I am a chronic worrier, a control freak, and an overanalyzer. These things I accept. Among the many other things that I am is an excessive apologizer. This is the habit (behavior?) that I have resolved to tackle for New Year’s Resolution: 2017 Edition.
I don’t really get on board with resolutions about diet or exercise. I know I'm setting myself up for failure, and self-admonishment as a result. Last year I resolved to be slower to anger. That has surprisingly come to pass in various situations, so maybe that one stuck. The bad news is, I’m already failing this year, and we’re not even two weeks in. But why toss out a year-long promise to yourself just because you misstepped at the outset? Instead, I’ll treat it as a transformative process, and try to remind myself to, “just be patient; I’m a work in progress,” (a la Alan Jackson). In truth, that is just what we all are: works in progress, going about our daily lives.
Now, knowing that I’ve already started on shaky footing, I did a bit of thinking as to why I’m failing so that I can forge ahead rather than loop back around. I needed to examine why it is that I apologize. Without a shadow of a doubt, apologies are warranted – required – when and if we harm someone, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, whether the harm is intended or not. Those aren't the type of apologies I'm talking about. These overactive apologies are generated by something else.
I apologized for each and every thing when I was in law school, and it didn’t stop as I navigated my first legal career. Then, something happened somewhere along the line that quelled my apologetic nature to a degree, and in retrospect I believe it was the regaining of confidence that had been stripped away by my legal education experience. A resurgence in my apologetic nature took hold after deciding to stay home with my son.
Realizing that there were similar feelings surrounding these very different events was a light bulb moment: Vulnerability. Vulnerability is the catalyst to my apologizing. My husband has chidingly recited that, “Apologizing is a sign of weakness." Even though repeated in jest, those words ring true, for vulnerability makes us feel weak. That's why it can eat away confidence and breed self-doubt. What I'm saying when I apologize for a soupy lasagna, a cranky child, an anticipated long drive, a crowded room, a different color of construction paper, is essentially, “I did my best, and I still couldn’t make this live up to my own expectations, but I hope this doesn’t upset you.” Apologizing for these things is SILLY, my friends; it is silly and unnecessary and unhealthy. Why? Because people that care about us don’t care if the lasagna is soupy and they understand babies get cranky and they knew the drive was going to be lengthy but they wanted to take it and they don’t think the room is too small and they didn’t even have a color of construction paper in mind. Don’t apologize.
What I’m saying when I say, “It may not be for everyone, but…” or “Well, we just thought it was best if,” is “This is what I like to do and/or what I think but I’m sorry if you don’t feel that way and please don’t judge me.” Don’t apologize. The person I'm talking to is also unique and entitled to their own opinions, beliefs, values and choices, and probably understands that I am, too. Don't apologize. Instead, I should remember to unearth the confidence that existed when that opinion was formed or that decision was made.
During a visit at the end of last year, a friend said, “You’re basically apologizing for breathing right now.” I laughed, and then realized I very nearly was. In that moment, I needed to think “This is silly. These people care about you. Don’t apologize. Unearth the confidence.” But telling yourself something and acting it out are two very, very different things. Some situations make us feel scrutinized, even when we aren’t. Some interactions make us feel like an outside force is trying to determine whether we measure up, even when it doesn’t exist. The truth is, our own vulnerability is responsible for these feelings.
Now that I’ve identified vulnerability as the source of my unnecessary apologies, I can get somewhere. Not that I can just stop experiencing vulnerability; but perhaps I can recognize its face more easily in the present, so that I don’t look inward at my own self-consciousness and instead keep my focus on the situation at hand and what it truly requires of me, which might actually be to just BE. Unapologetically.