Apologizing can be so cleansing and give such a feeling of freedom that it comes easily to me. What I understand about apologizing for me is that it can get me unstuck from a situation. When I say “unstuck”, I mean from the position of “right at all costs”, stubbornness or mired in fear. If I look at the apology as something beneficial to me rather than giving in to the other party, it becomes a positive for me.
In order to keep my apologies in perspective, I have to keep in mind that my apology is only cleaning up “my side of the street”. My apology is not to excuse anyone else’ behavior or actions, it is only as validation for my part in the problem and acknowledgement of my behavior and/or actions. It does not “undo” anything. Most importantly, it does not take away from the lesson to be learned from my part in the situation.
All my life, “I have been the one to apologize” so much so that the phrase “I’m sorry” comes almost too easily to me. I could see at an early age that it wasn’t as easy for others to admit fault or to apologize in order to put an end to an argument. I would apologize just to “get it over with” and often I was left with a resentment. To me it was worth whatever it cost me just to end the conflict.
You may wonder why it came so easily to me. You see, my mother always told me that I had a choice in every situation . She said even if someone held a gun to my head, I had a choice. I was not allowed to place blame on anyone else because I had a choice whether to do or not to do, whether to say or not to say. What she didn’t tell me was that my choice wouldn’t always be the wrong choice for me. This had a two-fold effect on me, on one hand I was able to accept responsibility on the other hand, I gave up my right to be right.
Over the years, I have learned that apologies for me:
- Are for me, not the other person.
- Remind me that as a human being, I make mistakes.
- Remind me that its o.k. to make a mistake as long as I learn from it.
- Keep my humility in check.
- Stop my mind’s obsession to dwell on an issue.
- Help me to feel better about myself.
- Should always be sincere.
- Should be thought out beforehand.
- Should not end with a “but”.
I have to be careful that apologies do not become an automatic response. Automatic apologies tell me that I am seeing myself as being “less than”. They tell me that I don’t see myself as having a right to be where I am or doing what I am doing. For example, I will apologize for taking the time to put change in my wallet at the checkout stand because I don’t have the right to take up the next person in line’s time. I will apologize for things that the persons I think I have offended do not even notice.
One of my counselors told me that I apologize for things that most people don’t even remember. It is true that often when I apologize for some wrong, it is confusing to the people I am apologizing to because they have no idea what I am talking about. This problem is caused by my holding on to situations and overthinking them to the point where months or years later, I am still beating myself up for whatever I saw as a lack of boundaries. I honestly think it is annoying to other people because it puts them on the spot.
What positive action am I taking? I am reminding myself that:
- I cannot control other peoples’ thoughts and feelings about me by apologizing.
- I have to accept that I will make mistakes and will have to let go of my need for others to see me as perfect.
- I have to let go of blaming and shaming myself.
- I have a right to be who and what I am just as I have to allow others to be who and what they are.
- I should value myself.
- That I need to be present in my thoughts and feelings.
One of the beneficial changes I have made in making amends was to replace the phrase “I’m sorry” with the phrase “I would like to apologize for”. In growing up, the word “sorry” has been used as meaning “less than acceptable” as in “he is a sorry excuse for …” or “he is a sorry judge of character” so for me to use the word sorry in relation to myself is to say that I am less than acceptable.
I will close with this positive affirmation given to me by my minister, counselor and friend:
I am a child of God and I have a right to be here no less that the trees and stars. I am loved, God loves me.