Last week, I walked upstairs to a co-worker’s office to deliver some documents and ask him a question. Upon reaching his doorway, I noticed that he was in the middle of a conversation and immediately apologized profusely. Apologize for what? For my presence? That I was doing my job? Your guess is as good as mine. As an admitted people pleaser and conflict avoider, I often find that I’m bending over backwards to nip criticism in the bud with two words: I’m sorry.
Everyone has their proverbial Achilles’ heel, that one personality quirk or proclivity that make us uniquely human. Mine is that I apologize for everything; sometimes it’s warranted, but a majority of the time I excuse myself for the most unnecessary reasons, and often for no reason at all. It’s a habit–a reflex, really–in an attempt to soften uncomfortable circumstances or remedy a misunderstanding.
As women, most of us learn from a very young age that an apology is an acceptable way to make amends after a disagreement or scolding. At the same time, however, a lot of us experience situations (e.g. the classroom, the playground, even the home) where our very presence is challenged. When we are chided for being too aggressive, too loud, too intelligent, or too beautiful, it becomes our reflex to apologize and suppress whatever character “flaw” is receiving criticism. A 2010 study in Psychological Science confirms this, stating that a woman’s threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior is significantly smaller than a man’s. Hmm…I wonder why?
That brings me to my challenge. While it’s hard to stop apologizing altogether (because our society does place value in expressing regret for certain actions), I’m challenging myself to pause and examine a situation before saying “I’m sorry.” Offering an apology is usually a pretty easy course of action (as opposed to taking steps to actually rectify the injurious action or behavior), and it often carries little weight in the grander scheme of things. For example, if I lent a book to a friend and she lost it, I would much rather she replace the book than simply say she’s sorry. An apology is just a bonus.
Here are a few things I’ll be keeping in mind this month:
-DO apologize if someone is offended.
If someone is obviously offended by something I’ve said or done, an initial apology is likely the first step to rectify the situation (followed by taking concrete action, if the situation calls for it).
-DON’T apologize for expressing an opinion.
Sometimes we conflate sharing our opinion with discrediting someone else’s beliefs, but of course this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We should never take back an opinion just because it doesn’t align with that of another person, so long as it is communicated in a respectful way.
The same can be said for relationships: if you disagree with a partner or family member, recognize that your feelings are equally valid and deserve to be shared openly. Don’t apologize for having a different perspective than someone else, even if he or she seems uncomfortable with that.
-DON’T apologize for asking questions or needing specific accommodations.
As vegans, this is a particular area where we tend to feel guilty. I find myself apologizing more than I should in every situation where my needs aren’t accommodated. In restaurants with nary a vegan option, I tend to preface my request for vegan options with an apology. We should never feel badly for ensuring our dietary needs are met, especially when those needs are an integral part of our lifestyle. You don’t often see people with peanut allergies apologizing to a waitress, after all.
Do you find yourself apologizing too much? I know I’m not the only one!
Also by Molly: An Exercise to Get Over Your Fears
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Photo: Leyram Odacrem via Flickr