“I’m Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry”: manipulation masquerading as humility and repentance
I’ve listened to many stories told by family members, friends and spouses experiencing hurt and exhaustion caused by the actions of a loved one. The hurt inflicted upon these people, in most cases, is intentional in nature and fueled by insecurity. The damage caused by the insecure party results in real, gaping wounds. Yet, because these friends and family members still desire to be in a relationship with the insecure, often volatile, person; they continue to open themselves up to more hurt in their attempt to set boundaries. Inevitably, the hurt family members experience more pain at the hands of the insecure, while the insecure family member spends the majority of their time focused on their behavioral changes. However, in most cases, the insecure entirely overlooks the needed heart change required for true repentance.
Unfortunately, this intense deed-focus inflicts yet more emotional damage on the already battered and bruised family and friends. The disconnect between behavioral modification and true gospel level heart change manifest in the insecure, is tantamount to an alcoholic who goes to inpatient for 90 days, and immediately upon release declares sobriety. Except, in reality, they thought about drinking every day of their treatment. In the field of psychology and addiction we refer to such individuals as a “dry drunk.” A dry drunk is an alcoholic who is unable to access alcohol, but spent every minute it was unavailable thinking about it. They spent their time focused on the taste of alcohol, and they planned for their next drink. So, while a “dry drunk” might legitimately claim they have been sober for 90 days because alcohol hasn’t physically been in their system for three months, they have missed the treatment’s deeper point. Treatment wasn’t intended to simply address their maladaptive behavior and forbid access to alcohol, it’s intended to address the origins of their alcoholism, their desire for drunkenness, and the insecurities that fuel the core issues in their heart.
The “dry drunk” is an example of manipulation masquerading as repentance and humility. Because the alcoholic was without alcohol for a prolonged period of time, they claim to have changed. Further, they require those that have been damaged by their excessive drinking to act as if this fiction is the truth. By behaving this way, the dry drunk is inflicting yet more damage on their loved ones because a core-level heart change has not actually transpired.
True heart change takes more than abstaining from a behavior or substance.
Saying sorry isn’t enough
People who damage their friend and familial relationships often refuse to examine their hearts on a deep, spiritual level. When insecurity is at the core of what drives the hurting of others, it’s almost impossible for sincere reflection, evaluation and introspection to happen. Insecurity tends to cloud the ability to assess one's own actions and blinds them to how their actions are affecting others. Saying, and meaning, “I’m sorry” must come by way of a Holy Spirit conviction. Conviction leads to humble prayer, followed by contrition, then confession, arriving at repentance, which means gospel-level heart change. Simply saying “I’m sorry” for doing relational damage in word and deed, yet remaining bitter and resentful on the heart level, causes more damage than doing no interpersonal work at all. This delays healing for all parties.
True heart change can only come from God and the Holy Spirit residing within us. We must daily come before the face of God (Corum Deo) and pray through Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
This prayer of humility and admission that we cannot know the full depth and depravity of our own hearts, is the first step in submitting to the authority of God over our lives. The psalmist recognized that even on his best day, he will still have a bitter, resentful, and malicious heart. Therefore, it is imperative that we seek God and ask Him to reveal our hearts. We cannot correct something to which we are blind.
God’s understanding leads us to a contrite heart
Contrition is a necessity for gospel-level heart change. Considering the concept of contrition, my 8-year-old daughter comes to mind. Many times she will not do what I have asked of her. In seriously willful episodes of disobedience, when confronted, her immediate response is, “I’m sorry.” Her face is downcast with expectation of the coming negative consequence and a firm conversation. At age 8, my daughter is often more sorry that she got caught in her disobedience, not that she disobeyed her parents.
Contrition is the knowledge that our behavior was sinful and hurtful. God convicts us and provides an understanding of our sin, what we did wrong and how we are hurting others. Therefore, we face the choice to either reject this conviction and continue functioning as god over our own lives, which further defies God’s truth, or we accept the reality of our sin and the pain we are causing others. By accepting the later, we glorify Christ and He continues to change our hearts.
Change requires constant submission to Christ. It requires a continual acknowledgement that only God is capable of changing our hearts. It requires constant prayer and immersion in God’s word. Change without any contrition or repentance is simply behavior modification.
I invite you to change, by thinking about who’s in charge of your change.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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