I have been trying to cut down on apologizing. I don’t mean that I irrationally yell at someone and then refuse to say sorry, or I stand someone up and don’t apologize. I’m talking about the common sorries that (often women) are taught, in order to be liked, proper, and polite.
Here are some of the ridiculous examples of my automatic apologetic responses (please feel free to share yours):
I apologize before I complain to a customer service representative. (Partly because I imagine that most people take out their anger on them and they are innocent victims of the crimes their companies perform.) I apologize when I order food and ask for something to be taken off the meal that I am paying for and that will make me sick if I eat it (though I was a waitress, and I know how annoying that can be.) I apologize when I hit a wall or door by accident (yes, to an inanimate object.) I apologize when someone steps ahead me at the grocery store to get the produce I was looking at. I even apologize if I get near a person looking at the produce that I want to see. I apologize if I open a door and the person insists I walk in first. Did I mention that I apologize to walls?
But I want to stop apologizing when it is not necessary. Just today, and so many times before, I will be on the phone/walking/in a restaurant with a friend. I will be talking and a baby/cashier/stranger will start speaking to them and they will have to cut me off to answer/take care of the baby/deal with the issue at hand. And my very first reaction is to apologize. And I think that I’m apologizing for speaking. It’s almost as if I cut the other person off. I’m embarrassed and feel shame that I am talking about myself and at that. I start to think: “Am I talking too much? Am I boring them? Do they have something else to do?” And while those questions are common for someone who is insecure, saying “sorry” when I haven’t actually done something is like a natural reaction. I am apologizing for taking time away from their lives for myself – but that’s what talking to your friends is – two people sharing stories about their lives.
It’s particularly bad when I’m angry and trying to express my feelings. I’m constantly trying to invalidate and apologize for my feelings. I’ll say: “You hurt my feelings when you teased me about this issue I have, and I know that I’m horrible and I’m sorry that I’m being such a nag. It just hurt my feelings but I’m really sensitive and I’m sorry because you probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings and I know that.”
I think part of it is fear that somehow I’m wrong to feel frustrated or slighted; a part of me tries to empathize with their side of the situation – and so while I’m angry, perhaps there was a reason for their behavior.
But I am allowed to express anger and frustration, even if in the end, that wasn’t the intention of the person. I also have realized that at its’ core, unnecessary apologizing comes from a place of self-hate and shame.
Think about it. Each of the examples demonstrate my feelings that I am less valid than the people around me. My feelings don’t count as much as theirs; I don’t deserve the same respect I give them. I think I am apologizing for existing. Wow. That’s awful.
If I’m going to try and find some sort of contentment in the long-term, I have to be able to own my right to take up space, to have opinions, to feel emotions, and to express myself. I have to respect myself as much as I respect others around me and know that my feelings are legitimate and valid.
Sometimes you have to perform an action before you actually believe it internally. Like in DBT, there is a skill called “half-smiling.” It’s exactly what you think: basically it’s fake it till you make it, but in this case it’s fake it until you start to feel it. If you smile long enough, you will start to feel better. So maybe if I control my apologies, over time, I will realize why I deserve the respect to exist, to want, to need, to feel, to be who I am. I want to be worthy – not only to others, but more importantly, to myself. And I’m not sorry about that.