Sorry, not sorry

Apology doesn’t mean that you were wrong, or the other person was right. It means that your relationship is more valuable than your ego.

Ain Eineziz

I disagree.  And I’m not sorry about it.

I, for as long as I can remember, have been an over-apologizer.

I think the ability to admit when you are wrong and be accountable for it is very important.  That’s not what I am talking about here.

In disputes with friends, family, or especially my partner, even if I was the wronged party I have historically been the one to apologize just to end the conflict.  I really do not like anger.  I hate being around it, and have always done just about anything I could to end it.

But it wasn’t confined to arguments or conflict.  It was every day stuff.

If I lost my train of thought, if I needed to get past someone, if I needed to say no to a request- “I’m sorry.”

I’ll let you in on a secret- lots of times, I WAS NOT SORRY.

I think we have gotten so used to saying it- especially women- that we forget that the word has meaning.  It is SO a gender thing, I think.  I do not see men doing it- not nearly as much.  Women do it ALL THE TIME.  Because we are taught to be “nice,” and nice is about not making anyone uncomfortable, and ceding ground, and yielding, and pretense.  Nice is not disturbing the peace.

And even though I would be the one to apologize, even though I would make the decision to accept blame in order to make the anger stop, I would resent it like hell.  On the outside I was all contrition and appeasement, but on the inside I was seething and judging the other person.  So it isn’t even as though I was escaping the anger, now that I think about it. I was just voluntarily internalizing it.  I was making things nice again.  On the outside.

I have very little use for nice.  Nice is to kind as pretty is to beautiful.  Nice and pretty are barely skin deep, kind and beautiful go down to the bone.

Reflexive apologizing is a HARD dynamic to change in a relationship, by the way.  If you are the one who has historically yielded, it does not go over well when you decide stop. You have to be willing to see conflict through to the end.  You have to be willing for things to be awkward and uncomfortable.  Even angry.

Healthy relationships can withstand that, though.  In a healthy, loving relationship each person owns their “stuff.”  Both people are accountable for their behavior, and to one another.

Next time you are on the subway, look at the way women sit, vs the way men sit.  And no, not ALL women, and not ALL men.  But 10 to 1 you’ll see several men sprawled out over several seats, and in the same car you’ll see women with their legs crossed, bag tucked- everything they can to not infringe on anyone else’s space.  Their very posture is an apology.

It might seem insignificant, but moving through the world apologizing for taking up too much space is NOT LITTLE.  When you do that, you are conceding that you don’t have the right to stand up for yourself, or allot your time the way you want, or occupy the space you require.

Saying you are sorry should MEAN something- it shouldn’t be rote.  It shouldn’t stand in for “I can’t” or “Excuse me” or “I didn’t hear you.”  I’m sorry should express regret- REAL regret.

I mean, if you truly are sorry that you cannot work another PTA thing- then by all means, express that sorrow.  Otherwise, though?  How about- “That’s just not going to work for me this time.  Hope you find someone!”

That works, right?

32 Comments on “Sorry, not sorry

  1. Love it! I hear you. I’m a recovering sorry overuser too. I now try to reduce my sorry use by thinking it means I’m sorry (I exist). And I am NOT sorry. 🙂


  2. Love this! I, too, have overused sorry. Awareness is the first step to change. I am not there yet, but I am getting there. Also, you’re right about other people not liking it when you stop. The hardest thing I had to learn is that sometimes others will be upset and it’s not always my job to fix it. What a concept! 🙂
    Thank you for sharing so openly. I am really enjoying your writing.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Mine doesn’t usually rise to the level of seething inside, but I do find it a very bad habit when I am NOT sorry.

    I like your bus riding example but am not sure that’s the only interpretation; I think a related one is that women are more aware of allowing others to have space, whereas men don’t think about it. (No, nothing gender-related is 100% either/or.)

    If I had the wherewithal, I would love to do a study on how we negate the value of women by establishing a beauty norm based on how small they can be, while holding the opposite expectation for men.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you. This really made me think, and you made so many valid points. I am an over apologizer, and you’re so right, most times I am not even sorry I just do it to keep peace!


