“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Who remembers that one? I hope you’ve figured out by now: it’s not true.
If you think back to my last article about basket weaving women and basketball playing men, you’ll understand when I say that men and women relate to “Sorry” in very different ways. Mistakes and misinterpretations happen because of this. Let’s explore, so you can use apology as appropriate instead of taking the risk of disempowering yourself and upsetting others.
I am vs I feel
First, let me explain why I use certain language. In today’s world, although it is common to say, “I am sorry,” I want to caution you about that. Am is an identifier. I am a woman. I am an American. These things identify me as a person. Therefore, when I say, “I’m sorry,” I identify myself as a defective human being.
This is not true, and to continue to reinforce it through language erodes power on a deep unconscious level. It is dangerous! I FEEL sorry when I’ve done something I regret, but I am not a bad person as a result. You get my point. I will be using I FEEL as it regards “sorry,” and now you know why.
Basket weavers apologize too much. Women are natural born people pleasers, and “I feel sorry” is one way we try to alleviate another’s pain. However… beware. We misuse/overuse this expression and disempower ourselves in the process.
I frequently hear women say “sorry” for things they had nothing to do with. Notice how automatic it is! For example, “I feel sorry that you had a bad day” implies that what happened was your fault. Not true. It also takes the focus off the other person and puts it on you. Not good. It is more powerful to find another way to express your concern.
- Try validating: “I understand how you might feel that way.”
- Offer help: “Gosh that sounds awful. How can I support you?”
Using “sorry” inappropriately undermines your power. You lose respect from others, especially men, when you misuse this principle. An article I read recently recommended saying “Thank You” instead of “Sorry.” “Thank you for your patience” instead of “Sorry I kept you waiting.” Notice the power differential! Thank you is gracious and honoring while maintaining parity. Sorry puts you in a secondary position.
To do our part in bringing about equality, we must stop undermining ourselves. This is one way to do that.
Men, on the other hand, tend to not apologize enough. Think of basketball. If everyone went around saying “sorry” every time they collided or elbowed or grabbed the ball or what have you, the game would not be much fun to play or watch. The warrior doesn’t apologize to the enemy and the hunter doesn’t say sorry to the prey. They just do the job and move on. As it should be.
Another reason apologies are hard for men is that it has the potential to make them feel inadequate, which is something they are hard-wired to avoid.
These two patterns explain why men don’t employ “I feel sorry” as often as women do. But… that doesn’t make it right.
Guys, if you stepped on a co-worker’s foot in the hallway at work, you would be expected to apologize. The same goes when you step on a female’s feelings, even if you did not intend to do it. Apologizing does not imply that you meant to do it, or that you’re bad and wrong for having done it, but you did participate, so it will help to acknowledge that.
Because…. It undermines your power with women when you don’t apologize. If you want a great relationship with the women in your life, whether family, co-workers, or significant others, you would do well to learn to add this to your relationship vocabulary and learn when and how to use it.
Grow your power
Women, first grow your power so you’re not so easily hurt. Then, if your hunter/warrior/basketball guy doesn’t apologize when you need to hear it, you can gently ask for it.
Men, first grow your power so “I feel sorry” doesn’t become “I am a failure.” Also, learn to validate women and you won’t have to say “sorry” to them as often.
Of course, there are times when I feel sorry, I regret, and I apologize are warranted. We must take responsibility for our errs in order to have safety, love and respect with each other. Your word will have more power and effectiveness when you learn direct it correctly instead of mishandling it.
*A note to my LGBT readers: Gender generalities still apply. Everyone tends to default to gender norms. However, you will likely express things differently based on how much masculine or feminine you personify.
**A note to all of my readers: This article is too short to cover all the nuances of sorry, apology, and I am versus I feel. I encourage you to explore for yourself and watch what unfolds.