It’s no secret that we live in a world where a certain degree of social conditioning is not only normal, but somewhat worshipped.
Nor is it a secret that this scope under which we place all of humanity excludes a significant amount of the population, consequentially denying exposure to more fitting opportunities and forcing “the misfits” into any number of unpleasant circumstances.
As a notable result, it’s sadly more common than it should be that we (the “misfits”) feel the need to apologize for being who we are. But what’s even more upsetting is that this need to apologize often consumes us from a young age, typically coinciding with our first steps on that ladder of social conditioning.*
As children, it’s not always easy to understand our influences and how they affect us. But as adults? We figure it out eventually—and it’s usually the hard way.
We run into wall after wall and we realize that not one of these acceptable, “normal” paths is right for us. Try as we might, we can’t see where we fit in these carefully sculpted ways of making a life, though chances are that we’ve really tried.
But chances are also that we’ve failed.
Ok, maybe “failed” is too harsh. (No such thing, right?) But we certainly haven’t succeeded in those realms where we tried so hard to conform—to just “be normal, like everyone else.”
I’ve tried and failed plenty of times when it comes to being someone more acceptable, more likely to succeed, more normal and more lovable.
But my most recent failure opened my eyes quite abruptly:
I’M ALWAYS APOLOGIZING.
I’ve always been subtly aware of this tendency, that seemingly every other word or phrase out of my mouth was an apology—”I’m sorry,” “it will never happen again,” “that was entirely my fault.” You get it.
But only recently did I connect the dots, catching the parallel lines running through what I’ve habitually said and what I’ve consistently felt about myself: My verbal apologies were merely surfaced manifestations of a deeper apology for being this not-quite-normal, not-quite-successful mess of a human.
I’ve tried and quit things. I’ve run away from things. I’ve stifled my intuition out of fear for being guided down a road less traveled, one that would certainly not be seen as normal by the standards I’ve learned in this world.
So I made a habit of feeling guilty—of being sorry—for being who I am. For doing what I do. All the time.
And I know I’m not the only one. I know there are many of us, and we all have our own reasons for being overly apologetic.
But if we’re busy apologizing for everything—for just existing, even—then how can we have the courage to create the life that feels like “home” in a world that’s trying to tell us what that should mean? Who are we to seek fulfillment if we can’t even come to terms with the fact that we are the way we are—and that it’s not an inherently bad thing?
We can’t live our lives as walking apologies. Being sorry takes too great a toll on its victims.
So it’s time to not be sorry. And these simple shifts in habit have given me a good place to start:
1. STOP SAYING THE WORDS “I’M SORRY.”
Yes, it’s that obvious. The first and most tangible way of not being sorry is by not saying the words “I’m sorry.”
Simply because I’m sure someone else will say it if I don’t, I’ll note that we should say we’re sorry (and we should mean it) if we actually do something wrong. If we do any harm, whether it’s intentional or not, we should apologize as deemed appropriate in the situation. (Duh.)
But if we are constantly throwing that sentiment around (*guilty*), the verbal habit becomes quite believable; we see ourselves as wrong for speaking, for sharing, for feeling, for doing, etc. when really, we’re just being. And simply being is no reason for apology, because being who we are isn’t wrong.
So stop saying you’re sorry (unless you actually should). Try being not sorry. And, what the hell, go ahead and say “not sorry” out loud— to someone else or to yourself—if it helps you make sense of this groundbreaking message you’re using ultimately to rewire your thought patterns. Say it until you truly believe it. (And if it floats your boat, keep saying it even after you believe it.)
2. DO SOME DEEP INVESTIGATIVE WORK TO FIGURE OUT WHY YOU FEEL THE NEED TO BE SORRY ALL THE TIME.
Good news: We didn’t emerge from the womb screaming “I’m sorry, Mom!”
And even if we could speak (you know, with words) in those first moments of our lives, we wouldn’t apologize—and that’s because we are not apologetic beings by nature. Compassionate and empathetic and sensitive, maybe; apologetic, no.
So, we must recognize that this habitual reasoning for being sorry is false and born of heavily structured social conditioning, which is really just a bunch of bullsh*t anyway.
Once we realize that we’re not doing anything wrong, and so we have no reason to be sorry, it’s a little easier to let that feeling become what it is: Conditioned. Made up. Not real. Not helpful.
So make a practice of letting it go. Realize when you’re feeling the need to apologize and ask yourself why you feel that way; if the situation requires a sincere apology from you, be a good and mindful human and say you’re sorry. If not, see what you can do to stop yourself. Remember, you’ve done nothing wrong by being you.
So break the cycle. Don’t be sorry. (See “not sorry” exercise above.)
Break it over and over again, even if you feel silly or ashamed. Again, do it until you believe it.
3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE.
As mentioned above, the need to be sorry all the time reflects a deeper belief that who we are as individuals is somehow wrong. That belief (or any belief for that matter) is not something with which we are born.
When approaching any analysis of social conditioning, one must acknowledge that we (people) are the sources of its results. We condition each other. We create and perpetuate and sustain the society which encourages people to fit a certain mold, have a certain job, be a certain way, etc.
We enable a society that requires approval, and in doing so we enable a society that calls for shame and guilt when that approval is not met.
But we can also be the people who love and accept each other for being exactly who we are—no approval or standards necessary.
Instead of placing ourselves under norms and expectations, we can simply love. (Radical thinking, I know.)
So consider the people with whom you spend your time: Are they pushing you in any way to be anything other than yourself, burying you with shame (either discreetly or straightforwardly) for not being successful with your attempts? Have these people hurt you in the past and somehow convinced you (with direct accusations or with actions implying blame) that it’s your fault?
If so, do yourself a favor: Don’t spend time with them.
Don’t spend time with those who manipulate you to feel that your existence is reason enough to apologize, because 1) that’s not true and 2) that’s not love. Love is being accepted and appreciated for who you are without conditions or restrictions. Love is being seen in your entirety without hearing “I wish you were different.”
Because those who truly love you will thrive off of your unsuppressed, uninhibited, totally liberated you-ness. So don’t you dare waste yourself away by spending time with anyone who encourages you to stifle the brilliance that you are.
I may know relatively little about the world and life and the things we’re “supposed” to do here, but something tells me that we are not here to apologize. Something deep within me has come to understand that life cannot be fully lived through an apologetic existence—that there is love to be missed and joy to be left untouched if we walk this earth only offering the words “I’m sorry.”
So consider this a necessary change. Be not sorry, and say it.
Say it out loud, say it with what you do—say it with how you choose to live your precious life.
Keep saying it, and someday you’ll believe it. And when that day comes, you’ll realize that being who you are is an epically beautiful gift that’s been overlooked and underappreciated with a lifetime of sorries; but you’ll also smile, because those days are gone.
You’ll smile because you’ll feel the freedom that comes with being who you are. And you won’t be sorry about it.
*I am aware that there are other causes—abuse, trauma, etc.—for such a psychological effect; however, the intent of this article was more to shed light on the effects of perceived social norms and conditioning.
This post originally appeared on Elephant Journal.