I’m Sorry That I’m Sorry

Are you terminally apologetic?

It’s OK; please don’t apologize for it. I suffered this ailment once, too. Hope exists.

My case was bad. I knew it. To the man on his phone, oblivious to the people around him, I’m sorry you rammed me. I’m sorry you bruised my arm and knocked me to the dirty, rat metropolis known as the subway platform. To the conference room of team members exchanging dagger glares, I’m sorry I walked in on time. I’m sorry that in doing so, I disrupted your telepathic anger battle. To the woman whose project tanked for reasons I had no control over? I’m sorry my genetically deficient parents didn’t pass to me the super powers needed to prevent your pain and fear.

To everyone bothered by me saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Sh!t, there I go again. Sorry.

Like most of you, my case of the apologies wasn’t some hidden secret. How could it be? It was like a face mask of poison ivy: even during fleeting moments of hydrocortisone-induced respite, the mirror refused to sugar coat the problem. And with my glaring self-awareness, I evolved to a rage point. My blood boiled to rogue ninja every time someone told me to stop apologizing. “It undermines your authority. It’s something women do; men won’t take you seriously as a leader…” With every “10 Reasons Why You Should Stop Apologizing” or “10 Things To Not Apologize For,” I had to pull out Special Forces box breathing so I could just be cool.

Thanks for telling me I’m broken and need to stop, givers of unsolicited advice. I’m dagger-in-my-funny-bone painfully aware. But here’s the thing: if I knew how to stop, I would.

Sound familiar? You aren’t alone.

What the listicles and stewards of well-intentioned advice fail to acknowledge is that stopping “I’m sorry” isn’t as simple as removing “um” from your vocabulary or switching to organic shampoo. It isn’t born from a checklist, webinar, or lunchtime workshop. It isn’t cultivated merely through a quote from our heroes, no matter how wise Hermione Granger is.

The cure is a mix of ingredients combined with process and practice.

You see, we’re actually dealing with our normal humanness, not a disease. We’re wired to build social connection and harmony. We’re wired to respond to emotions around us. We’re wired to manage interpersonal risk, particularly in environments where we don’t feel safe (which is basically everywhere in our current fear and shame culture). We’re wired to form habits for efficiency. And this wiring is AMAZING ― until it’s not…until it’s hijacked by us for use against us.

“I’m sorry” is a learned strategy for honoring our wiring. We use “I’m sorry” as a social lubricant. We use it as armor. We use it for comfort when faced with pain, fear, or dis-ease. Through this use, we integrate it into our operating system. It moves from a chosen strategy to a default strategy. An autopilot maneuver.

Once I realized a quick and easy fix wasn’t possible, things got real. I had to embrace the fact that to recover from the apologies, I had major work to do.

  • Identifying my leaky boundaries and building healthier ones
  •  Uncovering my “so sorry” habit loop and replacing it with a new one
  • Reconstructing my self worth and overwriting the shame and fear tapes we all harbor

For this work, I needed time, space, and support. I had to decide it was a priority and honor this decision for as long as it took.

How long did it take? I’ll let you know once I’m fully there. This is a long game, my friends, in a world that over values the short game. (Free pearl: That’s the first secret of growth and transformation, by the way. Learning to love the long-game for its ineffable beauty.)

You may not be ready to tackle “I’m sorry” yet. But if you are, a first step is becoming more mindful and aware about what is happening. To get you started

  • When do you notice your case of the apologies?
  • When you observe yourself apologizing, what goals lurk behind it?
  • What work might you need to do to stop apologizing?
  • What support do you need to move forward?

**This post was originally published as a LinkedIn article on 1/25/2019.


Samantha Crowe, PhD is a transformation and leadership coach, leadership advisor, and recovering neuroscientist. She is founder of Evalia Consulting, LLC, which seeks a world made better through empowerment, growth, and connection. Samantha serves this world through 1:1 coaching, speaking, consulting, and writing. Follow her on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. Enjoy this article? Consider following this blog!

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