'I'm sorry' and other apologies I'm over
I don't want to generalise (something I like to say right before I make a sweeping generalisation), but my girl friends have a real problem with feeling bad. This manifests from never-ending professional apologies to lingering guilt over asserting themselves in relationships. If I can pass on one superpower to the aspiring wonder women in my life, stop saying sorry for having a voice and if you're acting true to yourself there's no need to ever feel guilty. It's been two years since I set as my New Years resolution to stop apologising and I can genuinely say it has changed the way I interact in my daily life.
From saying sorry before asking a legitimate and important question at work to apologising for my own existence whenever I 'imposed' my desires onto loved ones. Let's break this down a little, what I'm talking about is an endemic of women not owning their space in the world. This manifests in many forms from severe anxiety about telling bosses when they can't achieve a task, feeling bad about saying no to men particularly and not respecting themselves enough to just ask for what they want. You have no idea how many times in a day I catch my friends starting a sentence with "I feel so guilty about...", "I feel bad that I...", "sorry that I didn't..." etc you get the point. I get it because I wasn't conscious of what impression my language was giving off to the people in my life. By quite literally apologising for your wants or feelings you are giving other people permission to disrespect your time and points of view.
Let me give you a concrete example, in a past relationship I held the belief that eventually my partner would figure out how much of a flawed human being I was and in an attempt to stave off the inevitable rejection I exhibited martyr behaviour. Don't get me wrong, I only realised I was doing this when he started calling me out for it. You see, men are raised to never apologise for living their life and this entitlement translates into confidence especially in romantic relationships (where they are seen as special for even committing) and professionally (where they remain the majority of the workforce). So, every time I'd bow at my boyfriend's feet and say something like "I'm really sorry to inconvenience you, but would you mind picking me up some tomatoes" what I was actually establishing was a power dynamic where I wasn't entitled to receiving help. However, most of the time I wouldn't even articulate what I wanted/needed and would let this passive aggressive energy eat away at the relationship. During my moods the classic phrases I'd hear from my boyfriend were "I'm not a mind reader" and "there's no need to be a martyr". I don't need to tell you this dynamic is unhealthy.
Another way I see this manifest amongst my friends is harbouring the responsibility about birth control. I continue to find it shocking how many of my girl friends have never even spoken to their partners about the impact the pill is having on their mental health or who even worse don't respect their bodies enough to ask the man to use a condom - sexual health is a discussion for another day. But, I think all of this illustrates a binary between male and female entitlement when it comes to love and respect. I believe this dynamic is the most apparent in relationships because it's one of the few times it's clear to see how men and women react to one another. It's not our fault because we've learnt these lessons from the women in our life. I'm sure everyone can pinpoint a female family member who exhibits slave tendencies and worships at the feet of their significant other. Don't get this twisted, I'm not saying doing loving things for your partner is necessarily bad but I do think when we are continually refusing to articulate our desires or framing them as an apology we're undermining how we value our worth.
Now, romantic relationships are one thing but in reality what I see is an epidemic of women apologising for their existence. I mock my friends now with two key phrases, whenever they apologise for their bus being cancelled or to be passed the cutlery. As an aside, just last year I was on a date and I apologised for the traffic at 6pm - to which the guy responded "It's not your fault dinnertime is rush hour" - I had to laugh. Anyway back to my friends, I like to respond with either "your lateness is unacceptable with a stern brow" or if they say they feel guilty about asking for a raise at work, telling a guy they're not interested or anything else I say "guilt is a redundant emotion". The first one plays with sarcasm to let them know they don't need to apologise for anything with me and the latter is just true. Not only does feeling guilty not serve anyone, I believe some of my friends are addicted to the low-level anxiety this emotion produces - I sure as hell used to be. It's great to have something to focus on even if it's negative and self-minimising.
Let's take this into the real world consequences of constantly feeling bad about taking up space or apologising. Firstly, by catching yourself whenever you say these phrases and keeping them inside you can eventually stop thinking them altogether. I like to reword an apology as a thank you. For example, if I'm about to say "sorry I'm late" I'll say "thank you for your patience" instead. Do you see how this simple change in vocabulary switches the dialogue from negative to positive? Now in a business setting this is crucial for two reasons: firstly, for your credibility at work and secondly for the implications it can have in crisis. To tackle the first point, if you find yourself consistently apologising to your boss or working yourself up with guilt over asking the simplest questions you are not only exhausting yourself (check out this article about emotional labour) but secondly you're undermining your intelligence.
Put it like this, if I constantly say "sorry for this stupid question..." or "sorry this task is taking too much time" I'm re-asserting a power dynamic that puts my boss on a pedestal. So, why do you think when time comes to promote someone they're turning to your more confident colleague? I aim to make every encounter with my superior begin and end on a positive to remind them why I'm so great. Phrases you can try instead include "are you busy at the moment?" or "do you mind if I ask you a quick question". Keep it professional without making yourself look unconfident and incapable - if you don't believe me just monitor how your male/ more confident female colleagues interact with the boss. Not to mention, you make yourself more stressed at work unnecessarily.
The second key way you're language is screwing you over is in the rare occasion you actually f up. If you're constantly apologising over little everyday things when shit hits the proverbial fan, such as messing up with a client or blocking the company credit card. It's like the boy who cried wolf. Save your apologies for when it really matters and the value behind your sorry is a lot more powerful. The implications of this are clear in your personal life too. Think about your dad for example I would hedge my bets that you associate their apology as a lot more powerful than your mum's. Repetition minimises the power of your words. It's like the Americans who say awesome over a piece of pizza versus a medieval monk obsessed with God's wonder. Keep the power of apologising firmly in your hands but using it sparingly. How you speak on a daily basis is how you give others permission to speak to you - respect yourself.
I'm sure you've found this rant helpful and hopefully you'll start being more conscious about the language you use. This article is part of a new series where I'm writing about how women can assert their boundaries and demand respect personally and professionally.
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