Why I don’t beat myself up over being wrong, and why you shouldn’t either.
Here’s the thing, I call myself out a lot when I think I’m in the wrong. Because of this, I’m pretty good at apologizing.
But here’s the corollary: I also don’t beat myself up over it. I mess up, stuff happens, life goes on. I make mistakes (I’m sure other people do too, I just don’t see them nearly as much as my own).
So if I mess up (more like when…), here’s what I do:
1. I admit it as soon as possible after the ball’s been dropped (by yours truly, of course).
2. I apologize*
*Huge caveat: I only apologize if I can do it sincerely. It can’t just be to sound like how I’m “supposed” to sound in that particular situation, and it can’t be because I think I’m expected to to it. If I don’t think I actually did anything wrong, I can’t apologize– because that would be insincerity/lying, and is kind of antithetical to what an apology is about. If you apologize for something you don’t really feel sorry for, then you’re encouraging a relationship based on false feelings. Ultimately, that relationship is kind of worthless, if you’re required to lie about who you are to maintain it.
Another way of saying it is this: if someone needs you to apologize, but you don’t think you need to, then you have other issues to work out that you simply fake-apologizing will only cover up temporarily. Those types of relationships either need rehab, or to fade into oblivion like MMMBop (or for those of you to whom that reference is lost upon: a meteor will also suffice as a visual aid). Don’t waste your time doing anything but either fixing what’s truly worth it for you to keep, or moving on from that which isn’t.
Let’s do an example. (They’re just so fun)
If, for instance, your friend Shelby gets upset that you talked to her ex, who’s also your friend, you may be in a spot where you’re expected to apologize. Shelby wants you to show loyalty to her by disowning all people whom she has a problem with. And apparently, all of your relationships with friends must filter first through her approval guide.
But if you personally find this logic annoying at best, totally unbalanced and nuts at worst, then you can’t apologize. If you think your friend Shelby is being a nutso biyatch, then you can’t, in all good conscience, apologize for something you don’t think you did wrong.
You can say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Shelby” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” But you can’t actually say (sincerely) “I’m sorry I talked to Steve.” And that might be what she wants to hear– and that might be the only way to truly end the argument. But you’d be doing it under false pretenses. That means, continuing the relationship only based on a false premise– that you agree it’s wrong to talk to Steve.
That would mean one of two things:
A. You agree to cut your relationship off with Steve, in which case you’ll likely resent Shelby for controlling your life and making you feel the need to do this.
B. You won’t stop being friends with Steve (because you don’t really think that’s necessary), in which case your duplicity is patently obvious, and you’ll likely be found out again, in which case you’ll be back where you started (and Shelby will really be expecting a major apologetic overhaul this time).
Not to mention until then, you’ll be worried she’ll find out you’re secretly going to the movies with Steve this Friday (whoops, now we’ve got another problem on our hands…Look, that’s gonna have to wait for another post)
You can say, “I’m sorry that upset you,” with honesty. But you really can’t say “I’m sorry I talked to your ex boyfriend” and actually mean it– when what you really mean is this: “I’m sorry I talked to your ex boyfriend Steve, even though your break up had nothing to do with me and he was a mutual friend of ours before you started dating… So actually, that’s batshit-crazy now that I think of it… I’m actually not sorry at all that I talk to Steve. In fact, he’s a better friend than you because he’s not the one hounding me about this crap!”
See how that works? Right. It doesn’t.
Either mean it, or zip it.
Apologies can be cathartic and are perhaps the best way to finally feeling peace after a lot of mental and emotional tension caused by a disagreement– when they’re sincere. But apologizing can also be catering to lighter forms of mental illness and giving people their own way for demanding too much of so-called friends.
Make sure you’re doing what’s best for the relationship and yourself, and not simply giving in in order to keep the peace. If you have to capitulate too much for any one relationship, you’d be wise to ask yourself, what exactly makes this worth it?
Additionally, if you’re constantly running around apologizing for things you don’t actually feel remorseful for doing, your apologizes will soon become like the peso– not worth very much.
When you can apologize because you mean it, that’s great! Because you learned a lesson. You are then an even better person than you were before you made the mistake (even though you may have seemed cooler to the person you pissed off, prior to making that mistake…) They just don’t realize what a good bargain keeping you on as a rehabbed friend really is!
As a rule, I want to populate my life with people who are laid back, and who value the same types of things I do. Things go much more easily when you surround yourself with people on the same value/apology-wavelength.
