Monday, April 23, 2012

The "I'm Sorry" Jar

                                                             Source: via Lauren on Pinterest

I'm not going to start by saying I'm sorry. When I'm at a loss for words, when all seems to be said and done, "I'm sorry" is my stand-by, my go-to phrase. It's the nervous tic I've never been able to conquer, the bad habit I just can't break. It's the motto and slogan and tag-line of a life-long people pleaser, of a self-conscious, socially-anxious, neurotic weirdo with an incredibly guilty conscience.

So, I'm not going to start this by saying I'm sorry. Because I haven't done anything wrong.

And I usually haven't done anything wrong when I say it. The things I apologize for are often beyond my control and have nothing to do with my thoughts or actions...and yet, I still apologize. In fact, I over-apologize.

About two weeks ago, in a meeting with my boss, I found myself uttering those dreaded words again. The meeting had run long, due to no real fault of my own, and I scurried to apologize.

My boss sighed. My tendency to overuse "I'm sorry" wasn't new to her. In fact, she'd admonished me for it before. "Katie, you have nothing to be sorry for."

And I knew that. Logically, I knew that my apology wasn't warranted or necessary.

Logically, I know a lot of things.

As we headed up the hallway from her office, my boss continued, "We're going to break that bad habit of yours. I'm going to start charging you every time you say 'I'm sorry.'"

One of my coworkers who happened to overhear our conversation piped up, "Yeah, we'll start her an 'I'm Sorry' Jar. Kinda like a Cussing Jar. She'll be broke in no time flat!"

The problem is she's right. Absolutely, completely, and embarrassingly correct in every way.

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about my tendency to apologize for anything and everything and nothing. I've been thinking about how those simple words undermine me, about how they take away my power and make me appear weak, about how they justify the actions of others...good or bad.

And when I use them too much? It strips away the power of the words themselves, making them pointless to say and pointless for others to hear.

Out of all the reasons to stop saying "I'm sorry," this was the one that really got to me, that really made me start thinking about how to break this bad habit. Sincerity is important to me. I'm not much of a talker; when I do talk, I want people to know that I mean what I'm saying. I want them to understand that I value words, and I value their meaning. I don't say something just to say it...

...unless I'm saying "I'm sorry."

The compulsion to utter that phrase has become less about the meaning behind the words and more about my own neuroses, my own need to avoid conflict, my own, nearly overwhelming, need to please others.

But I'm sick of being that person. I'm sick of having a perpetually guilty conscience for things that I haven't even done wrong. I'm sick of being a push-over who gains no respect from those around her, who has a reputation of being weak. 

I'm not sorry for who I am or for the decisions I make. I'm not sorry that I have opinions that don't match yours. I'm not sorry that you're having to do your job. I'm not sorry that I made one little mistake; everyone makes mistakes. I forgive them for theirs; when will I forgive myself for my own?

When I need to be sorry, I'm sorry. But for the hundreds of thousands of times that I haven't even done anything to be sorry for, I'm not sorry. 

Do you have an "I'm sorry" compulsion? How do you keep from apologizing all the time for nothing?

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