Listen, I don’t like apologizing either. Even as a chronic user of the word “sorry,” I don’t like getting called out. It’s a big blow to my ego when something goes awry because of what I said or did. It’s an internal struggle to remain focused on a resolution instead of competition. Once I muster up the apology, I feel better. It almost always results in a less tense situation and puts the conversation on a path of least resistance.
I didn’t grow up with apologizers. My grandma would say something cruel and if she got a negative reaction – she would approach the situation like “did you die, though?”
“Did it kill you?”
“No? I guess we’re good.
As funny as it is when I retell some stories at dinner parties – her inability to apologize has caused a lot of pain and resentment. Hurt still lives in the people who were on the receiving end of her poorly-delivered criticisms that were never followed by apologies.
The toughest part was feeling hurt and not being able to hide it. If I cried because of something she said, she’d seem almost annoyed by me.
She’d say things like:
“I just can’t say anything. You’re too sensitive.”
Or something really dramatic like “Fine. I just won’t tell you the truth anymore.” This was her way of deflecting the apology, obviously.
I did a little research on why it’s so difficult for people to apologize and I found that it has to do with avoiding vulnerability and shame. The people who have the hardest time apologizing, generally have the most frail egos and are more comfortable sticking to their guns, and even staying angry, than apologizing.
It dawned on me that my grandma was not a vulnerable person at all. I know very little about her trauma and her experiences as a child. I know that when she would become overwhelmed or stressed – her struggle would manifest itself in the form of physical illness. She had stomach ulcers and digestive problems, none of which had anything to do with her diet. She was bottling up emotions and dodging opportunities to make amends because it was too painful. I don’t think she had any clue how healing it would have been to put her heart on display to the people who really loved her and sought her validation. Something had to have happened to make her feel like she wasn’t safe in vulnerability and it pains me to think of what it could have been.
If my husband and I argue and he makes a comment that doesn’t sit well with me, and then proceeds to defend his comment instead of apologizing – I get seriously triggered. I feel like I’m standing in front of my grandma again – hoping that she’ll realize her mistake and take responsibility. And everytime that my husband apologizes – he helps me heal that little person. He reminds me that not everyone is afraid to be vulnerable. He shows me that my feelings are valid and even if I’m “too sensitive” I feel how I feel and that’s okay. It makes it that much easier for me to apologize when I’m the one who did something wrong.
There are two lessons here.
- If you hurt somebody you love, with words or actions, find a way to apologize. Even if it starts with “I’m not great at apologizing because I don’t like feeling vulnerable, but I’m working on it and I’m going to get better at it.” It’s so important that people feel validated. If you caused some hurt and you know it, take responsibility.
- Find a way to forgive the people who never apologized to you. In the words of Marianne Williamson, “The way of the miracle-worker is to see all human behavior as one of two things: either love, or a call for love.”
I forgive my grandma for not being perfect. I loved her. She was funny, she loved to read, and her compliments were as good as gold – because she never lied about how she felt. I still think about her and I cry because she isn’t around and I miss her.
I dedicate this post to my Mamuchi. I hope the after-life has healed her of her fear of vulnerability.