You do not need to apologize for existing.
I am talking about apologizing, specifically the unconscious urge women have to over apologize. I don’t mean apologizing when you actually have done something wrong. We should all do that a bit more. What I’m talking about is saying sorry unnecessarily.
I’m talking about apologizing
- To help placate those around us
- For changes out of your control
- To cushion our decisions
- When we speak up
- When we take up too much room
- When we accomplish something
- When we share our opinions
I’m guessing you might be shaking your head up and down a little bit right now. It all sounds a bit familiar right?
That’s because we, as women, have a hard time not apologizing for things. Society as a whole has raised us to feel like we can’t speak our mind, or say what we want. We are raised to say “yes” and be accommodating. We are trained to say sorry. We get called bossy when we take the lead and intimidating when we know what we want and say it outloud. This is a form of social conditioning that we may not even be aware is happening. It’s a thinly disguised form of misogyny that is passed down from generation to generation. It is documented in the behaviors of cultures as far back as the middle ages, when women would have their heads locked in a horrible metal implement (called a Scold’s Bridle) if they spoke out in public or argued with their husbands.
Yes, things have changed a bit over the years (no metal implements locked around our heads), but it has not changed enough. It’s still ingrained in our society. We are still traditionally trained (maybe a bit unconsciously) that women should value empathy over strength. That we should be reasonable rather than decisive. That we should be meek and humble rather than loud and confident.
It took me a long time to break the habit of apologizing all the time. I felt that if I apologized when I said things then it would lighten the situation and not make me come across as intense or assertive. Because that was one of my fears. I feared not being liked because I was too intense. I feared other people’s judgments. I feared I would fail if people didn’t like me, or that I would be alone. I feared I would cause offense to those around me. I realized though that when I apologize for things then it comes across like I am the one to blame or that I am weak. It led me to be manipulated, ignored and not respected. It led me to be in survival mode when around other people.
I had to figure out what I would rather be seen as, weak or intense? Would I rather be respected or be manipulated? That’s an easy answer for me. I would rather be intense. I would rather be someone who gets things done, has an opinion and stands her ground. I would rather be myself than someone others want me to be.
I had to figure out what makes me afraid of what others think of me.
Who says I am not allowed to be intense? I am intense. But I am also kind, loyal and just overall an amazing person to have in your corner. I am not weak, but my language didn’t always show that. My fear of causing offense turned me into someone I didn’t want to be.
When I was 23, I remember my boss at the time telling me, “Devan, don’t apologize in your emails. Be direct.” after she saw a few of my emails I was sending out. I took her words to heart. That awareness that she gave me, is the same awareness I hope you leave with after reading my words. That awareness led me to figuring out why I apologized unnecessarily and to notice that other women do it too.
So, my reminder for you today is to stop apologizing. This isn’t an easy undertaking, so be patient with yourself and start by just being aware of the urge to apologize.
You do not need to apologize for existing. Or doing your job. Or asking for what you want. Or having an opinion. Or making a decision. Or for taking up space.
My biggest example of this is in our emails, especially business emails. You don’t need to start an email with the phrase “Sorry to bother you” or “I apologize, but the meeting has changed” especially when it is not your fault. If you catch yourself starting an email with an apology, before you apologize, ask yourself “was this my fault?” Or “do I want it to be seen as my fault?”.
Instead of saying “Hi Jim, I’m sorry but today’s meeting has changed to tomorrow at 3pm.” Let’s think of a better way to state this same thing, because this statement makes it seem like the meeting change is your fault.
Try, “Hi Jim, the meeting for today has changed to 3pm tomorrow. Thank you for adjusting.” The removal of the “sorry” helps the statement become more a fact and less of a problem you may have caused.
Another example of a typical situation: You haven’t responded to your friend’s text message to you in a few hours because you have been swamped at work. You may typically respond with “Hey, I’m so sorry, but work has been crazy”. This response sounds like you did something wrong.
Instead try, “Hey, work has been crazy! How about we catch up with drinks later?” This will let the friend know why you hadn’t responded, plus show that you want to chat with them without it coming across like you did something wrong.
One more example for you: Someone you are not interested in dating is texting you and trying to set up a date. You feel guilty that you don’t feel the same way so you tell them “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if this is going to work out.” This response makes it seem like there might be an opening in there for the person, when there is not.
Try saying “It was great chatting with you, but I am not interested in dating you.” This does not leave anything up for misinterpretation. It is clear and helps both sides understand.
Remember that it’s okay to be blunt. You are allowed to stand up for yourself and say what you mean.
Stop apologizing for existing and walk through every door UNAPOLOGETICALLY owning who you are.
You’ve got this!
If you have any other examples to share to help us work together and break through unnecessarily apologizing, please share it with us!