Thank you, Demi, for inspiring me to write this post.
Why do people apologize for everything these days? Saying “sorry” has replaced our form of communication. It is so ingrained in our speech that it can replace our hellos and goodbyes without a second thought.
“Sorry, I was sleeping before and didn’t answer your call”, “Sorry, my appointment is here, I have to let you go.” The other day I was at the security screening area at the airport, and the lady in front of me had four boxes, a coat, and her carry-on. She looked at me sheepishly, smiled, and apologized for having so many things to carry. I thought to myself- not only is it a huge load for you and to top it off, but you will also carry the extra burden of feeling bad for others having to wait the extra 20 seconds at the screening?
I used to apologize for EVERYTHING. Hence, why I am writing this post. “Sorry for the traffic”, “sorry for coming over and adding an extra coffee cup to the dishwasher”, etc. I would apologize for things that were my fault as much as for things that truly had nothing to do with me. Many of you may ask what is the big deal in apologizing? It’s a polite thing to do, isn’t it? I would say not. Apologizing to someone for something that is not your fault puts you at a disadvantage.
Sorry for not being perfect.
First, for all of you perfectionists out there- the expectation inherent in all that we do is “I must be flawless”. The result is that acting as though anything but perfect is considered a mistake, a nuisance, or a burden to the other person. Apologizing is externalizing the “I am not good enough” faulty thinking and inviting the other person to our ” I am not good enough” party. Not fun.
Apologizing for things out of our control creates a teeter-totter of power games. It puts you at a disadvantage and raises the other person’s sense of entitlement to feel as though what has happened is somehow your responsibility. This applies to all of our relationships and can become quite cumbersome if we begin to take responsibility for things that do not belong to us. For example, with our kids- if we apologize for feeling sick, the traffic making us late, not knowing an answer to a homework question, the rain canceling our plans, etc- we create this notion that 1. Somehow we cannot EVER make a mistake, and 2. Our kids have a right to be just as angry or upset with us as if we did it purposefully. If we constantly take responsibility for things that do not belong to us, we absolve our kids from their greatest lesson in life: To deal with life when it does not go according to their plan. This means that we are not raising resilient kids.
When we constantly apologize to our kids or in front of our kids to other people, we are indirectly teaching them how to relate to the world. Our kids may imitate us and apologize for the most mundane things (“I’m sorry that I moved while you shampooed my hair”) or will act as though we owe it to them to give them what they want now (I want another ice cream right now!) Most of us don’t want entitled brats or doormats as kids.
So, in my work both professionally and personally, I catch how often I say sorry for something that I really don’t need to be sorry for. At first, it was quite difficult, because I was an A+ student at apologizing. Now, it occurs less and less. During those moments when I would typically apologize, I take a moment and think of something else to say that conveys my feeling or not say anything at all. It’s working out quite well. I do sometimes slip up and that’s okay, it’s a process. I suggest you try it and not beat yourself up over it when you apologize. I work with parents who want to raise awesome kids. Sometimes, our guilt about other things gets in our way and we take more responsibility than we should for our kids. In our sessions, we work through this and the results are parents who are less burned out and kids who are better able to deal with their own problems.