I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that was one of those time where you are offering someone the exact same advice that you realize you need yourself. She was describing a situation where she had suffered a falling out with a dear friend and told me she had cried to the friend saying, “I don’t know what I did. Please tell me. I am so sorry for whatever it was.” Throughout her conversation, I heard her mention other things for which she was sorry.
We are supposed to be sorry. We are supposed to look back on our lives and take note of actions and outcomes we regret. I am always profoundly wary of anyone who tells me that they have no regrets and would not change a thing they have done because it “brought me to where I am today.” or “it made me what I am today.” To my mind, if you do not have anything in your life you would have done differently, one or more of the following situations exist:
- You are very young.
- You minimize the impact your actions have on others
- You are a narcissist and/or an unapologetic asshole.
- You have not lived at all.
- You are lying.
I have a ton of regret. I look back on choices I made that yes, brought me to a better place, but could have been done so differently with greatly minimized causalities. There are so many times when I could have expressed myself in less hurtful ways. There were decades when I made wrong choice after wrong choice, always hoping and believing I was doing the “right” thing and not learning until much later how tragic my choice actually was.
I would give anything to go back to my young self, say around age 19-20, and talk to her gently. I would let her cry it out for days, as she so needed to do. I would hold space for her and help her to purge out all of the abuse and the anger and the resentment. I would talk to her about her beautiful babies and all the ways in the future she would inadvertently hurt them while trying to do “the right thing.” I would show her how to remain plugged in even when things were unspeakably rough. I would show her how to stop being afraid and to be powerful and gentle all at the same time.
If that changed her in some ways or took her to different places, so be it.
Because of the mistakes I made, starting early in my life, I have carried with me a feeling that if something is broken, it is likely because of something I did. If someone is sad, I probably caused it. If something is wrong, I have to find some way to fix it or at least slap a band-aid on it while I figure out how to fix it.
I apologize…a lot. I have apologized to my older children, all now grown, and tried to find peace with all the ways I failed them as a parent and there were plenty. As far as I know, only one still resents me for the wrong choices I made and I am at a loss for what more I can do in that regard. I likely just have to carry that outcome with me. I have apologized to my husband for being fat so that he never has the experience of having a beautiful, physically fit woman on his arm. I have apologized to my husband for not making enough money. I have apologized to my family for tight holiday celebrations when funding was low and people only got modest gifts. I apologized to my spiritual community for not being sufficiently academic, despite having an advanced degree. I apologize in a store when someone bumps into me because clearly, I should not have been standing where I was.
I likely apologize for something, large or small, a minimum of four or five times a day; often ten or twenty. “I’m sorry…” is like punctuation to my sentences.
Ultimately, there are times when I am apologizing for even taking up space in the world or invading someone’s time.
In addition to meaning regret for one’s actions, another definition of “sorry” is: “in a poor or pitiful state or condition” and that does pretty much sum it up.
When I worked in the child development field, juggling the office in a military preschool that serviced ninety-six children at any given time, one of the standards we learned was that you do not force a child to apologize if they do not wish to do so. You teach accountability. You teach cause and effect. You teach social skills. You do not, however, make them say the words, “I am sorry,” if they do not want to. The reasoning behind it is that it teaches children – people – to be dishonest about their feelings. If a child does not feel sorry for doing something and is pushed to say they are, it teaches duplicity.
There must be a word for the opposite of that, where you are sorry for things you should not be sorry about.
When you explain something and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think…” you rarely are actually sorry. You are making a statement that you feel may not be well received, so instead of standing strong by your words, you offer apology in advance then say it anyway.
When two people speak at once, one or both of them say, “Sorry…” as though they did not have a right to start talking, even though they had no way of knowing the other person would speak.
We apologize for things that had absolutely nothing to do with us, such as, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
So many examples. Pantene Company made an interesting video about it a couple of years ago:
At this moment, I am not sorry for a damned thing.
Some how, some way, I am going to find the temerity and resourcefulness to eliminate this word from my vocabulary. That does not mean I will feel no regret for my actions when they cause harm in some way. It means I will use other words to convey those feelings.
“I wish you had not had to experience that.”
“I hate that my actions hurt you.”
“I regret what I said to you and I hope you can forgive my thoughtlessness.”
“It makes me sad that someone did that to you and it isn’t fair.”
Anything to jettison the S word.
I have learned that I cannot carry the weight of the world’s apologies and that even my own are sometimes too heavy to bear.
One of the lessons I recently received is that I must be more aware of how my words impact people and when I am taking over a conversation. I never mean to. I get excited and want to share and before I know it, it happens. Now that it is brought to my attention, I am working to heal that and the added attention to my words and interaction really put a spotlight on all of the sorries going around my conversations. Yeah, I apologized for the conversation dominance as well.
So no more. There will be other words and I hope they lead to other feelings and ways to process what happens and has happened in my world. For that matter, I may end up being tired of apologizing at all. A shrug might suffice. At least when I shrug, I can shift the weight off my shoulders.