Choose Your Apologies Carefully

“Every time you take responsibility for something that isn’t yours to take responsibility for, you lose a little bit of self-esteem.” This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. 

Many women feel the need to take the blame for circumstances and situations so far out of their control in order to make things better. In many such situations, we know deep down that we haven’t done anything wrong. And yet, we feel the need to apologize, the need to “fix.” But all of this “fixing” that we find ourselves doing isn’t helping us to improve our relationships with ourselves. In fact, it’s only hurting us.

I know one too many girls my age who are involved in toxic relationships, romantically or otherwise. I too have been one of these girls at a point in my life. Often, these types of relationships make us constantly question what we have done wrong. Why did I say that? Why didn’t I handle that better? Why did I mess this up? More often than not, the answer to these questions is simple. You “said that” because it was how you felt. You “handled it” in the way you did because you thought at the time that that was the best approach. You didn’t “mess up” anything. You’re not in the wrong.

But, we get ourselves into a mindset where we convince ourselves that everything is our fault. That we can compensate for other’s mistakes and shortcomings by putting the blame onto something we can control: ourselves and our own actions. So we say “I’m sorry.”

We say it often, and we say it loosely. Even when, and especially when, there is nothing to apologize for. We say “I’m sorry,” in hopes that it will resolve the conflict or ease the tension. We take the responsibility, rather than demanding that others own up to it. And the temporary impact gives us exactly that: resolved tension, making up with friends or significant others, overcoming the conflict. 

But, in the grand scheme of things, that person just lost respect for us. We showed them that they can walk all over us, and we will take the blame. That they don’t have to own up to their actions, because we will take it upon ourselves to fix the situation. Consequently, we also lose respect for ourselves. We are saying to ourselves, “it’s your fault.” “You’re in the wrong.” And we are doing this so often that we begin to believe this image of ourselves. This person who constantly messes up and hurts others. Even when that image in our head does not line up with reality.

Beginning to notice where you place your apologies has been one of the biggest challenges in my life. Don’t get me wrong; when you have truly done something wrong that you should be sorry for, owning up to it and taking the blame is respectable and powerful. But too many of us take responsibility for far more than we are due. We tell ourselves that it’s on us when it’s not. 

So, I challenge you. Pay attention to how you use the words “I’m sorry.” Choose to say them carefully. Don’t give away your power and let others off easy by constantly apologizing. Begin to believe in the person that other people see you as. And you will see that you are far more than you are giving yourself credit for.