As a woman, it’s easy to apologize for things we’re not even responsible for. It’s a gift of femininity when we are taught to not make waves and make others comfortable. It’s a gift without a receipt. We can’t take it back and we don’t know what it’s valued at, but we wouldn’t mind taking it back to the store for something else.
We apologize for someone’s loss. We apologize when someone walks into us. We apologize to the person we want to get around when they are standing in the middle of a grocery store aisle with their cart blocking both directions. Take the same person and stick them in a car that is slightly more dent proof than we are and you might get road rage. We give meaningless apologies for the space we take or step into. I’m sorry for being too close to your pain to offer real comfort. I’m sorry for the space I was taking when you forgot to look where you were going.
I’m sorry you didn’t like what I did or felt or thought. I’m consistently sorry for hurting others or making them uncomfortable. When I’m not, I take a careful look at my motives and I’m often trying to be dominant in a powerless situation. The guilt is often a heavy burden I accept willingly. What I try not to apologize for is the life I am trying to live. The idea of holding back who I am for someone else’s comfort hurts. I wish it didn’t, but that is what my scar tissue feels like. It’s pain when I am asked to be someone I don’t want to be. It hurts the most when I can see I’m trying to be less because the request comes from someone I want to mean more than I do. My apologies come with careful consideration and weigh heavier than they used to.
There are times when I don’t say sorry. There were times when I justified and defended my choices. There were times when I made excuses but I didn’t experience contrition. Or I wouldn’t admit to being apologetic. Usually this happens when my shame is such a bright and heavy jacket that I throw out excuses and justifications to offset the weight of what I carry.
Other times I feel there isn’t a fault in what happened. It is what we’ve made it and I accept it for what it is and what it feels like and how it shapes itself around us. A love of books . . . Shameless adoration . . . Fighting for what I believe in . . . These are things that aren’t about shame but a willingness to stand in all I am capable of being and doing. An apology says I’m willing to be less of who I am so you can be more and I’m not willing to do that. Not anymore. Not for anyone else.
I make mistakes all of the time. I have doses of regret fall heavily when I don’t expect it to. I hurt feelings and mine are hurt but I accept what lands as the cost of transparency because there is deep connection in letting others see and letting others in. Connection feels good.
I tell my sons they can tell me how they feel, and it can include yelling as long as it’s not an attempt to wound me. They can tell me they’re mad at me. They can tell me they don’t agree with me or they can point out when I am wrong. Just this weekend I was freaking out a bit when looking for my keys. I insisted the boys should help me find my keys that I lost . . . On my bed where I thought I had left them. I told them they should laugh at me, and they did. And I laughed with them because it was silly of me to freak out when I should have looked more diligently in the first place.
There are alternatives to “I’m sorry,” and there are ways to submit without being submissive. I feel it’s about the balance of accepting you were wrong, finding out how to correct it, and moving on, without the burden of your guilt confining you into stagnation.