The Most Damaging Word We Use All the Time
Everywhere I go, I hear the same phrase over and over again: “I’m sorry.” Or, the shorter version, “sorry.” I myself used to be guilty of repeating this phrase, as well, but decided to train myself out of it when I really looked at what it was I was communicating to myself and to those around me.
The definition of sorry is twofold. First, there is the definition that has come to signify an apology in our culture. The difficulty with this definition is that “sorry” does not mean to express regret for something one has done, or to take responsibility for it. In fact, sorry just means to express regret, sympathy or pity. Without an action to take responsibility for, sorry simply expresses a feeling of regret. If the action you are attempting to take responsibility for wasn’t necessarily yours to begin with, the regret is misplaced. The other definition is: dismal, wretched, poor, useless, or pitiful. Bleh.
When you begin to pay attention to something, you begin to see it more clearly and more often. Paying attention to “sorry” rearing it’s head in conversation gave me the opportunity to learn more about it by asking questions to those who were giving life to the word. The responses that I received about why people had used the word were pretty uniform: it was just an automatic response. They weren’t doing anything to harm another person. They weren’t holding any malintent. They were talking, moving…simply being themselves. Simply being.
What does it say about our culture that it is customary, expected even, that people should constantly be apologizing for being?
When I sat down with myself and looked at how I was using the word sorry, it became clear that I did not feel regret or responsibility for something I had done to another person. The truth was much deeper than that. I authentically felt that there was something inherently wrong with me. I believed that I was not good enough. I bought in to the ridiculous standards put forth by both media and social media, and according to those standards, I really was dismal, wretched, poor, useless, and pitiful. I felt inherent regret for being lesser in a world that rewards only greatness.
So, I walked around all the time owning my sorry. I am dismal. I am useless. I am pitiful. I regret being me. I regret being. When I was late for a meeting due to traffic I couldn’t possibly have control over, I shamed myself. When I was so passionate about something that I spoke loudly in a conversation, I shamed myself. When I accidentally bumped into someone’s chair and stubbed my toe, I shamed myself. I told the world and myself that I was bad, wrong, and not good enough over and over again.
The worst part of this entire story is that this is an epidemic in our world right now. I am not the only one reflexively saying that I’m sorry. I am certainly not the only one actually feeling a visceral level of regret. There are so many sources telling us that we are not okay the way that we are, and we believe it! How can we ever fulfill our dreams, engage in meaningful relationships, or feel gratitude for the magic that is all around us, if we are constantly reaffirming that we are not worthy?
I decided to take my self-worth into my own hands. I cut the word “sorry” out of my vocabulary. There is immense power in not feeling regret every day. Now, if I am late for a meeting, I simply state the truth: there was a lot of traffic today that I did not anticipate. I could not have controlled that, and I do not feel inherently responsible for it. I get to move on with my day!
In addition, I have learned to scale way back on any form of apology. In reality, I can only provide an apology when I honestly feel regret for something that was my responsibility. There is unbelievable freedom in not taking responsibility for something I am not responsible for. Apologizing to someone who is grieving is like saying you somehow contributed to that grief, again shaming yourself for something that has nothing to do with you. Not getting caught up in the shame, on the other hand, opens you up to feel and react with compassion.
Through this process I have come to a new truth: I am in charge of myself. I set my own expectation. I am responsible for me. I am powerful. I am beautiful according to my own standards. I am capable.
I am not sorry.
And you don’t have to be, either.