Five stages of repentance

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. Being in the wrong is part of the human experience, so when we do, what next? Other people mess up too.

Here are five steps to putting things right and avoiding disaster:

A road signpost containing the word Disaster.

1) Fully own the harm caused

It was your fault. Accept that, there are no excuses even if you had no way of knowing that your words or actions would, or even could cause harm. Even more so if it was deliberate in a moment of rage or even premeditated.

2) Start to change

OK, so you couldn’t help it. So learn to help it. I discovered I was autistic because of anger management therapy. It turns out that my meltdowns were due to sensory overload rather than anger, but hurt had been done.

3) Amends, in whatever way might be possible

It isn’t always possible. But if you can do something to help those you hurt, do it. If it gets thrown back at you that is OK. People who have been hurt are not always rational, allow them to rant.

4) Apology if it wouldn’t harm your victim

Doing anything that would harm a victim makes things worse. If something has been done privately then apologise privately, it is up to the victim to make their name public, not you. If a public apology is necessary be sensitive to the victim, selfish apologies in order to clear your name is just more abuse.

5) Make better choices

The word repent means to turn around and do the opposite of what causes harm, if harmful behaviour has become a habit only you can break the habit by forming better habits.


These steps are all important, though the order they are done in is less so. Deal with these things in the order that suits you best, but more important the order that suits the victim best, it is the victim that is important, not you. Repentance is best served with a good side order of humility.

As a Christian I believe in repentance. John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus saying repent, Matthew 3:2. Jesus started his ministry by saying repent, Matthew 4:17. The disciples preached repentance on the day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church Acts 2:38. The Holy Spirit reveals to us where we’ve messed up, God wants to forgive, it is in the nature of God to forgive. If you want to know forgiveness return to God. If you have never known God now is the time to turn to God, confess what you have done and ask him to forgive you. God really wannts to forgive you.

This blog is based on a public Tweet some months ago by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg @TheRaDR which I have used as headings and expanded upon. The last paragraph is mine.

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