A Letter to My Young Daughter About Apologies
In the past 48 hours, I have received four apologies from four different people in situations that didn’t require any apologies. The biggest punch to my gut came from my 3-year-old-daughter who tripped on my foot and fell, and then apologized to me for tripping on me unintentionally! It felt like a huge parenting fail that even at such a tender age, my child has learned to apologize even when she did nothing wrong.
This is why I’m writing this love letter.
Dearest Lovely Soul,
I want you to stop apologizing when you don’t need to be sorry. I won’t apologize to you for not teaching you this yet – I would be contradicting myself if I did. But, moving forward, from now I will teach you how to recognize when apologies are not needed.
I went through a phase in my 20s and early 30s where I would begin and end almost every conversation with apologies. I would apologize for taking up someone’s time, for needing help, for not understanding the other person, for wanting to chat, for being who I am, and so on and so forth. The list of my apologies truly was endless, as many of my friends can attest. I realized that I apologized so much because I never felt adequate. I felt like an impostor in my own life.
It took a lot of introspection and more than a decade of hard work for me to get to my current place in life – a space where I am unapologetically myself. Now, this doesn’t mean that my struggle is over. Apologies are something I still grapple with personally on a daily basis. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t apologize at all. I sincerely apologize when my actions are wrong– intentionally or unintentionally — or if I have crossed any personal boundaries. I just drastically reduced my apologies to only when they are truly necessary — where the consequences of my behaviors have caused harm to someone else. A couple of magical things happened with this transformation.
I started realizing the value I add to my own life and to situations by being myself without apologies. My apologies, when I do use them, have become exponentially more powerful, meaningful and sincere.
So, here are a few things that I learned in my journey that I hope will help you grow your extraordinary, passionate and vibrant soul:
No more apologies for being uniquely you.
After I stopped the constant apologies, I realized how much I had been holding myself back from growing. I was so consumed with all the “wrongs” I had done, that I had no space to even acknowledge, let alone celebrate, the good things in my life. I was stuck in a fixed, negative mindset. Apologies about our state of being tend to create these kind of downward spirals in our minds. We can’t even begin to imagine the possibilities of growth because we are so overwhelmed with the problems of “being us.”
You are a beautiful, profound and complex living entity. You learn, evaluate, assess and develop in some way or another in every single waking moment of your life. You are doing exactly what you need to be doing to survive, function and maybe even thrive. You are uniquely you, in every sense of the word “unique.” No one else out there has the exact same combination of your genes, body chemistry, psychology, personality, values, purpose and goals as you. No one. The experiences, thoughts and values you bring to any situation are magnificently diverse. They are not things that warrant apologies. So, please stop saying and thinking, “I’m sorry I am the way I am.” And, if someone ever demands an apology from you for being who you are, walk away. Don’t look back. They don’t deserve you.
No more apologies for feeling what you feel.
You are completely and wholly entitled to feel all your feelings. Let me repeat that: You are completely and wholly entitled to feel all your feelings. You don’t owe anyone an apology for your subjective experiences of emotions, ever. You are allowed to feel sad, anxious, fearful, happy, elated, ecstatic and even numb. Your state of mind is ultimately dependent on only one thing — you.
So, do what you need to do to process these emotions. Stay in these states of being for as long as you need. Let yourself feel grief, hurting, healing, anger, disappointment, hope and anything else you want to feel. Just let yourself be. Don’t let anyone or anything fool you into thinking otherwise. And, once again, if apologizing for how you feel is the path that you feel like you are being forced onto, walk away from that situation. Step out of that path by reminding yourself that you are the owner of your feelings.
No more apologies for your struggles in life.
Would you expect a cancer survivor to apologize for having cancer? What about expecting a homeless person to apologize for their homelessness, or someone who is poor to apologize for their poverty? Would you expect a child with a fever to apologize for having a fever? The answer to all of these questions is a singular and unequivocal no. So if you don’t expect other people to apologize for the struggles they face in their life journeys, why are you apologizing for your struggles? Give yourself the grace that you would the untold number of strangers that you empathize with. You are actively facing and battling your struggles in every day of your life. What you need is support and the space to be able to work through your struggles successfully. You certainly don’t need to be doling out apologies.
