As a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, I have spent the last 98% of my life apologizing for the tiniest of things. I was walking on the same crowded block as someone else, I was walking down the same supermarket aisle as someone else, I shed tears while sharing my feelings with someone, I asked a handful of questions about something I was unfamiliar with, I didn’t know what else to say at a friend’s loved one’s funeral.
At some point, during my 40+ years, I decreased my apologies. The challenge given to me by my teacher, and journaling guru extraordinaire, Laura DiFranco was the following.. write about when you stopped apologizing, why, what happened to get to that point. Easier said than done.
I’ve been tossing it around in my head for the past two months. Imagine a front loading washing machine tumbling around clouds of flashbacks, distant memories, whispered conversations, thrown in with a variety of emotions from gratefulness to extreme anger. Let’s not even talk about what happens during the spin cycle! Alas, the rinse cycle, which I’m currently experiencing now. The “oh so sweet” release of repressed emotions and celebrated victory of understanding “why I do what I do.”
The following are events/situations that led me to my unapologetic self.
In high school a classmate lost her dad in a tragic, criminal act; a victim of a stranger’s shameful act of violence. (I won’t share the details for numerous reasons.) After the funeral, we were in class and I imagine it was a type of group counseling session, and she shared the following statement: “Don’t apologize for my Dad’s death. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t kill him.” Those words have stayed with me to this day. For the last twenty-six years, I haven’t apologized for anyone’s passing. Instead I say exactly what I’m thinking, “I don’t have words to take the pain away. Please know I have you and your loved ones in my thoughts and prayers. May you find the strength you need to overcome this most difficult time.” There’s nothing wrong with being honest about not having the “right” thing to say.
About one month ago my husband and I went to the optical to purchase new glasses. This would be his second pair of progressives and my very first pair of progressives, welcome to your 40’s! I asked a copious amount of questions. The manager spent well over an hour explaining, drawing pictures, and providing examples to all my questions. One thousand dollars later, I said, “Thank you for your time and patience. I appreciate the attention and information you provided us. I learned quite a lot today.” In my earlier years I would’ve said, “I’m sorry I took up so much of your time. Thank you.”
Do you see the difference?
Now, let’s get even more literal about apologizing. Over the last two months I’ve purposefully observed where and when I apologize the most, as well as others I come into contact with. I apologize the most when I’m in a store or on the street and I “feel” like I’m in the other person’s way. Every aisle I walk into I say, “sorry” while walking around the other person. Why do I do that? Am I truly sorry for being in the supermarket, doing my grocery shopping? No, I’m not. With that said, this is what I did.
The definition of sorry, according to the Dictionary.com app, is:
1. Feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.
2. Regrettable or deplorable; unfortunate; tragic.
3. Sorrowful, grieved, or sad.
4. Associated with sorrow;suggestive of grief or suffering; melancholy; dismal.
5. Wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful.
I replaced my “sorry” with the definition. It sounds like the following:
Am I feeling regretful, sympathetic, deplorable, or sad for being in the same aisle of a store, or on the same city block with an infinite amount of other people? No, I’m not. With some practice I replaced my “sorry” with a soft smile or nod, or a vocal, “whoops,” or soft “excuse me.” Now if I bump into someone then I do say “Sorry,” because I do regret having bumped into that person.
Upon observing others, the majority of the men don’t say anything, not even a smile or nod; they just go about their business. However, to be fair, the ratio of women to men in the Bronx, Bruckner Commons Shoprite, is about 2:1. I observed about 40% of women did say a quick sorry for simply being in the same aisle as me. (I did observe a difference in ethnic backgrounds that apologized as well.)
In my opinion, “sorry” has become an overused word that has lost its definition. I’m a lover of words and the power in their meaning. My dictionary/thesaurus app is one of my most used apps, right after Facebook and Instagram, I conveniently named my app “Webster.” (A little joke there for the writers in the room.)
Last but not least, I don’t apologize for sharing my feelings..anymore. Before, I used to apologize if I blubbered through my venting, if I thought I shared too much personal information. This changed a few years ago when I started participating in these Intuitive Writing workshops Laura offers. I started owning my feelings again. My feelings are my feelings, and for that I will not apologize.
As a social worker, I was taught not to generalize or use the term “we” or “us.” The term we use is “I,” as in, “In my opinion.” When I know I’m faced with a sensitive conversation, whether it’s a friend or client, I make it very clear, “I don’t mean to offend, in my opinion, it’s my sincere thought.” Then I proceed with my statement.
I’ve been told I’m mean in my speaking. However I explain there’s a difference between being mean and being honest. The truth hurts sometimes, and I can be brutally honest and sincere if you ask me for my opinion. I’ve never been one to sugarcoat things. Same rule applies when I’m in need of advice. I prepare myself when asking for advice and I feel through what resonates and what doesn’t.
These life lessons have filtered into my parenting. I don’t automatically yell at the kids, “Apologize to your sister,” after a scuffle or argument. I take my time to have each of them listen to the other’s point of view and why what was said or done may have hurt them. I follow by asking them if they understand. They take it upon themselves to apologize or not, and that’s ok with me. I don’t want to raise a generation of “meaningless sorrys” for things that need no apology. Nor do I want them to ever think they’re taking up space or time in a situation that doesn’t apply. I want to raise a generation that is truly sorry when they mean it, and have the comprehension of words and their meanings.
So the next time you say sorry, stop, reflect for a moment, and ask yourself if you’re you truly ‘sorry’ for what you did or said? Or could you communicate your feelings differently?
Shirley Garzon-Martinez is a clairvoyant empath, divinely sensitive poet and married mother of five. Her programs guide women, especially moms, in breaking free from the debilitating chains of depression. With over a decade of education and experience in social work and elder care, her balance of experience, intuitive insight, compassion, and powerful awareness tools will help transform your life. Visit her Facebook page, Get Up My Lovely, for additional love and support.