A couple of months after I’d signed up for Netflix streaming this summer, my kids started watching old episodes of Nanny 911. I find the show strangely addicting. Families with screaming, violent, ill-behaved children – with stressed, angry, despairing and/or clueless parents – receive a week-long visit from a no-nonsense older Mary Poppins and in short order almost all becomes right with the world.
It’s a lovely formula.
What strikes me in these episodes is how little emphasis is placed on saying “I’m sorry.” That’s certainly not how I was raised. Back when I was a whippersnapper, an apology was often the only goal of any “learning moment.” And those learning moments often came after a back-handed slap or belted spanking.
“Say you’re sorry.”
“Say it now!”
“No dinner for you until you apologize.”
“I’m not hungry!”
Commence slamming of doors, sobbing . . .
Then, after years and years of always fighting to be in the right, of not giving an inch, something changed. I’m not sure quite when, but sometime in my early 20s, I realized an uttered “I’m sorry,” like golden glittery fairy dust, could cast its magic to diffuse pressure or deflect negative energy off of my back.
Apologizing became easy . . . second nature. Convenient.
Lately I’ve noticed how often I apologize and the many those apologies can take:
spoken for quick response so that I can get on with whatever needs to be done: “I’m sorry you don’t like peas. Eat them anyway.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” These, like the ones above, are meant to help a group function. Women often use them in work situations to move a project forward rather than getting locked in a contest of wills, or, as is often the case – pissing matches.
often in the form of defense –“I’m sorry you don’t like fiction.”
“Oh. Really? I didn’t know that.” Often these have an air of, “gee, I was too dumb to spot that fact.”
“I’m so sorry this has happened to you.”
heart-wrenching sincere apologies
there’s no stock example for these since they are sincere and utterly unique each time they’re spoken.
Here’s the light bulb that went off in my brain the other day: I think that when people get into the habit of apologizing quickly and often, there’s an unhealthy side-effect. They create an unexpected mythology about themselves. They start to believe they’re broken, that there’s a fundamental error deep inside.
Constant apologizers embrace ambient guilt without even realizing it. They become the kids that turn every time the lifeguard blows a whistle, even if they’re sitting on the grass innocently eating mustard-slathered hot dogs.
Right now, of course, I’m examining how I’ve used apologies and apologizing in my life. By writing about it today, I am not seeking sympathy. Instead, I’d love to discuss this topic with the ‘Rati community.
Have you ever thought about the role of apologizing in your own life?
Are there other kinds of apologies than those I mentioned? What are they?
Do you buy into the idea that too much apologizing can morph into an unintended sense of guilt?