Sorry Not Sorry

11 Aug, 2021

Years ago I had a wonderful clinical supervisor who would mention every time I said “sorry”. I remember being trained at the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre about how often women apologies for simply existing but it wasn’t until the supervisor pointed it out (several times, ever so gently an firmly) that I really started to see just how much I apologize.
The more and more I learn about the oppression of women I have begun to understand the over apologizing as a way of managing. I’ve recently really sat with myself to be curious about when I am apologizing and why. For me, I am definitely more likely to increase my apology frequency (if we can call it that) when I am uncomfortable but specifically, when I am taking up space. As a facilitator this is a real conundrum as I am leading discussions and setting a tone for learning in groups. Any slight mishap with technology, or potential gaps in clarity trigger a landslide of verbally owning all the things. This looks for me like “sorry about that, my apologies or so sorry”. When I sit and examine this behavior for myself a few things come to mind. What the heck am I sorry about? In this context I’m typically apologizing for a blip in internet, some software issues or not communicating the information clearly. In terms of the technology blips it’s almost like I feel that I didn’t prepare well enough or only if my internet was better, or I didn’t communicate in the most clear and concise way. All of these pieces to me thread together a sense of not enoughness and feeling like if I could some how be more or better at than these things wouldn’t happen.

I’ve learned a few things about apologies and why I (and possibly other women) tend to over apologize. Specifically, for me, apologizing in the past has been a way that I managed abuse. If I could own any and all things maybe the violence wouldn’t happen, or it wouldn’t be as bad. Also, my over apologizing suggests that my needs don’t matter, the thought that I potentially made someone else uncomfortable automatically deserves and apology on that assumption alone.
I do a lot of training and the majority of the folks I work with are female or gender diverse individuals. I tend to keep tiny tallies in my head about how often we are apologizing. Recently, in a training that I was supporting, a participant, including myself, apologized an average of every 8 minutes. EVERY 8 MINUTES A WOMEN APOLOGIZED FOR SIMPLY EXISTING. Not everyone likely apologized for the same reasons as I do but I think collectively there is an underpinning of “keeping the peace” and feeling like we need to apologize for taking up any amount of space.

How do we change this?
There are so many great resources out there that talk about instead of saying sorry say this…. Here are a few below:
Ultimately, I know for me, the real changing point was becoming aware of how much and how often I am apologizing. There are absolutely times when I apologize because I have impacted someone and these apologies are necessary and therapeutic, often leading to the repair of a breach in a relationship. I’m 100% human and error and sometimes hurt another human with my actions, words or inactions and I really want my apology to be meaningful and motivated by changing the action/ inaction that caused the harm. I do think there is so much power in calling each other in and drawing awareness to our consistent use of sorry.
Specifically if you have young people (girls and non binary youth specifically) in your life. Calling each other in to end the consistent apologies for existing can shift the entire next generation from owning things that are not theirs to own. If you are reading this blog and we have the opportunity to connect and I apologize for existing, I ask you to please remind me that I am apologizing. It is through this mutual accountability that we can drastically change the environment in which we communicate and exist.

How do you replace “Sorry”? share some ways below!