I remember a few times when I apologized to people for being a traumatic brain injury survivor. I went through a major trauma that completely stole my idea of self and identity from me. I was working hard, almost round-the-clock, to make sense of things and reclaim my life in very basic ways, and I was apologizing about it! If I could, I would go back in time and give that version of me a big hug. I would show her how much more potential and power life has when she finally stops being sorry about things that could help her grow exponentially.
No more apologies for needing help.
We all need help in one way or another, and we also seek help in whatever ways we can. This is a fundamental truth of the evolutionary history of our species and why we are the way we are. It is not wrong to ask for help. Asking for help when we need it is the smart choice…the wise choice. So, no more apologies when you ask for help. It is perfectly OK to be immensely grateful for the help you receive from anyone. Focus on the gratitude. Not on feeling sorry that you need aid.
And you don’t have to be gravely ill or suffering from some physical or mental health condition to ask help either. Asking for help does not take away from your ability at all. When you ask for help you are simply recognizing that what you need help with is something you cannot achieve on your own. So, no more apologies when you need help; instead, take the help and then thank the person(s) helping you. Express your gratitude sincerely. When you stop apologizing, you make space for being thankful.
No more apologies for saying what you mean.
Isn’t it crazy that in this modern world of instant communications in so many different forms, we’ve lost sight of the point of these communications? After all, the point of communications is to articulate and express what we are thinking on the inside, so that we can transmit and develop these thoughts with other people. It goes without saying that using tact and kindness in our communications with others is probably the smart and compassionate thing to do. It also helps if your thoughts are crystal clear to you before you speak them into the world around you. But, apologies as a regular part of communications should not be anyone’s norm.
For one, constant apologies make you seem less confident in your content. They make the other person doubt your credibility and they also make you doubt your own. Apologies also distract away from the actual matter of the conversation by shifting focus away from the content to the apology. While apologizing does show your vulnerability, saying sorry for what you mean, when you truly mean it and have said it in the best way possible, only takes away your power.
No more apologies for existing in a space.
…unless you are trespassing on private space without explicit permission to do so, in which case, please apologize profusely and try to avoid legal trouble.
When I say space, I mean both our physical environment in the world – the buildings we live in and go through, public transportation, grocery stores, malls, personal space between individuals etc. – and intangible space – conversations, chatrooms, virtual communities and so on.
When I was a grad student and shared office space, I remember apologizing to one of my suite mates simply for being there. I genuinely felt like my existence was somehow encroaching on her entire life and causing her great distress. I still have no explanation for why I felt this so acutely in that moment. Did I somehow pick up on some body language that indicated her discomfort because of my mere presence? Did she not like me or want to be around me? I don’t know. What I do know now is that regardless of these questions, I shouldn’t have apologized for my existence in a shared space.
We all breathe the same air, and we are made up of the same basic building blocks of life. Regardless of your job, title, position, education, socio-economic status, salary, ethnicity, gender, religion, or, veteran or disability status, your life and your time on earth are worth no more and no less than anyone else’s. It doesn’t seem that way because professionally, different people get paid differently at varying levels and socially, we have a host of phenomena that give preferential treatments to some people over others in a number of ways. All the structures in our lives “help” us forget our true worth as human beings very easily! But, at the end of the day, we are all human and we belong exactly where we want to belong. There are no apologies or permissions needed for us to exist.
In so many ways, society grooms us to be lifelong apologists. As adults it feels like the whole world tells us every day, in so many ways, that we are not quite good enough, not quite pretty enough, not quite skilled enough, not quite smart enough, not memorable enough, not strong enough, not vulnerable enough, not authentic enough (again, never-ending list, really). With all of the negativity and doubt we deal with professionally, culturally and societally, I am surprised that any of us are hopeful about life at all! To add to this, we internalize this brainwashing so much that the very thought of being unapologetic sounds like a crazy, negative trait that we should stay away from. But, this is also precisely why we have to break the habit of apologies (or even better, don’t develop this habit in the first place)!
All that being said, I cannot wait to bear witness to the amazing and unabashedly unapologetic life that is simply waiting for you to make the most of!
A version of this story originally appeared on ajrao.com.
Photo credit: ChristinLola/Getty Images