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“I’m Sorry” Usage 5: “I’m sorry, but…”

I’ll share a story with you: I was at one time in a relationship with someone who almost never apologized without trying to explain why he shouldn’t have to be apologizing. “I’m sorry, but you were irritating me so much…”, “I’m sorry, but I’m really tired and this is not the best time…”, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to do.”

Let me say – if we feel like we should apologize, we should NEVER temporize it. No buts. If we’re accepting that we’ve done something wrong, then we accept it. Any apology that starts with, “I’m sorry, but…” is not an apology, it’s an accusation. “You were irritating me, and that’s why!”, “I’m really tired, your timing is very poor!”, “I don’t know what to do, why are you bothering me?!” This isn’t accepting that we’ve behaved poorly. This is attempting to shift blame, and justify our actions.

I’m not saying we should apologize for everything, or that there aren’t times when people expect us to apologize when we haven’t actually done anything wrong. I AM saying… that if we can’t apologize without trying to justify our actions, then we may as well skip the apology. Our justification will make the words, “I’m sorry,” meaningless.

Next time: Usage 6: Apologies are Important

“I’m sorry.” Usage 4: Genuine Regret/Sorrow

Usage 4: Genuine regret, or sorrow.

This, of course, is what we normally think of when we think of the words, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh dear. I broke your favorite glass figurine. I’m so sorry!”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to give you a ride that time.”

This usage doesn’t really require any explanation. It’s why the phrase exists in the first place. To apologize when we’ve done something wrong, hurt someone, disappointed them, etc. In my experience, the challenge comes in keeping a balance between NOT apologizing merely to defuse hostility, and NOT apologizing to accept blame for something that isn’t our fault, yet still remembering to apologize when we really have something to apologize for.

I’ve often been accused of apologizing too much, too often, or when it wasn’t needed. There’s a tendency, I think, for people to view apologies as always showing weakness or accepting blame. “Why should I feel sorry for that?!” seems like a common refrain these days. There’s a common mistake that we tend to make, when the words “I’m sorry” are actually appropriate.

This one is short, so perhaps I’ll put the next one up right away.

Next time: Usage 5: “I’m sorry, but…”

Walking Requires Headphones…

This cool spring morning, I woke up far too early, and couldn’t sleep, so I decided to enjoy the birdsong and sunrise with a brief walk.

It’s been a while since I went walking on my own, and I was reminded strongly of why I previously made a policy of always either having a companion, or having headphones with music or an audiobook.

Let me share my train of thought… on my jaunty little trip.

When I left the house, I was thinking about the smell of the blossoms in the air, and the birds singing, and how it was early enough that there was no traffic or construction sounds yet. Before I’d walked more than 10ft from my own driveway, my thoughts turned to realizing that I hadn’t been out on my own in a while, noting that although it wasn’t full daylight yet, there was plenty of light, and it wasn’t SO quiet that I should be worried that no one would notice or hear if I screamed.

Then my mind wandered to what I was wearing (jeans, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, jacket) and I mentally noted that I wasn’t wearing high risk clothing, remembering something I saw on TV years ago about how certain rapists target individuals wearing overalls, because they’re easier to remove… just cut the straps. From there, I contemplated that I haven’t seen overalls much in the stores lately, and wondered if there was a correlation. Maybe I just don’t shop at stores that carry them?

By then, I had crossed the street, walked almost to the corner, and remembered again that the scent of the flowers was wonderful and the birds were putting on quite a show this morning. I contemplated the reason for my walk – enjoyment and exercise… for maybe a minute or two.

After that, my mind wandered over every current problem in my life, assessed the risk factor of every person walking, standing, or sitting anywhere near my path, debated how long I wanted to walk…

On my return trip, I was going back over how unpleasant the ending of my last job was. Then I stopped my train of thought and said… ‘Wow, this walk has had way too much negativity. I really need to wear headphones if I’m walking alone.”

Not that I wouldn’t be thinking these things anyway, but at least then they’d be background thoughts.

Just sayin’.

Verbal abuse… yeah, it is that bad.

Trigger warning: This post discusses various forms of abuse to both women and children, not limited to verbal abuse.

A quote from an article I found…

Article: Domestic Violence – To say emotional abuse bad insults battered wife.

Domineering, bullying husbands who shout at their wives but never lift a finger to hurt them would find themselves in court.

Let me tell you: this is not domestic violence. It is an absurd idea to define such acts in that way, and worse, it serves to trivialise genuine cases of domestic abuse.

Let me share some things about what it’s like to be receiving abuse that has no visible signs.

It’s like a perfect crime. There’s no evidence and no proof outside of the insecurities and fears of the victim, and their inability to recognize their own self-worth or that it isn’t their fault.

I was 3 years old when my mother married my step-father. I couldn’t tell you when the abuse started. What I can tell you, is that my most vivid memory of the man is from when I was four years old.

My mother wasn’t home at the time. We lived in a little trailer in a trailer park, and it was one of those rare occasions when I was stuck at home with this man, who I accepted reluctantly but never really liked. I don’t have any memory of what I was up to that day. All I remember is the confrontation. I had used the toilet. Some short while after I had, he went into the bathroom and found a bit of pee on the toilet seat. To my step-father, this was totally unacceptable, and was a result of me ‘playing around on the toilet’. (I had the habit back then of sitting on the toilet seat sideways, because it was easier to not fall in that way. He defined this as ‘playing around’.)

