Ever been in a situation like this before?
You don’t pick up the phone in time and when you call the person back, the first words out of your mouth are “I’m sorry.”
You bring store-bought cupcakes to your friend’s party and you utter “I’m sorry.”
You vent to a good friend about something going on, and you say, “Sorry for rambling.”
Notice the pattern going on?
You’re apologizing. Way too much. And it’s those apologies that are impeding your divorce recovery.
Uncomfortable Truth #1: We’re raised to be people-pleasers.
We are natural caregivers. From an early age, you were most likely following your mother around, hoping to help her out, or taking care of your younger siblings. Or, you may have had parents say to you at one time, “I need you to watch your brother/sister and make sure they don’t get into trouble.”
And what did you do? Well, in order to make your mom “proud” of you, you most likely did everything you could to please her. And that mentality probably stuck. You probably worked hard to get good grades to get your parents’ and your teachers’ approval. Because you didn’t want to disappoint them.
That mentality carried over into adulthood. You did everything to be a good partner and a good mother because you didn’t want to disappoint anybody. Society put unrealistic expectations on you to be a Stepford Wife. You were given a choice to either give up your career to be a stay-at-home mom, never getting paid or recognized for all the work you were doing, or to have a career, where you were still expected to do most of the household and child-rearing work.
And the only way to avoid disappointing others, and to shield yourself from conflict, was to say “I’m sorry.”
Even when it wasn’t your fault. Or didn’t warrant an apology.
Uncomfortable Truth #2: We were never taught to put ourselves first
Can you think of any time when you were growing up that your mom, or dad, or teacher, or some other adult close to you sat you down, and said, “Your dreams and goals matter just as much as anybody else’s. Let your voice be heard.
Instead, you were probably raised to be obedient and to not make a scene. This is why, when we get divorced, we feel this crazy unnecessary guilt.
Oh, what a shame! You two have been married for so long!
Can’t you find a way to work it out? Your retirement will be so much harder now!
Ever find yourself saying “I’m sorry” as a response? To keep the peace?
Well, what about your feelings? And your happiness?
If you’re not sure where to even begin with being happy and not paralyzed by guilt, there’s one thing you must do.
Put yourself first for a change.
Here’s what you need to know.
There are dangers to saying “I’m sorry.”
Danger 1: Frivolous apologizing = a signal that people can take advantage of you.
The reflexive apology you say sends the signal to that other person that you’re:
- Willing to accept the blame for something you didn’t do
- Sending them an invitation to wrong your or disrespect you again, because they don’t have to be held accountable to their actions.
Danger 2: Constantly apologizing makes it harder to stand up for yourself.
Even when you’re in a benign situation where you think you’re expressing regret, and you’re not saying “sorry” to keep the peace, there’s still an underlying danger.
Danger 3: Apologizing puts somebody else’s pain on you.
A simple “I’m sorry” may make you feel like you’re making a situation better, but what you’re actually doing is taking that person’s pain and shouldering it for them. That’s not helpful for anyone in that situation, and there are other ways to express support than just apologizing.
Alternatives to “I’m sorry.”
These alternative phrases do double duty in the best way possible. First, they convey the empathy for another person without shouldering their pain. And second, they reinforce your boundaries without giving them up in the name of diffusing conflict or placating someone.
If your ex, your current partner, or a friend says they’re angry at something.
Instead of: I’m sorry.
Say: Are you upset at something? Let’s discuss it.
When someone is having a hard time.
Instead of: I’m sorry.
Say: This sucks that you’re going through this hard time. Please know that I’m here if you need anything.
You’re 15 minutes late to a meeting.
Instead of: Sorry I’m so late.
Say Instead: Thanks for your patience.
If there is a miscommunication between you and someone.
Instead of: I’m sorry for bothering you.
Say: There seems to be a communication issue here. What can we do to get this back on track?
If you bump into someone or are trying to get through a crowd.
Instead of: I’m sorry.
Say: Excuse me. I need to get through.
See how that works? You’re acknowledging empathy, but not at the expense of your well-being. Plus, you’re asserting your own needs and internalizing that you matter.
It can be challenging to shake off years of social conditioning. But at the end of the day, remember that you are not responsible for pleasing everybody, especially when it comes at the expense of them disrespecting you and taking advantage of you.
As you recover from divorce, remember that you matter and that you can express sympathy in ways that are authentic that continue to build you up, not tear you down.
So, how about you?
Do you apologize too much, especially when you don’t need to?
What can you say instead of “I’m sorry” next time?