A few months ago a Facebook friend shared this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, from the Momastery blog. I’m not a regular reader of hers, not being in her target audience of moms, but have read it a few times and always really appreciated her genuineness.
“Listen to me. Every time I go to speak somewhere — tired, worn out, wild-eyed mamas raise their tired hands and say to me, “Glennon, I feel like I’m losing it at home. I feel CRAZY.”
Okay: for obvious reasons, I am no parenting expert. But I know a helluva lot about crazy. And I want you to trust me on this one. I want you to write this down and put it on your fridge for me:
IT’S NOT YOU. IT’S THEM.
Listen: I spent time in a mental hospital and I am here to report that everyone, every single one of the beautiful folks I lived in there with was more reasonable than the small people I live with now. All of them.
YOU ARE GOOD AND NORMAL AND REASONABLE. IT’S THEM. The crazy is not in your head. It’s IN YOUR HOUSE. We have to wait them out. We just have to smile and wait them out. We have fought too hard for our sanity to lose it now.
Repeat after me: It’s not me. It’s THEM.” ~~Glennon Doyle Melton, Momastery.com
As I read it I really felt to the depth of my being this isn’t just for moms. This is for me too.
I (used to) have a completely debilitating problem with blaming myself for absolutely everything. To the max. This comes out in saying ‘sorry’ a whole heck of a lot. For things I have no business apologizing for.
Example: I’m sorry, can you clarify what you mean? If you complete the I’m sorry, what exactly am I apologizing for? I’m sorry I’m an idiot and obviously anyone smarter than me would have understood but I didn’t so I’m really sorry that I’m taking up another ten seconds of your precious time in clarifying or maybe I’m so sorry you weren’t clear in what you meant, and I’m sorry my mind reading skills aren’t working today and I’m so so sorry I’m breathing and taking up space and time and oxygen.
That’s just one example that really truly is a real one. A friend is cross? Must be my fault. Someone on my team forgets to do something? I should have reminded them or did a better job of explaining, but it is clearly entirely my fault. What a failure. I get emotional? I’m so sorry I’m such a disaster sometimes. I didn’t hear what you said? I’m sorry, obviously I have hearing problems.
On. And on. And on.
After I read that quote from Glennon I felt that ever present still small voice whisper to my heart, it’s not always you, sometimes it’s them.
Transformative words, those are.
Now I am definitely not advocating for blaming all circumstances on someone else. One of the transformative books I have read was Steven Coveys 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – and the one that really stood out then and still does is that highly effective people take responsibility for their own life, situations, emotions, reactions, words, thoughts, and actions. Example – She makes me so mad! No, she doesn’t control my emotions, I do. If she is actually controlling my emotions she has far too much power. What she does might be irritating but my response is entirely up to me. This extends beyond emotions to most aspects of life. Think of those people who put the blame on everyone and everything around them, but never themselves. Victim mentality. Yes of course life throws curve balls and difficult things, but we are ultimately responsible for how we respond to them.
So somehow we need to find a balance – figuring out what exactly we are responsible for, taking responsibility for that, and not taking on other peoples’ responsibilities as our own.
What does this mean for real life?
For me, it looks like wiping the words I’m sorry entirely out of my vocabulary.
I read an article at least a year ago about the fact that women say ‘sorry’ far too often. It might have been this one. It might have been a different, similar one that I am too lazy to search for and find. (sorry…er, not?) But basically it said that women use the word ‘sorry’ as a crutch word, we are apologizing for ridiculous things all the time that we have no business apologizing for, and we need to stop because all it does is make us sound stupid, shallow, and wimpy.
It resonated at that time but didn’t really stick, and I kept on with my far-too-often-and-inappropriate use of that word.
But then after reading Glennon’s quote I began to think more about what it looks like to live a life free of the belief that it’s all my fault and start believing that it’s not always me and really, I’m feeding the crazy by saying sorry all.the.time.
There are definitely legit things I need to apologize for (every.single.day). I take full responsibility for those things and I have started to use the words I apologize, plus a description of what I am apologizing for. I apologize for… using that tone of voice, it was rude and uncalled for, please forgive me. I apologize for… not taking the time to explain things more clearly. I apologize for…. Knocking over your full can of coke all over your computer.
Can you feel the depth of those words, as opposed to a cheap rushed “sorry”? They mean something. I know that if I turn the tables, when I get a heartfelt apology, I feel valued and acknowledged - as opposed to rushed, cheap “sorry” that leaves me wondering if they really meant it. Like being forced to apologize to your sibling when you were young. The words come out but they are empty and meaningless.
Sometimes when we say ‘sorry’ we really just need to not say anything. But sometimes we need an alternative word. A few examples:
Excuse me – as in, when you are sitting next to someone and you shift your legs and oh the horror, your foot bumps their leg. Oh sorry! Newsflash: You haven’t caused pain and anguish, there is no need for an apology. You are human. I apologize for allowing my fidgeting to invade your personal space. Ridiculous. What you actually mean is excuse me. This goes for brushing up against someone in the stairwell, stepping around someone in your way, etc.
Pardon? – as in, someone says something mumbled or with their face turned the other direction and I didn’t hear or understand. I’m sorry = I apologize for your mumbling? Er, no. This would also be an appropriate use of excuse me. or hey? or come again? or whatever you need to say to ask them to repeat themselves.
That’s awful! – as in, a friend telling me she twisted her knee, and I want to acknowledge it hurts or that it was really an unfortunate occurrence. I used to say I’m so sorry that happened which is really just expressing my compassion. There are other words to express compassion.
The one exception to this would be when we are breaking bad news to someone. As in I’m sorry we can’t do the surgery you need. I think that is an appropriate use of the word. I really am sorry we can’t, I wish we could.
So I guess towards the end of all this rambling I should come to the point. I highly recommend watching your language and trying to catch your use of “sorry”. It’s been an eye-opening experience for me, and it still slips out and surprises me sometimes.
I’ve encouraged friends who are just stepping into new things to make their work place a ‘sorry-free zone’ – the temptation, when you are new to something, is to apologize for asking questions – YOU SHOULD BE ASKING QUESTIONS! That’s what being new is about!
One time I was playing volleyball with some friends on the beach and I declared it a sorry-free zone because otherwise every.single.point someone would apologize – for hitting it out or badly or not to the right person or missing it. We weren’t there to win. We were there for fun. No apology necessary!
These are just a few examples, but I encourage you to start trying to finish the sentence – what exactly are you saying sorry for? Is it a true apology or is it a crutch or a filler word?
Maybe one of my readers just needs to know this: Sometimes it isn’t you. It's them.