Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

On a camping trip to the hotsprings a couple weekends ago, I thought I’d give myself a little challenge.

A challenge NOT to say “I’m sorry…” unless I was really sorry.

I had just heard my brilliant client and friend, Lea McLeod, describe the “Sorry Syndrome”—in which women undermine their communication by overapologizing.

I knew I had the Syndrome, but figured that because we were far from many humans (to whom I would be tempted to apologize needlessly), I had this in the bag.

I didn’t.

What happened is that the trickster universe pulled out all the stops to get me to utter those two little words.

It started immediately.

1. Stopping at the registration shack, I pull out $20 to pay for a campsite. “It’s 20 bucks a PERSON,” the grumpy guy says. “Whoops!” I say as I dug out another bill. Close, but no cigar.

2. We set up camp and I’m basking in the isolation when Bodhi, our puppy, slips out of his collar. He’s small and very fast, and begins running through campsites and tents, grabbing towels and pot holders and licking whoever he can.I sprint after him in bare feet over the stubbled desert grass.

As he dashes right into one guy’s tent, I call out, “Hi, could you grab that dog?” as nicely as I can.

“No!” the guy shouts back. “I don’t like dogs. I don’t like touching dogs.”

But I don’t cave…

“That’s OK! I understand!” I yell back.

After following Bodhi through a few more campsites, I come really close to reverting to old form. I’m almost out of substitute phrases: “Excuse me!” “Excuse him!” “Oops!” “Whoops!” “Hey, thanks for your patience!”

A woman catches him and hands him to me. I want to apologize so much I’m bursting. “Thanks for being so cool!” I say instead.

3. That night there are coyotes close by and the dogs don’t sleep. I’m out walking them in the morning and pass a bleary-eyed woman, sitting by her fire, nursing a mug of coffee. “Are those the dogs that were howling all night?” she asks.”Yes, these are the ones,” I mutter, feeling like a total jerk but managing not to falter: “Thanks for being so patient with them.”

4. I  stop by the porta pots on my way back. I pull open an unlocked door to reveal a horrified man, sitting on the john, pants around his ankles. “Whoops!” I say and slam the door shut.

I could go on to describe several more of the tempting opportunities I was given, but doing this super-challenging challenge got me thinking.

It’s no secret I’m a chronic over-apologizer—all my life I have begged forgiveness for everything from harmless, normal day-to-day goofs right on up to the major  stumbles and fumbles I’ve made. I get that. But a few days of not saying “I’m sorry” made me see something bigger.

I have been apologizing for me. For being me, and taking up space.

When I was little, I’d get into arguments with my brothers and say, “I’m sorry for BREATHING!”

Well, I think I’ve actually felt sorry for breathing. (Not easy to admit.)

And it has come through how I write and how I share my story.

When you get emails or read sales pages or people’s bios, do you ever feel the silent “I’M SORRY” behind the words?

We all see those multi-exclamation-point-apologies sent out when someone includes the wrong link in an email or hasn’t sent their newsletter for a while. But what I’m talking about runs deeper.

And it happens when you haven’t woven your story fully together. When you haven’t owned that thread that connects your mistakes, your triumphs, your funny stories, the things you love, the things that make you cringe, and the things that you don’t want any more of ever. I call that the Golden Thread.

It’s really (really) easy not to own it. Because it takes some work and some digging… Because it can be pretty hard to find it and follow it on your own… And because it’s really a lot easier to hide and not be seen for who you are and what you stand for.

But when you find it, things come together. (It’s a thread, after all.) You feel visible and on purpose and safe in a different way than you thought possible. And you realize there’s nothing about you that you have to apologize for.

If you want to find and unravel your Golden Thread, schedule a free 30-minute clarity session by clicking here.


3 Responses to Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

  • Julie Kemeny says:

    Great article! I stopped saying Sorry many many years ago when I worked for an attorney. He taught me that the word sorry incriminates you from the get go. Unless, you are truly sorry, it is a word that should remain sacred.

  • Wonderful post! Great insight.

  • Carolin says:

    Hi Madeleine. I love this post. I read recently that in business, women are always apologizing – I know I do – for the littlest things in an attempt to be polite and not step on anyone’s toes: Sorry to bother you; Correct me if I’m wrong; I hope you don’t think I’m pushy… What we’re really trying to do is make a point or be heard! We know we’re right but don’t want to show the other person up. Manners of course are good, but let’s not lose ourselves in them.