I have a problem. I always say “I’m sorry” to the point where I don’t know what I’m actually sorry for. Even when I gently graze someone’s shoulder on the subway, I apologize as though it’s my fault the car is swaying like a drunken mother. It’s so bad that I’ve caught myself saying sorry to a shoe that fell from a store shelf. A few months ago, a friend called me out on this behavior. I sincerely believe a group called Sorry Anonymous should be created.
This is a fundamental problem for many women, and it needs to stop. It’s significantly destructive–a silent killer–simply because it has underlying meanings that cause serious self-esteem issues. The person who is constantly apologizing subconsciously thinks they are doing something wrong, that they are wrong–it also illustrates a lack of self confidence, and even self-worth.
It can undermine and trivialize the moments where an apology is actually a necessity–by hearing myself and others over-apologize, it almost makes the word “sorry” not mean much anymore. Apologizing is serious–we are supposed to say sorry when we feel sorrowful or regretful over hurtful actions, whether intentional or not. It is not intended to be said because we are bumping into someone by accident on a crowded train.
From a personal standpoint, I know as a woman, I have been taught to be polite, not to cause a scene, to diffuse awkward situations, to respect authority, to be mindful of others’ feelings. Don’t get me wrong, my upbringing taught me how to be a moral, thoughtful person, if you will, and I am grateful for it. However, it poses great problems, as it can ultimately cause us to become passive as we get older, stifling our voices and true feelings until we become a bottle of pent-up rage.
And trust me, ladies, pent-up rage does not look good. Instead of finding the courage to voice our emotions, we apologize. We say sorry for wanting to go home early after a movie, we apologize for saying something bold in conversation. We need to stop doing that.
For a long time, I had body image issues, which I am still struggling with, as many others are. I’ve had my fair share of unhealthy relationships with men where I felt as though I needed permission to do or say what I wanted. Apologizing so profusely can invite others to treat you poorly, even abuse you. Luckily, I realized I didn’t need anyone to make me feel as though I am adequate.
When my excessive apologizing was brought to my attention, it allowed me to evaluate myself and my actions. Instead of mindlessly saying sorry, I ask myself: did I do something wrong? Do I need to say sorry? If I can’t rationalize a reason easily, then I know I shouldn’t apologize. It has become easier for me to abandon this bad habit by realizing I was apologizing due to a lack of self-esteem–I was always questioning myself, not quite confident enough just to be me.
Being human doesn’t mean I always have to be sorry. It means I should be accountable for my actions when necessary.
Making over-apologizing a past habit isn’t an easy process, because you have to address underlying issues that encourage the behavior. In my case, it was caused by my cultural background and bouts of low self-esteem. It didn’t take a few days, it’s an ongoing process. Even now, I catch myself saying sorry, but now at least I realize when I’m doing it. There is nothing wrong with feeling fantastic and knowing you are also fantastic. Why apologize when your shit doesn’t actually stink?
The point is, be happy, be yourself.
Joanna C. Valente currently lives in Brooklyn, where she is a part-time mermaid. She received her MFA in poetry writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Some of her words can be found in The Paris-American, The Atlas Review, El Aleph Press, decomP, Thrush Poetry Journal, La Fovea, The 22 Magazine, and other places. In 2010, she founded Yes, Poetry. Her ghost resides here. @joannasaid