The Urge to Apologize

Most of the women I know consciously strive to release what we all recognize as unhealthy ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. The amount of introspection and effort required depends on how long we’ve nurtured an emotional wound. The act of Release is an amazing thing. Some women use lovely and elaborate ‘cleansing’ or ‘healing’ rituals that close with celebrations. Some simply meditate, breathe, then release what’s no longer needed to God or the Great Mother, or to the Universe. Some women are so strong that they simply decide: “That’s enough of that!” And then they go for a walk, or to the gym; they treat themselves to a shopping spree or spa-day; a new scent or adornment, or to a full-on vacation.

It feels like I’ve been finding and releasing this kind of “junk” for years. Likening it to one of my least favorite household chores, it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day of folding and putting away a never-ending basket of now-clean laundry. Just when I think I’ve paired and inverted the last pair of socks, I look down and see there’s more clean laundry in the ‘basket’.

This past weekend I did something (then berated myself afterwards about it) that I thought I was done with: I apologized ( to someone very dear to me) for apparently causing ‘hurt’ — which I felt in my bones was actually an overreaction to a casual comment I’d made. He was upset, and I wanted to soothe him; which I know really meant, enable him. Of course he felt better, having someone to pin his reaction on, but I was left feeling annoyed with myself for having taken on the responsibility for his outburst. Still, harmony was restored, so that was a net-gain for me. For a minute.

In the aftermath of this personal exchange, I wondered why and how my instinct to restore peace has always been — it seems to me — over-developed. As I’ve done my reading (academic and recreational) over the years, I’ve learned that this is a pretty common trait among women. (An underlying reason, I’m convinced, that the majority of males are so fearful of a woman in the White House.) Still, it’s important to be able to take a stand and remain firm in refusing blame that’s not legitimately your own. In the workplace I’ve become skilled at this. My go-to line: “I’m sorry you feel upset,” versus “I’m sorry for what I did” (because I didn’t do anything wrong). In our personal relationships, it’s often more difficult to offer rebuttal when someone’s put-out (unless it’s a child, and you are the parent). As women we’re expected to be receptive; to absorb discord; to offer ‘honey’ instead of ‘vinegar’ to disagreeable people. And we do this; but, at what cost to ourselves and our personal development?

Meanwhile, the Media shows us that a growing number of people appear to be acting on impulse, irrespective of others’ needs and feelings, without ever apologizing. It’s clear that more men than women are in this category. Ironically , we’re also exposed to an increase in outraged voices and very ‘public’ demands for Apology, for perceived slights or injuries. Thanks to our real-time media, public shaming can be instantaneous when/if an apology is not forthcoming. It’s as though our collective, internal perceptions or definitions of What I Believe I Did, versus What You Seem to Think I Did, and What I Really Did have become irreparably distorted and opaque. Are we doing this intentionally (avoiding taking responsibility), or are we really no longer sure of the standards of behavior in our personal lives, nor of the parameters or decorum in our social groups?

I know one thing for sure. I’m going to keep ‘doing my own laundry’ (back to my metaphor) and self-checking ,when an Apology doesn’t feel like mine to make. And I’m going to be totally un-apologetic about that.

Leave a Reply