Seeking Connection: Offering appreciation, not apologies

Izzie and I were in Target recently. It was close to Christmas and the store was full of shoppers. Every aisle was crammed with people, like sardines packed tight with overfilled red carts.

One woman in the makeup aisle seemed especially harried. She mowed over my child, clearly irritated that the sea of humanity wasn’t parting for her quickly enough.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Izzie said, jumping out of the way.

For whatever reason, I heard it. Izzie didn’t say, “Excuse me” but “I’m so sorry.” Sorry for what? For shopping? For having corporeal mass? For existing? In each aisle, she repeated the phrase. “I’m sorry, ” she would say quietly, backing against a display for someone to pass, taking sole responsibility for an overcrowded store.

Now I love how polite my daughter is. She doesn’t hesitate to apologize; it’s one of my favorite things about her. When she makes an error in judgment, she never wavers in owning up to it, offering heartfelt apology easily. And real remorse is rare in a society that loves to pass the buck and shift focus.

As humans, we have psychological defenses which often prevent us from accepting the possibility that we screwed up. We have a self-serving bias that skews us toward laying blame at someone else’s door.

Being able to admit you were in the wrong is a hallmark of mature behavior. Most of us do not say, “I’m sorry,” but instead, “I’m sorry, but…,” adding a soothing caveat or stipulation to justify or explain our actions.

But over-apologizing isn’t OK either. Women especially have been raised in a society that asks us to apologize too easily and too frequently, for things we cannot control and for things that are not our fault.

Research indicates women over-apologize far more often than men, and this tendency often stems from feelings of insecurity and unworthiness.

This gender-based conversational ritual teaches women their actions are an imposition instead of a contribution. We see it over and over; this shameful drama of women making themselves small to make others feel comfortable.

Why do we downplay our awesomeness, wear the heavy mantle of being good girls?

Have I taught my daughter the opinions of others matter more than her deepest truths? Does she believe her value lies only in meeting the expectations of society? Did she learn this behavior from me? Of course she did.

Like every other woman, I spent decades minimizing my validity, swallowing my truths  to not rock the boat, nodding sweetly when I was seething inside.

Those three words (I’m so sorry) sat so heavy on my heart that day. They still do.

When we apologize for every tiny inconvenience, it dilutes the power behind a real apology. The words we choose matter. Our words should stand up straight, not cower behind expectation; why should we apologize for speaking our truth?

What if we flipped the script and replaced the overused I’m sorry with thank you?

“I’m sorry for upsetting you” becomes, “Thank you for considering my request.”

“I’m sorry, but I have to run” becomes, “Thank you for your time.”

“I’m sorry this is late” becomes, “Thank you for your patience.”

“I’m sorry to unload on you” becomes, “Thank you for allowing me to speak honestly.”

“I’m sorry, but I am busy that day” becomes “Thank you for thinking of me.”

“I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment” becomes “Thank you for having faith in me.”

“I’m sorry my Target experience is inconveniencing your Target experience” becomes “Thank you for allowing me to practice this life skill.”

The world deserves our gratitude, not our constant negativity. The world can always use more gratitude. And when we honor ourselves, it asks the world to honor us too.

If we say, “I’m sorry” constantly, the world starts to believe we should be apologizing. I’m not saying we give the world the middle finger; I’m suggesting we all respect our boundaries more.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness” and the online host of the OM channel. Follow her on Twitter @erinsmithauthor.