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Self Worth

“Sorry Not Sorry:” How I Stopped Apologizing and Reclaimed My Worth

"There’s an immediate power shift when you speak without apology."

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Written by Martina Taylor.

Art by Emily Allen.

In what seems the biggest defeat of all, I have come out to myself as a people pleaser.

 

You see, I find myself prioritizing other peoples’ comfort at the expense of my own well-being—a lot. Why, yes, you can say something rude, and I’ll laugh nervously to ignore my discomfort. And oh, by the way, would you like me to do something for you? I don’t have the time, and I don’t even like you, but of course I can do it!

 

If someone bumps into me in the hallway—I’m sorry! If I have a question or need, I’m sorry about that, too.

“I’m sorry” has become my catchphrase at this point. If someone bumps into me in the hallway—I’m sorry! If I have a question or need, I’m sorry about that, too. The thing is, “sorry” isn’t a throw-away word. We shouldn't be using it to make our existence palatable to others. This is real life (surprise!), and it’s not necessary to throw in an “lol” or an emoji to let the other person know we’re not being rude. Our words hold more weight than we think.

 

It’s not like I apologize all the time on purpose. It’s a habit, a role I have learned to play from a very young age. As a young adult, I still find myself in this mindset, even though I was raised to be a strong, independent woman.

So, all at once, I decided to stop saying “I’m sorry” unless I actually mean it.

 

There’s an immediate power shift when you speak without apology. At first it almost felt like breaking a rule, like I had found some scandalous loophole. But once I began to catch myself, to change my words to reflect my true feelings, a new me emerged. I stood up straighter and held my head high.

 

Also, throwing around an apology takes the power out of it when it’s actually necessary.

A lot of things happen under the surface when you throw around an apology. You’re invalidating your feelings and diminishing yourself for the comfort of others. The practice facilitates self-defeating tendencies that act out of an internalized misogynistic rhetoric. Also, throwing around an apology takes the power out of it when it’s actually necessary.

 

Once I started editing “I’m sorry” out of my conversations, I noticed it in others. Usually I won’t comment on someone’s behavior, but this feels different. They'll apologize about apologizing and then catch themselves, and we'll have a good laugh. It acknowledges their power and worth in a respectful way, and it helps them realize the impact of their actions.

 

Also, it’s a great conversation starter. In fact, it’s these conversations that have led me to find this need to apologize so intriguing. The results are fascinating.

Rejection, interruption, disagreements, or backlash tend to make us fold in on ourselves, taking the path of least resistance.

 

One common response involves the tendency to sacrifice our own comfort and boundaries for the sake of others. Rejection, interruption, disagreements, or backlash tend to make us fold in on ourselves, taking the path of least resistance.

 

But can we blame ourselves for this? There’s no denying that interpersonal relationships are important. Yet the skills vital for nurturing these relationships are not normalized or taught.

 

Many people mentioned apologizing for their emotions, such as crying, discomfort, or mental health issues. I remember the first time I heard someone describe finally growing comfortable with crying in public. It stunned me. I never, ever thought that would be something one could do without shame or stigma. But emotional pain is as valid as physical pain and never worth apologizing for.

 

Even simply existing is looked down on. Erza Levison explains, “I often find myself apologizing in some way for taking up space. Lately I’m realizing that I only feel that way because I’m in spaces that weren’t designed for me. As a bi and jewish person, I shouldn’t be apologizing, I should be working to make those spaces more intersectional and inclusive.”

When did we begin to think that our footing on this Earth was a nuisance to others?

 

This shame at taking up space goes even further: we apologize for our bodies, interests, needs. When did we begin to think that our footing on this Earth was a nuisance to others?

 

Quite a long time ago, it seems.

 

Unnecessary apology is a learned action and one with a long history. Deep-rooted misogyny and oppression shape how we speak and model our behavior.

 

It's no surprise that mostly women and nonbinary people experience this phenomenon. Women and enbys, especially those of color, are often forced to act as emotional caretakers, sacrificing their own wellbeing in an invisible, back-breaking labor. To exist unapologetically is a privilege, and I pay my gratitude (and reparations!) to the BIPOC who have fought for this ability.

I used to think of myself as this rock who was strong and capable and could deal with it.

 

These are not issues that resolve overnight or change with the use of different language. Still, when I stopped saying “I’m sorry,” my world did seem to change. I began to think about how I exist in the world and how my actions can perpetuate—or subvert—harmful narratives. I realized that I have a right to boundaries.

 

I used to think of myself as this rock who was strong and capable and could deal with it. I would laugh things off and carry someone’s emotional baggage if it got too heavy. I thought that this was what I should be doing—shouldering other’s pain, because I can Deal. Right?

 

Except maybe I can’t, maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe, when people are rude to me,  I should tell them how they hurt me. Maybe when my gut whispers something I don’t want to hear, I should listen. Perhaps I deserve to have my dissent respected and to leave relationships where I no longer feel my effort reciprocated. Maybe I should have been doing this all along.

 

I notice that when I’m feeling insecure I start to apologize again. It’s like a muscle; every time you let it go limp, shame drags you further from strength. It takes a lot of energy some days, even though it’s as simple as speaking.

 

Part of me feels silly writing this, like I’m making a big deal out of something small. Maybe no one cares, maybe I’m being overly dramatic, maybe it’s not that deep. But you know what? I’m not sorry about it.


About the Author

Martina Taylor is a writer, poet, and amateur eyeliner artist studying at Oberlin College. She’s had articles published with Affinity and Aspirants Magazines, and poetry published in SPINE and All My Friends Zine, among others.

Follow on IG: @martina.tylr | Follow on Twitter: @


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