curious about your thoughts and welcome your impressions and insights.

With deepest respect,

LaDonna

Copyright Protected Material: © 2014 ~ 2021 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW. All rights reserved. Written content on this blog (Perspective on Trauma) is the property of the author LaDonna Remy, MSW, LICSW. Any unauthorized use or duplication without written permission of the author/ owner of this web log is prohibited. Excerpts or quotes may be shared in the event the author is fully cited with reference and direction to this blog.

Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational. It is not intended to provide advice, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis. Content is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, or to engage in an informed treatment relationship within this format. If you or a loved one need support; it is important that you access this care from your own (specifically assigned) health care provider.

Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the Perspective on Trauma blog. As noted; it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. In the event; support is needed it is your responsibility to seek care from your own health-care provider.

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Photo: Pixabay

Resources:

Brife, Daniel. Time-in versus Time-out, Which Method Works Best for Your Child. The Chicago Tribune Nov. 24, 2017.

Bowlby,https://eighthmile.com.au/rupture-and-repair-article/

Circle of Security International Website and Resources .

Bowlby, John: A Secure Base.

Copper, Hoffman, Powell: Raising a Secure Child: How Circle of Security Parenting Can Help You Nurture Your Child’s Attachment, Emotional Resilience, and Freedom.

Copper, Hoffman, Powell: The Circle of Security Intervention: Enhancing Attachment in Early Parent-Child Relationships Illustrated Edition

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41 thoughts on “Relational Rupture and Repair. The Art of Apology.

  1. 💜 This is Awesome EveryOne so please pay attention; personally My Path is Different from Most…in Brief I Live 3DLife Energetically; basically it means I Pay More Attention to Kids who ‘Know NoThing until ‘Grown Up’ ‘ than to ‘Knowledgeable ‘Grown Ups’ ‘ so, I Agree…it’s Authentic “Apology” that is Key; yet “Apology” Requires Authentic Agreement on ‘Right and Wrong’ which ARE Fluid Concepts that Constantly Change Over LinearTime

    …💛💚💙…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh my this makes me cry.. it shows me so much about what was lacking in my own childhood and I see lately I can sadly turn the same splitting off behavior on others.. Luckily I am now close to someone very special who always knows how to repair things and own his part, I learn a lot from him every day.. This is such a helpful post. being treated so badly by a parent who never shows accountability or makes you feel to blame for their bad behavior or lack of empathy is one of the most disruptive things we can experience as children.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. ♥️ I genuinely do believe we can have the corrective attachment experiences you describe in our adult lives. I’m very glad you have this ♥️♥️.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always look forward to your well-written, thoughtful and evidence-based monthly posts, LaDonna. And this one particularly resonated with me.

    Relationships are two way streets. Reading your post from the perspective and context of a parent-child relationship, I can understand and value this notion of adults equally owning up to their part in a relationship.

    Often times, we get stuck or fixated in teaching or leading – that we forget the best way to lead is by example. L

    I do think it’s important to apologize and to show your human emotions. I think not only does this strengthen the bond and builds trust, it also shows that these moments of rupture are often small in the bigger picture… and to always remind yourself to focus on the big picture and in turn communicate to your child what it is that really matters: them and your love and relationship with them.

    Another timely and appreciated post! 💕💕💕

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Ab. I appreciate your thoughts and insights. I can see your words and beliefs regarding the importance of connection in parent-child relationships in your posts. I, too, always look forward to reading yours. It really is the child and your shared connection that “really matters”. ❤❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A fantastic read, as always. As I reflect upon this article and my own childhood I see the connections you are referring to, and appreciate the concept “relational roadmap.” As I continue my professional work, and do my own inner work, I see more and more examples where adults grew up in contexts, like I did, where the relation (and emotional) roadmaps just were not clear for the parents, as their parents didn’t have the roadmap either. Becoming aware and acknowledging this fact is extremely freeing and creates the space for new knowledge and actions. I appreciate you and this article very much, LaDonna. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  5. LaDonna, this was beautifully and creatively written and delivered. The art of apologies is always a difficult, stuck-in-your-throat thing to do. I love the way you outlined the component we seem to sidestep with apologies…accountability. I appreciate how you distinguish how we should own our part in a relational rupture and offering relational repair.

    Great job my friend! 🎉🥳✨

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Enjoyed this post very much LaDonna. Communication with our children is so important. So many problems could be avoided if we as parents learn to listen intently, communicate fully and admit when we are wrong. I have to admit I failed at these things when raising my daughters and paid the price when they became adults. I hope I’ve learned the life lessons and are much better at this as a grandparent.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience Michelle. I think we all, as parents, have places we can improve. I think it’s our willingness to see it and do so that is impactful. I genuinely appreciate your insight and look forward to reading more of your posts. ( Have a wonderful weekend). ♥️

      Liked by 1 person

  7. a wonderful perspective. I learnt the hard way that my family deserves the best of me and not my tantrums. I must leave my other part at work and in the outside world. Children wait for me with so much affection. I am duty bound to honour that.
    Thank you for such an amazing post

    Liked by 1 person

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