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Rebuild someone’s trust with these helpful tips…it’s possible!
You’re human, so it happens: You mess up…big time. Maybe you spilled a friend’s secret. Or failed to respect your sister’s privacy. Or disobeyed your parents. Whatever it was, you broke the trust of someone you care about. You’d said you’re sorry, and you truly are. If you could take it back, you would. But it’s too late for that…so now what? Are you doomed to live with your mistake forever? No! While you can’t call for a “do-over,” you can start to repair the damage you’ve caused. Read on to find out what you must do to gain back the trust you’ve lost…and why it’s so important to do so now.
My best friend Jess always used to make excuses about why she couldn’t invite me over, and why we always had to hang out at my house. One time we had a big fight about it, and she finally told me the real reason: Her mom is an alcoholic. I promised not to tell anyone but I then I did tell Beth, another friend of ours. But then Beth told someone else and Jess found out! Now Jess won’t even talk to me, even though I said I was sorry! -Maggie, age 12, Calif.
Not everyone who spills a secret is a spiteful gossip. There are times when you may need to betray a confidence. If a friend is being hurt or hurting herself, you really have no choice—you must tell. But if you tell someone’s secret simply because you can’t resist sharing it…well, you already know that an apology is in order. Here’s where it gets tricky, though. Your apology can help repair the damage you’ve done, or it can make things worse, depending on what you say. So before you blurt out something like, “Sorry you’re so mad,” or “Sorry we had a misunderstanding,” remember: Those aren’t real apologies…and they’ll only make things worse. Most of us are afraid to admit we’ve done something wrong because we think people will hold our mistake against us forever. But really, the opposite is true. Think about it: If a friend told someone your secret, what would you most want to hear? Not, “I didn’t mean to…” or “It just slipped out.” You’d want to hear, “I was wrong.” Look at it this way: A half-hearted excuse doesn’t give the person you’ve wronged a reason to believe you can be trusted not to do it again. But if you agree that you messed up—or even better, if you’re the first person to say so—she’s much more likely to really listen to you. So start by taking full responsibility for your mistake—no excuses! For example, you might say something like, “I’m so sorry I gave away your secret. I know I should have kept my mouth shut. I had no right.” Then, promise her you’ll never do it again. If you can, go a step further: Tell her what steps you’re taking to make sure you don’t repeat it. You could say, “Next time I’m tempted to say something I shouldn’t, I’m going to remind myself of how bad I feel now. I don’t ever want to hurt a friend like this again.” Show her that your mistake has been bothering you as much as it’s been bothering her, and that broken trust will begin to mend.
I read a tiny bit of my sister’s diary, and she found out. I’ve told her over and over that I didn’t mean to snoop—I thought maybe it was just some story she was writing! I even said I was sorry. But it’s been weeks, and she’ll hardly even talk to me! I want my sister back…but how? -Leah, age 10, N.Y.
If you’re at all curious about the people around you (and who isn’t?), life can offer lots of temptations to be nosy. But even a small amount of snooping can shatter trust in a big way. Until you recognize the seriousness of your mistake, you can’t expect to move on. If you’re having trouble seeing why it’s such a big deal, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You’ve poured out your deepest, most private feelings…and now someone else has read them. You feel exposed, naked…and furious, right? Okay, back to your own shoes (although that may not be the most comfortable place to be right now!). Until you do some serious apologizing, you can’t expect to mend your relationship. Once again, you must let the person you’ve wronged know that you know you’ve made a serious mistake. Then, get ready to hear how angry, embarrassed, and disappointed in you she is. Resist the urge to defend yourself. Maybe you did only read a few words, or maybe you didn’t hear anything important. Saying so now will only make the other person feel like you’re trying to say that your snooping was no big deal, which won’t go over well. Right now, your best defense is no defense: “I shouldn’t have done it, and I’m really sorry. I made a terrible mistake, and promise I’ll never do it again.” Own up, apologize…and then make sure you live up to your promise. It’s the only way to prove you’re really worthy of that person’s trust.
I set up a profile on MySpace after my parents told me not to, and they found out. Even though I’ve said “I’m sorry” a million times and told them I won’t do again (and I won’t!), they still don’t trust me about anything. They act like I’m three years old again! Kerri, age 12, N.C.
No doubt about it, losing your parents’ trust is major…really major. If you don’t see why they’re so worked up, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’ve done—from their point of view. Your parents’ first priority is to keep you safe; their second, to raise a responsible, trustworthy human being. If you tell them one thing but do another, they may fear that they can’t keep you safe after all…and that you’ll grow up to be irresponsible and untrustworthy. No wonder they’re ready to ground you for life! You can tell them you know you made a mistake and that you’re really, truly sorry till you’re blue in the face, and you probably won’t convince them. (Do it anyway, though—you won’t get anywhere without talking this through.) Just remember that words are only going to get you so far. The only way to truly regain your parents’ trust is to show them, by your actions, that you are worthy of it. Start by cooperating with every one of their rules—even the ones that seem unfair—without complaining. Then, take go the extra mile: Be the best daughter you know how to be. If you know it bugs your mom when you put off your homework until after dinner, start getting it done immediately after school. Practice the piano or take out the garbage without being asked. (You get the picture.) Maybe you don’t see what any of this has to do with your mistake, but your parents will. Exercising good judgment in other areas of your life will show them that you really are as mature and responsible as you know you are. Your behavior and attitude can make it clear that your misstep was a one-time thing, not a sign of how trustworthy (or not!) you are. Then, give it time. Depending on how badly you damaged their trust in you, it may take weeks—or even months—to get it back again. But it will happen. Just be patient…and hang in there! And now that you’ve done everything you can to repair the trust you trampled on, it’s time to forgive yourself…and move on. We’re all human, and we all mess up. You’ve shown you’re strong enough to face mistakes head-on, and caring enough to work hard at fixing them. And that’s something to be proud of.
Originally printed in Discovery Girls magazine. Share this with your daughter.