Life advice: Stop apologising for your existence

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This post was inspired by two strangers I saw arguing on a train.

The two women both tried to sit down in the same seat and only realised what was happening when their butts hit into each other. From where I was sitting this was pretty funny but that’s not how it went down.

One woman took offence, whilst the other apologised. I looked at her after she’d said sorry to the other woman who had, remember, also hit into her and not felt any need to say sorry, and all I could see was regret – regret that she had just said sorry for something for which she wasn’t really sorry at all. She wasn’t at fault – neither of them were (except perhaps for being offended instead of amused by the best piece of commuter slapstick I’ve seen in a long time) – but she’d said it to try and make things better. (It didn’t work – the response she got was “I should think so too,” bizarrely.)

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt – and continue to remind myself of every day – is that you must not apologise for your existence.

It’s very easy to become a serial apologiser, especially if you’re a little on the under-confident side, and if you hate confrontation so much that you just want it to STOP AND GO AWAY as soon as it starts. But I really don’t think it does us any good. And here’s why:

Because it weakens your position. If you say sorry when you have no reason to people will inevitably start to feel like maybe you do have something to apologise for, like you’re someone who should be sorry for things, and you’ll also believe it about yourself. And that doesn’t help anyone. When something goes wrong, or people aren’t happy with something that’s happened and it’s not down to my personal error, I force myself not to panic and say sorry by replacing it with ‘OK’ and then asking questions to find out what needs to change. This has taken me years to start doing and it feels SO much better. Don’t just accept responsibility out of embarrassment because – spoiler – that will actually just make you feel more embarrassed.

Because it won’t get you the validation that you want. Sometimes, if feeling a little low on self-esteem, we apologise with the sole purpose of getting somebody to tell us that we don’t have anything to be sorry for, so that we then infer that this means they think we’re a worthwhile human being. It’s a pretty messed up way of thinking now I come to write it down. And it rarely works out. What actually happens is we just say sorry over and over again, receive no response, and then spiral into a vicious circle of regret and neediness which causes more sweating than any person is able to handle.

Because it undermines worthwhile, sincere apologies. Saying sorry at the right time, when you really are and need to be sorry, is one of the most important and powerful things you can do. When I accidentally threw a stone at my husband’s head whilst learning to skim stones, I said sorry because I was. That was really the opposite of what I was trying to do (particularly as he was standing behind me) and I wanted him to understand that. But I can’t apologise for every unfortunate event that happens in our lives because, unless I have a pebble in my hand and the wind is working against me, they probably won’t all be my fault.

Because it just makes you feel bad about yourself. There’s nothing worse than doing something that just isn’t genuine. It leaves you cold and regretful and feeling rubbish which is, in itself, rubbish. And we shouldn’t be doing that to ourselves. Just like the woman I saw on the train – she was visibly so annoyed with herself that she couldn’t even focus on her book after it happened, and nothing should steal you away from a good read.

Amazing how one little commuting incident can make you do a whole lot of thinking. In short: sorry is a powerful word, be sure to use it wisely. Oh and perhaps just look behind you before you sit down – you might not be the only one with an eye on that seat.

2 Comments

  1. @bigbowpeep

    I learned this very important lesson when I was in secondary school. Dr. Bishop (then Headmistress) told me that I should never apologise unless I really mean it. I considered this and decided that she was right. Next time she demanded I apologise (for throwing a chair at Mr. Colquhoun) I simply replied: a very wise woman once told me I should never apologise unless I really mean it.

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