  5. I am a chronic over-apologizer too! It’s actually been my co-workers who have pointed this out to me and worked to help me improve, partly from concern and partly from sheer annoyance! As an Executive Assistant they noticed I was constantly apologetic in telling people “no” on behalf of my executive-level boss. It was a serious problem that undermined his authority and it HAD to change, for his sake if not mine! It’s been really helpful to me, too, learning to be more assertive. Someone had to give me permission to “take up space” and step into authority. Reducing the usage of “I’m sorry” in my professional life has had a profound impact on my personal life.

    It’s interesting to me to hear your perspective on this, the way that you internally resent accepting blame. I’m not sure resentment has ever occurred to me before–I have always made myself believe I am actually to blame. Just seemed easier that way.

    Thank you for the encouragement!


  6. You said: “Nice is to kind as pretty is to beautiful. Nice and pretty are barely skin deep, kind and beautiful go down to the bone.” Absolutely true. As women, we need to embrace that. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree with your perspective, have been an over-apologizer (though I usually do mean it), and I also fully agree with the quote you begin with. I love the quote and identify with your post yet they are different slants on the same topic, equally true as opposed to truly opposed. Thanks for your post.


  8. Love this! I’m not an over-apologizer, but for most of my life I was *terribly* concerned and anxious about taking up space. It caused me much anxiety. Just silly stuff like standing in a grocery aisle, close to one side or the other… I’d feel like I was still taking up too much space. Sitting at a stoplight for one nanosecond longer after it turned green? Time to burn rubber to make up for inconveniencing someone! Even *standing in line for tickets*, I’d feel like I was inconveniencing someone. A few years ago I watched my mom do this, and that’s when the light bulb finally went on. I realized all the friends I most admired were perfectly comfortable taking up their space in the world. Not rudely or unnecessarily, just comfortably and pleasantly taking. up. their. space.


  9. This piece truly resonated with me. It is a “woman” thing, and also a person of low self-esteem thing, as I hear lots of men say it too.


  10. I love this post. I am so guilty of apologizing just to end conflict when inside I’m having heated confrontation. Thank you for the nudge to stop internalizing .


  11. Pingback: Hoops are NOT for jumping through! | More Than Just One Thing

  12. This is a great post! In my marriage, the dynamic is reversed though. My husband apologizes and I have to call him out on not meaning it! I don’t apologize unless I mean it. However, when we are walking on a sidewalk and approaching others, I often go into the grass submissively and my husband reminds me that I have a right to the sidewalk as much as the next person. I definitely agree with this point in general, and think it’s a very interesting – and sad – cultural norm. Great post to get us all thinking!


  13. I really appreciated this post. Sometimes we forget that we matter too.

    I used to apologize a lot too. I still do but not nearly as much. I went through a phase when I was about 35 years old that I liken to my “toddler phase.” I practiced and practiced saying the word ‘NO’ over and over and over and I said it all the time to people. Eventually I didn’t even feel guilty anymore.

    Nowadays I just smile nicely and say “Nope, that’s never gonna happen.” 🙂


  14. Hmm, I identify with this, and with the having to work on it first in my career. But it’s funny — your last sentence — the plain no without the sorry? Totally anxiety provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been thinking about this. I use sorry in the ways you describe — to keep peace, to be nice, etc, but it’s considerably more than that, too.

        It’s safety.

        If I apologize and you accept it, I’ve defused your anger (or irritation or whatever), and therefore now I’m safe.

        If I don’t, then your mind state is an unknown and could therefore be treacherous.

        That’s why the plain no provokes anxiety to consider, and probably also why it doesn’t make me seethe inside as you described in your original post — because mine is a reflexive act creating, fulfilling, ascertaining my need for safety and to know I’m okay, the other person isn’t about to strike.

        I feel reassured and better, not worse.


  15. Ah, you’ve touched upon a subject that I’ve had an itch to write. I started writing it years ago. I’ll have to revisit my old scribblings and refine them at long last. Thank you for the trigger. I didn’t ever finish my piece due to the fear that some reader would deem my truth offensive. It just hit me that my inaction/fear is a form of apologizing before the act. That statement sounds confusing. It is yet but a mind scribble. I’ll refrain from an apology and presume instead upon some measure of understanding. Bottom line:

    Thanks for writing this blog!


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