I was the only person in line at Barnes and Noble on a rainy Friday. The girl at the register was cradling the phone with her neck, as she busily worked the computer.
With her free hand she was gesturing in the air towards the back of the store, presumably for help or a life preserver. Quite possibly the latter. In the five minutes I patiently waited, she apologized to me and the person on the phone at least 30 times. This is not hyperbole.
I wanted to slap her and tell her to stop. I’m a reformed chronic apologizer. I used to apologize for global warming, traffic, and breathing air. This was a result from a torturous marriage in which I was so gaslighted, among other things, I thought I was to blame for everything. Through the unconditional love of a beautiful man, who called it to my attention, and lifted me up in light, I stopped.
I regarded the sales clerk and when she had apologized for the 35th time, I held her in my gaze, put my hand on her hand and told her she didn’t have to apologize for anything, ever, that wasn’t her fault, to include the computer inadvertently shutting down.
She looked at me like a deer in the headlights. I thought she might cr,y and I told her she was okay and that the next time she wanted to apologize to just be silent and smile. We both laughed.
I spoke up because I had recently found myself apologizing to a one-month-old goat who had been born in a sea of seven healthy bouncy baby goats. Jimmy, named by my grandson, had a skin problem which I treated, but a week later he started walking into fences. Blind.
Phone calls to my vet, consultation with Kay, a goat breeder, treatments after treatments and me beating myself up for somehow causing his affliction.
I was to blame, for if not me, who?
“There’re a lot of eye issues going around,” said Kay, matter-of-factly. “Happened to me last year. Here’s what you do.”
As I was treating Jimmy, and he was bleating, screaming, jumping away and plowing into a fence before he found the safety of his mother, I felt awful. I wanted to put on a hair shirt or self-flagellate. As I sat there thinking of him and watching all the goats, sunning themselves, it occurred to me that in my years of getting advice from Kay she never once blamed herself. “It happens,” she often said, completely nonplused by whatever goat disaster befell her or me.
Perhaps I wasn’t to blame for this problem.
This reminded me how hard it is to change our old patterns of thinking. I though I was reformed when I was just in recovery.
My two sons are a lot like my baby goats. It does not worry me when the goats headbutt each other, testing each other, but when it comes to my sons, well that is a different story. I want to somehow fix the issue, mediate their arguments, help them to make up.
I have never heard either one of them say “I’m sorry” to the other. Once in a blue moon they have apologized to me for some large disaster, but their stand offs take the form of passive aggressive BS.
“Kyle’s ignoring me. He hasn’t returned my texts and calls all week,” said Ben, and his tone revealed he was hurt by his brother’s silence.
The next day Kyle called. “Well I’m not talking to Ben because…” He tells me some dramabama, which has hurt his feelings. I encourage him to address the issue before our weekly family Saturday get together. He promises he will. He doesn’t. As Saturday rolls around, my youngest is now so hurt he is angry.
Now, I am angry, and this is disturbing my hard-won Namaste peace. Haven’t I shown them grace and forgiveness? If I can forgive their @#$% father, who has NEVER said I am sorry, can’t they say I’m sorry to each other for petty issues that no one will remember by next week? Can’t they apologize to each other for both being at fault? For in the end, I know I am at fault for my marriage – I married their father, I stayed, and I owned being sorry.
We were working in the garden when Kyle arrived. There was tension. My sons started arguing about the raised beds but a moment later they began to kid each other. Like the two goats squaring off, the tension dissipated, and by the end of the evening, everyone was cooking in the kitchen and the grandkids were running around creating their havoc.
I’ve told my children I was sorry for not being able to do better as a single mom. In the end, being sorry isn’t just apologizing, it’s a state of being, like a sorry state of affairs. It takes confidence to not apologize when you have nothing to apologize for. But, it is sorry when you apologize for breathing air. And, it may be God’s grace when you let your ego fade, and say I’m sorry when you have been the ass.
What a struggle this life, but Jimmy is not struggling. Today, he has ¾ of his sight, his eyes are wide-opened, and he is dancing on the head of a pin.
Do you find yourself apologizing needlessly? What steps do you need to take to stop apologizing, when something isn’t your fault? Think of the last time you said “I am sorry” to someone. Was it true? Heartfelt? Meaningful? Or were you just acting sorry?
Maggie, when I saw the title, I put down everything else and stopped to read your post. Why? Because I am a pathetic apologizer saying I’m sorry whether I’m guilty, it’s the truth, or anything that could be someone else’s fault. I have been all my life, and I’m 77. Why? Because of a manipulative, domineering mother. If I didn’t respond as she wanted me to respond, it was, “Say you’re sorry.” And I did. It became habitual. I still fight the desire to be sorry as I feel it’s the way people expect you to react. Not anymore, after reading your words. Thank you so much!
Ha, I found this to be interesting. As a Canadian, I used to say ‘I’m sorry’ throughout my day. For grabbing a door handle at the same time as another person, when someone else brushed against me while passing by, for letting a door go without realizing someone else was entering behind me – the list goes on. I too purposely had to teach myself that not everything has to be apologized for. When someone else apologizes to me for those same infractions mentioned above I may, or may not, say ‘Me too’ (depending on my mood)
Spot on article.
I’ve apologized to adult kid after vitriol emails describing what’s wrong with me in his perspective & boundary guidelines.
The apologies (4) were with details & how I’m working to change them for the success of our relationship, speaking with therapist.
He met his girlfriend & our close relationship spiraled since then. Widowed young.
Haven’t seen him in 3 yrs
They were just married.
I stopped apologizing because no matter how flat you make a pancake there are 2 sides to it. Now I forgive.
You just described my life, my former marriage and my X.
“For in the end, I know I am at fault for my marriage – I married their father, I stayed, and I owned being sorry.”
Feels good to be validatd even now.
Yes, right now my son is angry with his sister, my daughter, and he is sick with rage toward her. He is angry at me because somehow I should be able to make her apologize. I finally asked her for the sake of peace to talk to him and apologize. It was just a disagreement after all. She refuses. I have also apologized for just being me I guess. My husband and I did our best. Not perfect, but as adults we have supported them in every way possible including financially. It’s never enough. They blame us for everything because we didn’t do enough! I am not apologizing anymore! Thanks for your article(ps. My husband of 57 years just died last year and they have not supported me in anyway!)