on apologizing

beautiful image courtesy webweaver.nu

I used to say “I’m sorry” too much. I used to say it for the silliest things, and sometimes I still do. But, for reasons I can’t identify to myself, I’m not so much of an apologizer or people-pleaser any more. (Those two things seem to go hand-in-hand.) It may have something to do with learning from a man I married who is (refreshingly) not a people-pleaser. (He’s a wonderful man, as you know, but he’s not about to apologize for his existence,  the way I used to.) It may have something to do with my kids. Having twins allows me to study the nature vs. nurture effect on a daily basis. They’ve shown me that the people-pleasing-thing is not so much about nurture, but rather, nature. Despite having almost identical experiences their first several years, one twin has it in him to be socially tuned-in constantly and the other, most times, seems socially oblivious. There are drawbacks and benefits to both ways. But when I once noticed the socially sensitive one saying he was sorry for things he ought not feel sorry about, I realized I better watch myself. I don’t want him learning it from me.

One of my best friends, who I’ve known since junior high, told me recently that I come across as more guarded than I used to be. It made me feel a little sad, but I also feel like the shift has been necessary for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. I think this has something to do with my shift as a people-pleasing apologizer. I certainly still want anyone who comes into contact with me to find me a nice, compassionate person. But, these days, I’m just now learning how to engage socially without feeling like my real “self”” has to disappear. Many times, this means not apologizing as a reflex like I used to.

What strikes me about how much I used to say “I’m sorry” is that I never said it at the times I really should have. Here is where I’ll lose some readers: I’m about to describe a dream. Creative writing teachers, including myself, always say dream sequences are very tricky to pull off; most time, you’ll lose your audience. So for those who want to check out now: Goodbye.

The dream was that I was standing in a field and the words I’m Sorry came flying silently out of my mouth in the shape of butterflies. Like, the “I” was the wide part of the left wing, and the letters kept getting narrower to the middle, and then they got wider again, until the “Y” was parallel to the “I” on the right wing. (Uhg, This is hard to describe.)

Anyway, the butterflies flew out of my mouth and fluttered around until they landed on flowers, which were also different people from my past. Some were near me in the field, some were further away.

I’ll never forget the beauty of the field in this dream and how peaceful I felt when I woke up. But then, I felt sad. Because most of those apologies landed on people I may never see or hear from again, or people who would not even want me to remind them of the past.

You know I used to write poetry, Katie. If I haven’t lost our readers after the dream sequence, I’ll lose them now, because I’m going to end with a poem I wrote about the dream. Double-whammy for cutting someone’s attention-span. I apologize. (hehe. get it?)

Too Late (2003)

If I could say I’m sorry

for those things of which I cannot speak,

things that may not be otherwise known,

maybe I would have

just enough peace

to get me to sleep.

Drifting off

in flight, mind soars

like those two little

words with wings.

All of the sorrys in the world

that won’t be said

escape and flutter and land

on those who wait.


9 thoughts on “on apologizing

  1. Welcome back! I can relate to the people pleasing part too. I love people and it always breaks my heart when people don’t feel the same way back. So I try harder. Then I offend. Then I apologize. Then I shut down. Then I quit interacting.

    Excellent poem. “just enough peace to get me to sleep” I couldn’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent searching mulling over past events for some measure of peace.

    • Hi, Andy! Spot-on summary of the pattern. You get a gold star for your conciseness. Sorry to hear you suffer from a similar sleep affliction. The past….how nice it would be to truly have an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” At least when it’s bedtime.

  2. I love this for so many reasons. I, too, am a recovering people pleaser with a husband who is refreshingly not so much. I have also noticed the absence of your need to apologize. It is wonderful and inspiring. And you are my favorite blogger. The end.

  3. As you know, there is the mandatory apology after time-out. Rather than being a secret code to get out of time-out, I’ve been emphasizing to the kids that “I’m sorry” means you are going to change your behaviour in the future.

    “I’m sorry” can mean other things, too, as I’m realizing after reading your post. It can be a way of letting go, which is so hard. And as you and Katie pointed out, it can go hand-in-hand with people pleasing. Now I’m thinking of people I’ve apologized to trying to please them, that are really manipulative a-holes, and all of the people that deserve a genuine apology – the ones I really care about – that haven’t received it yet.

    Your dream is kind of trippy and Alice-in-Wonderland-ish, but it’s wonderful. I wish our subconsious would reveal all the things we need to know like this.

    I’m inspired to let go of all of those fluttering apologies in me… and change how I behave (the people pleasing thing) in the future.

    • Hmm…I don’t think Katie meant to get into the many different meanings of the words “I’m sorry” when she posted on the topic, but it seems there are multiple possibilities! I also want to emphasize the “change your behavior” thing to the kids, especially when they bark out a nasty, mumbled “sorry” after time-out. I need to set an example, though: I think of the times I’m late and say “i’m sorry” and then continue arriving late to things. I need to stop apologizing and start being on time!

  4. Pingback: people pleasing: a case study | [writing] between friends

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