Have you ever found yourself apologising for things that aren’t your fault? Maybe you’ve said ‘Sorry, she’s always late’ or ‘Sorry, I’m in your way’ as some inconsiderate clod barges past you on the street. You don’t think about it at the time, but really, what on earth are you apologising for?
I’m the absolute worst for this. I apologise multiple times a day, for things that don’t really matter and aren’t even my fault. I tripped over a curb getting out of a taxi recently (stone cold sober, I’m just painfully clumsy), and found myself apologising to the taxi driver. At work today, someone bumped into my chair and I apologised, even though my chair was tucked in and wasn’t in anyone’s way. Any time I feel as though I’ve missed something someone’s said to me, I apologise profusely, annoying them no end in the process.
I was always anxious about getting things wrong or making life more difficult for others. In the end, I would make myself as inoffensive as possible, so no one else would be bothered by me or my presence.
I used to have a rather blunt workmate who would declare, ‘What are you sorry for? You haven’t done anything wrong!’, and she was right. When I was saying sorry for some imagined slight I’d visited upon her, I was actually apologising for being in the way, for taking up space. I was always anxious about getting things wrong or making life more difficult for others. In the end, I would make myself as inoffensive as possible, so no one else would be bothered by me or my presence.
As you can imagine, that is not a good way to live. You start keeping all your thoughts to yourself, you stop making friends with people, and you spend a lot of time at home, torturing yourself by scrolling through your Facebook feed and wishing you’d been invited to all the parties people are going to.
Eventually, I figured out that this was no way to live and started making changes. I discovered I could speak my mind in front of my friends without upsetting anyone. I started contacting work leads without prefacing my emails with ‘Sorry for bothering you, but…’. I dyed my hair bright blue and started wearing the things I’ve always wanted to wear, and sod anyone who thought that it was inappropriate.
You don’t have to apologise simply for existing.
Apologising for everything is certainly a female trait (although not exclusively so), and we’re taught from an early age that our job is to stay quiet, do as we’re told, and for the love of God don’t rock the boat. How would we get anything done if we could never speak our minds?! Thankfully women like Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie or Rosa Parks didn’t listen to that old load of crap, or who knows where we’d be now?
The important message I want to leave you with is that if you stop apologising for everything, the world doesn’t end. Of course, if you do screw up, it’s important to apologise, but do so quickly and meaningfully, and make sure you learn from your mistakes. Otherwise, remember that you have a right to do what you want, and say what you think, as long as you’re not looking to trample over anybody else (literally or figuratively). You don’t have to apologise simply for existing.
Of course you’ll slip up, because it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime. That’s why I’m still doing it, even now. Remember, though, don’t beat yourself up about it, and certainly don’t apologise for it. That way you’re apologising for apologising, and that way only madness lies.
Siobhan Harper is a freelance writer living in Birmingham UK. She strongly believes in figuring things out as you go along, but only because she's pathalogically disorganised. You can follow her adventures in writing at http://wingingitsiobhanharper.blogspot.co.uk/, or her thoughts on early mornings and dogs on Twitter at @Beatrix_Plotter.