“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you lived through it. Honor your path. Trust your journey. Learn, grow, evolve, become.” ~Creig Crippen
When I was a child, my immediate reaction to most things was “I’m sorry.”
Had to miss class because of a field trip for a different class? I’m sorry.
Something bad happened to someone I knew? I’m sorry.
It didn’t matter what the situation was or if I directly caused it or even if I was involved in it in any way whatsoever. Even in the best of situations, strangely, I’d figure out some way to apologize. I apologized for everything.
I probably apologized a hundred times a day (even in good situations). It was so much a part of who I was, in fact, that when I was about ten years old, my parents bought me a stuffed animal with an “I’m sorry” T-shirt on.
I know they meant it with the best of intentions. We all thought it was pretty funny. I proudly displayed it.
I had no idea at the time that people did bad things that that they had to apologize for; I just thought it was a personality trait I had. I couldn’t understand why anyone would make a stuffed animal with a T-shirt like that (like, you know, to actually apologize for something) other than for someone like me.
As I got older, I didn’t stop the over-apologizing. Deep down somewhere it became a part of me, and over the years I took the blame for all kinds of things that were not only not my fault but had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t until I started doing some personal development work on myself that I realized this bad habit needed to go.
I attended workshops, hired coaches, and found some amazing leaders that help people break free and get what they want in life. They were always having us work through feelings from our past like anger, sadness, etc., and I knew I really didn’t hold onto a lot of anger inside of me.
I’m sure I had a normal amount of sadness and all the other negative emotions that you really don’t want to hold onto if you can let them go. But I worked through them and wasn’t seeing all these breakthrough changes that everyone else kept finding.
In my thirties, I listened to a Louise Hay meditation during which she said, “Guilt always seeks punishment,” and that’s why those of us who feel guilty (especially about things that have nothing to do with us) don’t always allow ourselves to break through and let go.
I knew right then I needed to find a way to stop the over-apologizing. Saying “I’m sorry” when you’re wrong or when something terrible happens isn’t a bad thing; it’s the over-apologizing and holding that guilt inside of yourself that can cause an array of problems.
I started trying to figure out other ways to say, “I’m sorry,” and the best approach I’ve found is replacing apologies with gratitude.
This immediately changes our focus. It helps us to reframe the whole situation, taking us out of worry, fear, and guilt and allowing us to form a new perspective. As beautifully stated by Kristin Armstrong, “When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.”
Though I don’t like to be late, I realize if I am a couple minutes late for an appointment, it’s truly not the end of the world. The other person (or people) probably aren’t going to hold it against me for the rest of my life (like I might if I held onto that guilt). So I’ve learned to say, “Thank you for waiting. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate it.” And then I try to do better next time.
If I have a conflict and can’t make it to a friend’s party or get-together, instead of wrestling with it and going over it in my head again and again, feeling terrible, I say, “Thank you for inviting me. I’d really love to be there, but I have a prior commitment.” I find gratitude in the fact that they invited me in the first place instead of guilt for not being able to be in two places at once.
If I disappoint someone, I really look inside to see if there was something I could have done better. I remind myself that I have to stay true to my convictions as well, and sometimes that unfortunately means disappointing others. I do my best and I work to do better next time.
If I find that there was something I could have done better, I can still apologize. It’s not like working to stop over-apologizing means that I can never again apologize. But it’s not a gut reaction, an immediate response, and I think it’s a good thing to take another look at the situation and truly understand it. That way I can learn from it and continue to do better.
Over-apologizing can make you hold on to guilt for longer than you need to. It should never be a first response or a gut reaction.
Apologize when you truly feel regret and remorse in your heart and forgive yourself for the rest. By finding other ways to say “I’m sorry” when a situation truly doesn’t warrant an apology, it lessens your burden, lessens your worry, and allows you to focus on other things. Learn, grow, evolve, become.