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Sunday, 22 April 2012

13. Saying "Sorry"

It has often been noted that saying ‘sorry’ to those closest to you can sometimes be the most difficult apology to muster.  Up until earlier this week, I had always thought that I was quite good at admitting when I was wrong and apologizing.  In fact, in my younger years, well-intentioned friends would point out I apologized too much.  “Why are you always saying you’re sorry?  Stop it!”  To which I would reply, “Really?  Sorry!”  And so, a conscious effort was made to curb my expressions of regret.

Over time, it became clear I had become so successful in reining in my ‘sorrys’ my vocabulary was near relinquished of the word.  In other words, I had gone to the OTHER extreme.  Not to say I didn’t apologize for little things like if we were playing tennis and I lobbed the ball and hit you straight in the eye, of course I would apologize!  But in instances where a heartfelt ‘sorry’ would have made someone (including myself) feel better, I stubbornly withheld, in the ill-founded opinion that if I apologized, then the other person would have won and I would be the loser.  And in situations where things really got heated, I quickly graduated from never standing up for myself to becoming very adept at giving as good as I got, throwing caustic barbs laced with venom and contempt.  More often than not, I found myself in situations where insults were carelessly launched in the heat of the moment – belatedly comprehending it was too late to make amends after the fact.  The damage was done – once my verbal missiles found its target, the damage was done and any apologies were paltry compared to the hurt caused.

Conscious of this destructive behavior, I took steps to find balance.  I was determined to always fight fair, holding internal debates about disputes, reasoning and dissecting until my conclusion led me to either stand my ground because I had fair cause, or concede I was in the wrong and apologize.   So that was my ‘fighting style’ by the time Matt came into my life.  I was not a ‘screamer’.  Nor was I a ‘thrower’ nor a ‘slammer’.  I would work it out in my head, before I said anything cross.  In time, Matt learned to give me a (wide!) 10-minute berth if I was upset.  Anything less would be met with “just give me time to work through it and allow me to be upset and let it out of my system by myself!”.

Thought I was doing a fair job of it until a couple of months ago, where at the end of a ‘discussion’, Matt pointed out he always seemed to be the one saying ‘sorry’.  I disagreed and pronounced that I was very good at apologizing, pointing out how I often expressed regret whenever I was cranky and snappish.  “But what about when we fight?” he pushed.  “Well, I do apologize…” I offered.  “When?” he pushed a little more.   “When I think I’m wrong.”  Oh-oh.  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized I wasn’t as good at apologizing at all!  But still, I didn’t give the exchange serious thought until a couple of days ago, something happened, I reacted, Matt snapped and I went quiet.  Retreating.  Thinking.  Dissecting.  He was right!  My reaction was inappropriate for the situation.  But when I opened my mouth to apologize, I found the words got stuck in my chest, reluctant to be released.  Ugh!  I AM really bad at saying sorry!  I battled it out in my head.  What was stopping me?  Pride?  Shame?  I needed to get it out (because it was the right thing to do) and I needed to do it instantly, before the moment ‘passed’. With that in mind, I apologized as honestly and sincerely as I could. 

Coincidentally, later on that day, I came across an excerpt about another aspect of being contrite: acknowledging and showing respect for someone else's point of view, and showing remorse for hurt caused.  Food for thought.  It made me recognize that whilst I had enormous respect for Matt’s views on things, I needed to work on the recognition and confession part of the equation.  And so, something else to add to my “work in progress” list.. that and "work on not being so darn stubborn!".   Let’s just hope I remember next time Matt and I have another ‘discussion’!


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