Long before Valley Girl speak made it into the Minnesota vernacular, I used the word “like,” like, all the time. I picked it up in school. Like, all my friends were doing it! But after a while, I hated how it made me sound, like, you know, like, dumb.
Forty-plus years later, “like” still creeps in when I can’t, like, you know, think of another word, like, to say in its place. Like, saying “like” gives me a few seconds to, like, think.
Another sometimes useless word that flows out my mouth like water over Niagara Falls is “sorry.” Despite what Elton John sings, “sorry” isn’t the hardest word, and I’ve been making an effort to be more aware of when I say it, to understand why I say it, and to discern if “sorry” is the right word in that moment.
These are a few of the instances in which I’m most likely to use the word “sorry”:
- When someone tells me about something bad or difficult going on in their life, and/or that someone they love has died.
While I truly am sorry for their pain and loss, I’ve learned that “sorry” can put sad or grieving people on the defensive or place the attention on me.
“Why are YOU sorry? It’s not YOUR fault,” some have said.
It’s important that I recognize when “sorry” is the right word, when there are more supportive words to express sympathy, and when I should keep my yap shut.
(Click here to listen to a short interview with Megan Devine, author of It’s OK that You’re Not OK, about what to say to someone who is grieving.)
- During an argument: “I’m sorry, but…”
I’m never truly sorry when I follow it up with “but.” Sorry might come later, but not in the heat of the moment.
- When someone accuses me of being too sensitive or of overthinking.
Yes, I’m sensitive. Yes, I overthink things sometimes. So why do apologize? Because I’m sensitive and I overthink things sometimes.
I’ve done some work on this. A few times in the last year, instead of turning myself over to a particular “You’re too sensitive!” accuser (someone I’ve known—and enabled—for years), I’ve told them that their words hurt me. They’ve responded by saying they didn’t think anything they said was “that bad,” but I stood by my words and I didn’t apologize.
Go me, I suppose, but damn…that’s a hard change right there.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys conflict, but I off-the-chart hate conflict. My go-to ways of dealing with conflict include: 1) get angry and deflect from the actual conflict; or 2) avoid. Being sensitive + averse to conflict = binge watching Ted Lasso.
I’ve spent hours in therapy talking about conflict, listened to hours of podcasts about conflict, and no matter how much “better” I’ve gotten at dealing with conflict, I will never ever be comfortable with it.
Which leads to…
- When someone I care about does or says something stupid/embarrassing or behaves badly.
I’m terribly uncomfortable calling out someone’s bad behavior in the presence of others. Instead, I apologize to those around me, or worse, make an excuse: “They didn’t mean it…” “That’s just the way they are…” Meanwhile, whatever they did or said festers in my gut and rolls over in my brain and eventually comes out as a passive-aggressive remark or behavior that has nothing to do with the original issue, which solves nothing.
- When I’m wrong and someone points it out to me.
- When I’m wrong and I (eventually) realize it myself.
The impetus for this blog post was an incident last week in which I acknowledged that something I did in a fit of frustration hurt someone I care about and I reached out with a sincere “sorry.” My apology didn’t make the hurt disappear, of course, but it was the first step toward repairing our relationship.
Becoming more aware of when I say and how I mean “sorry” has been an interesting introspection. It’s helping me better understand who I am and why I am the way I am, so that when I say (or not say) “sorry,” I know it’s coming from greater self-awareness.
At least, I hope it is. Like, I’m not, you know, real good at it yet.