Week 89 – Little Bits of Apology

Happy Wednesday Celebrationists!

Yup – I missed my first Monday in 89 weeks of writing, but I’m just gonna let that go and write to you on Wednesday. So here we are.

  1. I am grateful for a particularly brave, kind, deeply empathetic friend who continues to amaze and inspire me
  2. I am grateful for the opportunities life gives us to try things again
  3. I am grateful for the chance I had to hold this chicken. All. of. the. joy.

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Today I’d love to talk about apologies. I think many of us find ourselves getting tripped up by them because we fall into one of two camps:

– We find apologies so difficult that we just don’t make them. It’s always someone else’ fault

– We are racked with guilt and shame about our own “stuff” and over-apologize/say “sorry” for everything

I’m sure there are also many humans on the planet who do not have a complicated relationship with the idea of apology, but I’m writing today for those of us who do.

I fall into the latter camp of being an apologization station. A few days ago I said “sorry” when I bumped into the refrigerator. I wish that was a joke. This has been my natural way of moving through the world since I was a little kid – maybe not the inanimate objects part of it, but certainly the gut-response to apologize for anyone else’s discomfort, anger, or dissatisfaction. In the past several years I’ve become fully conscious of it, and have been chipping away at this habit with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment. But the older I get, the more aware I become of why this pattern is as harmful as it is, and why forming a new habit in this area deserves my time and attention.

  • Excessive apology might actually take away from the impact of a needed/deserved apology, when such a circumstance arises
  • The habit of over-apologizing, over time can lead to things like: being afraid to share ideas/opinions, being afraid to take risks, or putting ourselves out there in a variety of areas
  • After a certain length of time, we start reading a room totally inaccurately and assume that almost any person’s anger or discomfort must be our fault. This is also really self-important, unintentional as it may be. And half the time it isn’t linked to a thought, so much as a literal physical/full body sensation
  • Even though our desire in those moments of apology is to be thoughtful, we actually become the opposite, because we are putting other people in a position to want to take care of us, feel the need to comfort us, or tell us that it isn’t actually our fault…when it was never about us to begin with

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And these are just a few nasty side effects. So what to do? Clearly, after twenty-something years of the planet I haven’t figured it out – but here’s what I’ve gleaned from my own reading and experimenting, and am constantly trying on for size:

  • In many circumstances, saying “thank you” is a more appropriate option than “sorry.” When a friend gives you their time, and listens to you vent, for instance – instead of saying “I’m so sorry to dump all that on you,” forming a habit of “Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to me,” is just better for everyone involved
  • This is tricky and takes persistent practice, but cultivating a moment of pause seems so important in dealing with any habit we are trying to break. In the space of time where we might usually just jump to the apology, building in a tiny moment to check in with ourselves and ask “Does this really deserve an apology” is essential in being able to make a new choice
  • When we feel compelled to take unwarranted responsibility for another person’s feelings, instead of jumping to the apology/taking on their baggage in that moment, it might be more interesting and helpful to engage in a real dialogue about their experience. Ask questions. Listen. Express your understanding and appreciation for their feelings. Feelings which probably have nothing to do with you

I rarely experience the other side of this coin, struggling to make an apology. But I can say, from the receiving end of that kind of experience, that few things are as meaningful as a good, thoughtful apology when it is warranted. And that most people are more forgiving than we imagine they will be. They just want to hear the words. They want to know that the person apologizing cares. Isn’t that what most of us want, in so many circumstances – for someone to care? When we fail to make a needed apology, whether we mean this or not, we are essentially sending the message that the wronged person’s feelings are of no import to us.

Whichever side of the apologizing coin you fall on, I really believe that the following are helpful to remember:

  • Few things in this world make a greater impact than a real, deep apology when we have actually wronged someone
  • There is literally nothing positive about over/excessive/unwarranted apologizing
  • I very much believe in that old adage that people will rarely remember what we say, but will absolutely remember how we make them feel
  • Just because we struggle in some way with apologizing does not mean that we are totally broken disasters. We can work on all of this. We can heal. And we aren’t alone.

Be good to yourselves this week, Celebrationists!

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