Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Principles: Forgiveness vs. Victimization
The idea of having the best possible relationship with all persons in one’s life is not new to the 12 step programs and in most all cultures, there are ways to rectify wrongs committed between two or more members of that society/culture. Having spent over 10 years living in Hawaii, I came across a practice that was very similar, but much older, to the 8th and 9th steps.
In traditional Hawaiian culture, the practice of Ho’oponopono was used whenever discord threatened the extended family . Its literal definition means “setting to right . . . to restore and maintain good relationships among family, and family and supernatural powers” . The process bares great similarity to what takes place in the steps. Essential to the process’s successful completion are the concepts of mihi and kala. Mihi is “the sincere confession of wrongdoing and the seeking of forgiveness,” and kala is “the loosening of negative entanglements” . These same concepts are also imperative in the successful completion of the healing process through the steps.
The amends spoken about in this step is not merely apologizing for what one has done. It entails actually repairing (i.e., mending) the relationship to whatever extent is possible, and it stems from the sincere desire on the part of the one who has committed the harm, for forgiveness, and the willingness to do whatever is necessary (but reasonable) to set the relationship right. These two ingredients are essential in the amends process, and need to be included whether the amends takes place in person, through a letter, or a phone call.
Although this step calls for direct amends, it does not say to make specific amends; indicating that unless the individual making the amends is quite certain that the other person they are making amends to knows the particulars of a given situation (e.g., a sexual indiscretion with their spouse), the individual must not discuss the particular situation, and need only make general amends for their behavior as it resulted from their character defects (e.g., “I ask forgiveness for the harm my selfishness caused you”). It is for this reason, the need to be clear about how to approach each individual on the list, that the 8th step list should be discussed thoroughly with the sponsor/therapist/clergy person, prior to the making of amends, with clear guidance on what specifically needs to be discussed, or not discussed, in each case. As the individual begins this process, a sense of being forgiven by others, as well as by oneself, will occur. In addition to this will be a deep understanding into the behavior of those that have hurt and harmed the person making the amends, and a willingness to forgive them.
Within the Ho’oponopono, the closing phase is called pani, and it means that the problem is closed, never to be brought up again. If the problem cannot be resolved in one session, additional sessions are conducted before the final pani is completed. While this might work with some issues, especially when the issues have been confronted before they have had time to fester, it is probably unreasonable to expect that situations and issues that have been left unresolved for many years, or have caused great hurt and harm (e.g., sexual abuse) can be resolved and never spoken about after even a few sessions. Never speaking about a problem does not necessarily mean it is healed.
Forgiveness is, of course, a process that takes place over time. Depending on the situation, the time needed may be seconds, or lifetimes. The process of forgiveness is completed when the individual is as they would have been (or better) had the hurtful or harmful incident not taken place. At that point there is nothing left to forgive, since the individual is whole and as they “should” have been. In other words; Michelangelo, when asked how he created his masterpiece sculpture, David, he is said to have stated that he removed all of the marble that wasn’t David. The steps remove all that is not the authentic individual.
In this step, and through the remaining steps, the individual becomes the kind of man or woman that they always thought they could be, and may have even tried to be. They also become stronger and have less need to protect themselves from the hurts of human fallibility. They become more open to take risks in relationships and to take responsibility for their actions, rather than remaining victims of their own past decisions, or of other’s behaviors.