So, he came to talk to me about this ‘crime’. He told me that I’d been playing around on the toilet, etc. When I tried to explain, he yelled. When I started crying, he asked me, “Why did you get pee on the toilet seat?” His intention was for me to parrot his words back at him, so he could be sure his brainwashing had worked. When I couldn’t complete a sentence, because I was sobbing, and all I could get out was, “I…” repeatedly, like a stutter, he mocked me with, “I, I, I, is there something wrong with your eye?” I sat there, for at least an hour, being yelled at, mocked, and put down, sobbing too hard to speak, while he tried to force me to admit that I had been ‘playing around on the toilet.’ When the doorbell rang, he sent me to my room.

My step-father wasn’t the only abusive male authority figure in my life. I also had an uncle who, shall we say, was ‘fond’ of ‘little girls.’ Unfortunately, my experiences with him were subtle enough that at the time, I failed to even recognize them as abuse. I had someone at home who routinely yelled and screamed, spanked, and shoved my mother around (though never actually with enough force to physically harm her). How was I supposed to realize that my soft-spoken uncle who never actually ‘hurt’ me was being abusive? When I was about 9, he was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. I was on the list of victims.

The constant emotional abuse I’d been undergoing at home ensured that my reaction to this would not be to speak up and add my testimony to the case. Instead, I was terrified of going to court, and ashamed that I hadn’t had the right reaction to this, and hadn’t said anything before. I couldn’t let anyone know that I had failed to be perfect. Not being perfect was a crime that would be punished in my world. I lied. I told my parents that if anything had happened, I must have been asleep, because I didn’t remember anything.

My experience with abusive male authority figures was by no means limited to these. There were several other abusive male relatives. Verbal abuse was most common, but often spilled over into violence. Even my own step-father would lose patience with shouting and yelling and putting us down eventually and resort to the belt, pushing and shoving, or in one instance when I can only remember the event second-hand when I was telling someone about it, the whip.

To say, “…the definition of domestic violence is quite clear: if you are not in fear of your life, you are not suffering it,” means that you are denying help to any but the most extreme of cases. In fact, you are denying help to those who quite probably need it the most – those who are so cowed by their abuser into believing that everything is their own fault that they don’t realize they are being abused, and sometimes seek suicide as a result. It’s the perfect crime – you convince someone that they are so worthless, they take their own life, saving you the trouble. No physical evidence. People who define domestic violence the way you do make it easy for abusers to continue abusing, so long as they’re careful not to leave physical marks.

You’ll never convince me that just because I don’t have any physical wounds to show means that I wasn’t violently abused. As a teenager, I hid in a closet anytime a male started yelling. I had a mental state that told me that I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes, and everything was my fault. As an adult, I was diagnosed with ‘Generalized Anxiety Disorder’ and still struggle to overcome the anxiety attacks this causes. 32 years later I still sometimes sit on a toilet feeling like I need to justify the fact that four year old girls can get a tiny bit of pee on a toilet by pure accident, without ‘playing around.’

Defining domestic violence as something only experienced by those in fear of their lives is allowing the abuse to continue until a victim is in danger of losing their lives by refusing to recognize it as a crime until it’s been taken to extremes.

“I’m Sorry” Usage 3: Empathy/Pity

Usage 3: Empathy (Or Pity)

One very common usage of the phrase ‘I’m sorry,’ which I haven’t used much myself, is to express empathy or pity for someone who is experiencing something rotten. As in, “I’m sorry you have to go through that, it must be awful.” Or, “I’m sorry to hear that your father died, is there anything that I can do to help?” Personally, I’ve always felt that when we use that phrase in this way, we are mis-using it. Anytime I tell someone that I’m feeling bad, and they respond with, “I’m sorry,” I have to fight the temptation to reply, “Why? It isn’t your fault.”

While that’s a habit I’m trying to break, since I feel it would be better to take things in the spirit in which they were intended rather than objecting to the delivery, it’s still a usage I try not to use myself and would discourage others from using. Consider these two statements:

  1. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.”
  2. “Oh dear, that must be awful. I can’t imagine. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Both express roughly the same sentiment, but one of them doesn’t try to take responsibility for whatever the negative thing is. Personally, whenever I am really feeling miserable about something, and someone comes along trying to apologize for it, it irritates me. It’s like they’re trying to make me feel bad for them, and get me to tell them that it isn’t their fault really, and they don’t need to feel so bad. Forget that. They’re not the ones with cause to feel rotten, I am. Stop bloody apologizing for the trials the universe has laid on me. If you want to give me a hug or help me cope – just do it. Words can be cheap at a time like that without actions to back them up.

Consider something else about the above two statements. One of them is a shortcut. “I’m sorry” seems often used as a short-cut, with the assumption that the individual being addressed will of course understand that what we really mean is: “I wish I could help.” “I want to help.” “Is there anything I can do?” “Please cheer up.” “Can I give you a hug now?” “Do you need a hug?” “I empathize, having been through something similar.” “Ick. I totally understand.” “Wow, that sounds really difficult to deal with.” Etc. etc. etc.

Wouldn’t it be so much better to say what we actually mean?

Now let’s consider the difference between ‘Empathy’ and ‘Pity’

Merriam-Webster definition of Empathy

2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicitmanner; also : the capacity for this

Who here wants to be told that I pity them? Show of hands? Zero, really? Well, I’d agree. If what you’re trying to express is pity, then go away… your pity is no help to me at all, and it’s insulting. The original meaning of the word is merely to:

a : sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy
b : capacity to feel pity

2: something to be regretted <it’s a pity you can’t go>

But Wikipedia has something interesting to say about Pity:

Pity originally means feeling for others, particularly feelings of sadness or sorrow, and was once used in a comparable sense to the more modern words “sympathy” and “empathy“. Through insincere usage, it now has more unsympathetic connotations of feelings of superiority or condescension.[1]

Food for thought before expressing to someone, “I’m sorry” as in, “I feel sorry for you.”

Next time: Usage 4: Genuine Regret/Sorrow