When Should We Apologize?
Don’t let the title mislead you…I know that apologies are vital to the fabric of civil and polite society.
I whole hardheartedly agree that people should apologize when they are taking responsibility for themselves including:
- their actions;
- their words;
- their mistakes;
- their misguided hurtful behavior; or the actions of an organization that they represent…when that organization has done something wrong or harmful.
What is Over Apologizing?
However, there is a phenomenon occurring that involves people apologizing frequently and regularly for all manner of social and interpersonal circumstances that are not theirs to own.
I’m concerned about the apologizing for anything and everything that is suspected to be annoying or inconvenient for someone else. Things from the benign that are really more like “excuse me” statements, to apologizing for the actions, words and even the mood of someone close to them. Some examples of these common apologies (the ones I’ve been hearing from others)…the ones that concern me the most are the following:
- not being ready to order when the waiter/waitress comes;
- apologizing for traffic or missing a great parking space; and
- sharing about themselves in a dialogue and then after some time passes apologizing for the focus being on themselves.
These are a few examples to illustrate the point. These types of apologies are intended to say “excuse me for inconveniencing you.” The face value of it may not seem like a big deal or a bad habit to change. But for those who engage in this practice, each time they apologize they are “owning” a perfectly benign, harm-free circumstance as something that needs to be forgiven.
The implication being that –
- they should “always” know what they want when the time comes to express it (and not hold anyone up);
- that they should “never” miss an opportunity (or cause someone else to miss one);
- that they should be able to manage all circumstances (including forces outside of their control); and
- that they should some how never “waste” anyone’s time (especially not with their own needs).
Where Does this Passivity Come From?
There is a passive element to this stance (over apologizing) that leaks power from the apologist. Each of us has –
- the right to exist;
- the right to take up space;
- the right to share time with others;
- the right to make mistakes and to learn from them; and
- the peace of mind to not manage every other person they interact with on a given day.
The person who over apologizes is often holding one hand out, as if to say “come toward” and pushing away with the other hand, as if to say “go away.” It is something we (as human beings) are prone to do when the spotlight is too bright on our vulnerability.
Being vulnerable and the desire to feel safe go hand in hand. Some of us apologize when we have nothing to apologize for because of experiences where others did not take responsibility for themselves. Some of us have learned to apologize for others. We are, in fact, saying the words that we want them to say to us.
We are taking care of both sides of the conversation. Not allowing others to be responsible for their end. Somehow, it feels safer to the person apologizing too much…to think through both sides and own both sides of a dialogue. Anything to decrease the risk of disappointing someone else; or risking someone else’s anger; or in most cases someone else’s minor inconvenience.
If you have been close to someone (like a parent, sibling, spouse, child, or close friend) who does not or did not take responsibility for their own actions, their own mood or their own words…this could be for any number of reasons, including:
- substance abuse;
- general irritability and/or rage;
- anxiety and obsessive/compulsive tendencies;
- or mere entitlement that the world should go their way at all times.
Why do We Keep Apologizing?
The general impact of early, ongoing and/or persistent contact with someone who does not take responsibility for themselves and specifically their interpersonal interactions can be that the person on the receiving end (the apologist)…works overtime to placate and calm others.
Basically the apologist has learned this behavior by living in a fear that may or may not have ever manifested into physical threat or injury.
Our nervous system gets activated by perceived threats. So a threat doesn’t have to be actual or “real” for us to become reactionary…flooding our bodies with cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones and neurotransmitters that prepare us to defend our selves both emotionally and physically (it is all the same). This is why emotional pain can and does translate to physical pain.
The unfortunate irony is that relinquishing responsibility for others is exactly what is needed. However, when we are trying to protect ourselves our tendency is to seek more control. Control over the depth and length of a conversation; control over how we are perceived by others; and most importantly control over how we perceive ourselves.
Do you perceive yourself as being capable?
Do you perceive yourself as having a right to assert yourself?
Do you know that you are not responsible for other people’s actions and that they are not responsible for yours?
You are Responsible for Yourself…Not Others
You are responsible for yourself. Depending on your roles with others, you have a responsibility to them and in some cases of those who are incapacitated or unable — we are responsible for them. However, for the most part we are bound to ourselves, our moral code which may be guided by spiritual, religious, cultural mores or norms…as well as our families of origin and our individual personality traits and characteristics.
We are bound to the fabric of our inter (between) and intra (within) personal relationships. We have a social need and a social mandate to be with others and to be with ourselves. Some among us are fighting hard everyday to assert the right:
- to breathe,
- to differ,
- to be unsure,
- to be uncomfortable and not make that discomfort something to apologize about to others.
Beautiful soul…stop apologizing for taking up space in this world. You have just as much right to be fully present and to be fully yourself as anyone else…don’t forsake your comfort for theirs. There is a between space where we honor ourselves and others.
Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.