If you feel like you’re apologizing too much, or they’re not apologizing enough, and one of you is consistently getting offended, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for a more compatible friendship. It’s stifling to try to change yourself so as not to ruffle feathers, when that’s what you naturally do. Maybe just go find a friend with some scales, instead. Your old friend will be much happier with a gentler spirit, and you won’t have to listen to John Mayer’s “My Stupid Mouth” on repeat, while crying into your muzzle.
I have to eat crow all the time. But for me, I consider it an occupational hazard. I think a lot, write a lot, and put a lot on the table. I like people to know how I feel, and I want to know how they feel, too. I take chances, but I tell the truth (sometimes my truth changes from day to day). Sometimes they pay off well and other times they take me a few steps back. The truth is, I’m not trying to piss people off, I’m just being myself. But by virtue of that, I do piss some people off.
To some I apologize, for instance when I understand why they’re upset, or I realize where I actually did go wrong, and usually I can’t sleep until I fix it. I like apologizing, because I really do like keeping the peace. But there are always going to be people who disagree with what you do (whether it’s in your career, how you raise your kids, what your marriage is like, or any other number of infinite possibilities, there are going to be people who criticize you for it, internally or otherwise). If you run around apologizing for every single thing you do, you’re kind of like living in reverse. Apologize for what rings true to you as something you need to work on, but don’t apologize unless the feeling of wanting to repent is truly there.
Knowing when not to apologize is important to maintaining your equanimity. You don’t want to feel like a puppet who’s made to dance every time the master snaps their fingers. Apologies are not meant to manipulate. Sometimes people are going to find fault with your prerogative. Apologizing to every critic is like dissolving your backbone in an acid wash– (if that needs further explanation it’s this: don’t do it.) Maintain what’s important to you and have enough understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing, to know that you stand behind it and why.
You don’t owe everyone an explanation, but keep it in your back pocket to remind yourself in times of doubt. There will be people who love and agree with what you’re doing, and others who think it’s ridiculously stupid. If you look at anyone with any amount of success in the world, you will see that that’s true for everyone, perhaps even greater, the more successful the person.
Open your mouth when necessary, and say what’s in your heart. And know when to back off and understand that sometimes we unconsciously make room for more compatible relationships through discord with current ones. Maybe it’s time to move on from the friend who sees the world so differently from you. And maybe that space will make room for someone who can support you on your current journey a bit more, and vice versa. Maybe your big mouth will be better appreciated elsewhere. (At least, that’s what I like to tell myself…)
Apologize, but don’t do it out of fear. Do it with the strength of your full conviction behind it, or don’t apologize at all. It’s a sword that cuts both ways, and make sure it’s being used on your behalf and not against you as a manipulative tool by someone who cares more about getting their own way or protecting their fragile ego, than maintaining a happy and mutually fulfilling relationship.
I’d like to add I apologize pretty freely when I feel I’ve done wrong, but the best relationships are the ones where I’m not continually inspired to do things that annoy the other person, and so I’m continually apologizing (or expected to).
People who are out for sympathy and apologies at every turn are what I like to call high maintenance. There’s nothing wrong with that per-se, if that’s what you’re into. I’m just a low-maintenance kind of person. I try to be understanding when someone does something I don’t love, especially if they apologize, but even if they don’t, I can usually see something from their perspective and I try to give benefits-of-the-doubt out like candy at Halloween.
So, sometimes I like to think I’m allowed a little slack to mess up now and again– and my good friends will roll their eyes or call me out with humor, instead of hit block on the contact list. It’s a two-way street.
Over all, I don’t think things are really that big of a deal. Like, ever. (Because they’re not. Seriously.) If I do start making a big deal out of things, I know I’m usually the one who’s being unbalanced, not the other person. And I know nothing anyone can do to me really hurts me, unless I give them that power. (And why would you give someone or something that you can’t control the keys to your feelings like that?)
Know when you’re wrong, and make amends. But don’t live your life in guilt. Be yourself. If you feel bad, own up to it and apologize. You will feel much better. But if you don’t feel bad, don’t compromise your values for a false apology. The relationship with someone else is not worth selling yourself, and your own true values, short. Surround yourself with people who value you as you are deep down, and with the people who are willing to stand by your side as you change and grow. We all make mistakes along the way, and your best friends are the ones who are able and willing to roll with the punches. People who get offended too easily and require constant reassurance to maintain the relationship are excess weight in a long journey.
Personally, I prefer to travel light.
Know thyself and stay true to that. Your true friends will find you and stand by your side, and the rest will fall away. The best things in life don’t require will power or constant vigilance to maintain. Other people are in your life, but ultimately you’re the one who has to live with yourself. Know what’s important to you, defend that with your actions (including apologies), and let the rest go.
I’m sorry that this is the last sentence.