How many times a day do you apologize? Think about it. Not a major, "I messed up" kind of acknowledgement, more of a figure of speech, a rationalization, an excuse. If you're like me, it happens often.
My sister's the same way. We were raised to be overly polite. As a result, we over-accommodate and, therefore, over-apologize.
Traffic was bad on your way to my house? "I'm sorry." The coffee shop we're meeting at ran out of your favorite blend? "Sorry." You had a bad night of sleep? "Sorry. Sorry. Sorry." You'd think I'm Canadian! None of these developments are my fault or warrant an apology yet I still do it.
Even my exclamations and arguments aren't safe from self-condemnation. I've started using the phrase in a confrontational manner as well. Instead of an accelerated and defiant "Excuse me?" I opt to go with -- what else -- "I'm sorry," in the same smartass tone.
Growing up, the tendency translated to the relationships with my teachers and, eventually, bosses. In order to be respectful, appropriate and professional, I erred on the side of culpability no matter who was at fault. It was easier to diffuse the situation, look like less of a problem child or employee and more of a team player by simply accepting responsibility.
As I mature, I realize that while there's grace in admitting when you're wrong or taking the fall, there's also power in standing up for yourself.
But lately I've noticed the urge to atone increasingly present in regards to my appearance or abilities. I show up with wet hair or a naked face, my skin's broken out, I've put on a few pounds -- or just think I have -- I'm dressed down instead of up... All are followed with an apology, excuse or rationalization. "I look like crap." "I wasn't planning on going out tonight." "I haven't worked out in weeks." "I've fallen off the wagon." "Diet starts Monday!"
Worse, it's bled into my achievements as well. "I'm not a great writer, but..." "I'm no Martha Stewart." "I suck at this."
There's self-deprecation, and then there's self-defeat.
No matter the mea culpa, all are revealing one simple yet souring thing: I'm not good enough. Whatever it is, it's masked, camouflaged or covered up to be it's saying I'm not worthy. My advice isn't as valuable tonight because I'm not wearing mascara. My friendship undeserving, jokes unfunny because I'm in flats or a ratty sweater. It's admitting, "I'm afraid that you don't see me as smart, skinny, pretty or good enough, so I'm going to preempt it with a declaration of inferiority before you can think it first."
I know I'm not alone in my apology abuse; I witness my friends doing it all too often, too. In fact, the more one of us does it, the more the other does. "Stop, you look great. I, on the other hand..." It's like we feed off each other in a sick shame-spiral.
By making an apology out of the gate about who we are and who we're not to protect from judgment or pain, we're really only hurting ourselves. By dumbing down and disrespecting ourselves, we're saying who we are right now, in our skin -- a few pounds heavier, not dolled up, a work in progress -- is not okay.
For a driven, perfectionist, self-improvement society like ours, when will we be? Will we ever be the perfect weight? Wake up with gorgeous hair and rested, imperfection-free skin? Will we ever feel like we've pleased our boss for good? We've perfected parenthood? We have all the answers?
Probably not, and that's okay. (If you have those days, good for you -- embrace them! Because, likely, they won't last long.) We're all struggling to get by, get out the door and sleep soundly knowing we did the best we could today. And tomorrow, we'll do it all again, trying to right our wrongs from the previous day, applying what we've learned all the while gaining new hard-earned lessons. Some days we succeed, others... not exactly.
But the good news is, we're all on this journey together. No one, I repeat, no one, has it all figured out. And, if they think they do, they're kidding themselves. So let's stop comparing, stop apologizing. While we're working on being kinder to others, let's not forget ourselves, too.
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