Years ago a friend told me to stop saying I'm sorry all the time which I denied doing and also felt immediately defensive. As with anything that strikes a nerve, I knew it meant I needed to examine it more deeply. How often DO I say I'm sorry? Under what circumstances do I make apologies? For what and to whom am I apologizing? In my growing awareness, I discovered I was a constant apology machine:
I was sorry for speaking.
I was sorry for having an opinion that caused disappointment.
I apologized for staying, leaving, changing my mind or even for the space I was taking up.
I was sorry for things that weren't my responsibility.
And for things that needed no apology at all.
Hell, I was sorry for being sorry.
I passed out apologies to keep the peace. I said sorry to be accepted. I apologized out of fear and shame. It was such a part of my internal make up that I really hadn't even heard myself saying it....until I became so aware that I couldn't unhear myself.
Too many of us were inadvertently taught to be "less"...and not to make waves. Because somehow otherwise we were "too much" in countless ways. I also noticed that "too much" is always defined by someone other than ourselves until we take to believing it too and act accordingly. This starts in childhood, ladies. It was in the messages of how to act, react and conform. It was in the message we received when we were told "don't be silly" when we didn't want to hug the creepy relative. Later, it translated into staying in unhealthy relationships because we had duty and obligation and "staying" is what was often modeled for us and also expected ...especially if it was "for the children." When you start out not being heard, the idea of feeling comfortable in your own power can also feel like you are burdening everyone else. We don't realize how deep that message runs and how far out into the future it affects everything. For me personally, it also occurred to me that it was in my DNA as a Cherokee whose ancestors had their land stolen and rights taken away, that there was some innate propensity to be less because it is in my genetics to be marginalized and diminished. The truth is, lots of us come from generations of unacknowledged, painful or hushed stories of all kinds. I sometimes still catch myself saying sorry in this way....but it's alarming how often I hear it. And we do it for the tiniest of things. Yesterday in the grocery store, I encountered two separate women who all-too-easily apologized for the space they were taking up in narrow aisles. I struck up a conversation with one by asking, have you ever noticed that we women have a tendency to apologize for everything? I've asked this same question many times before and the response is always so similar: the immediate recognition that they do it all the time and often don't know why. In our short conversation she shared "I think I do it so that people won't be mad at me." I smiled at her, acknowledging the feeling and replied "Just remember that it's okay to take up space." She smiled so big and thanked me for the reminder. So I just want to take this moment today to remind all of us: You don't have to be sorry for being yourself. Or for the space you take up. Be you and do it fearlessly. Embrace your own presence, your voice, your talents, your weirdness, your everything. You matter. Let's go out there and gently remind all the women in our lives it's okay to take up space.