Many women I know are striving to release unhealthy thinking and patterns of behavior. Case in point, our frequent urge to retreat from conflict through apology. The amount of introspection and effort required depends on how long we’ve nursed the emotional wounds that made us this way. But the act of Release is wonderful thing. Whether it involves ‘cleansing’ or ‘healing’ rituals, or meditation and breathwork, Release lightens our spirits. However it happens, our need to always harmonize with others feels stubbornly hard-wired into our female DNA.
It feels like I’ve been releasing this, and other emotional “junk” for years. Comparing it to one of my least favorite household chores, it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day of folding and putting away a never-empty basket of clean laundry. Just when I think I’ve paired and flipped the last pair of socks, I look down and see there’s more sorting, more releasing to be done.
This past weekend I did something (then guilted myself afterwards for) that I thought I was done with: I apologized to a loved one for apparently causing ‘hurt’ — which I felt in my bones was in fact an over-reaction on his part. I wanted to ‘soothe’, which my gut instinct tells me really meant, ‘enable.’ He felt better, having someone to blame for being triggered. But I was left feeling annoyed with myself for not taking a more assertive stand; explaining the comment that caused offense,, but wasn’t intended to. Still, harmony was restored, so that was a net-gain for me. For a minute.
In the aftermath of this event, I wondered why and how my instinct to restore peace has always been — it seems to me — so over-developed. As I’ve done my reading and personal work over the years, I’ve learned that this is a pretty common trait for women. How many of us were taught as children that it’s important to be able to take a stand and remain firm in refusing blame that’s not legitimately your own ? Especially in the workplace. In that venue, I’m more skilled. My go-to line: “I’m sorry you feel upset,” versus “I’m sorry” (assuming I’m in ‘the right’).
In my intimate relationships, it feels more difficult to push-back when someone’s peeved (unless it’s my child). As a woman, I feel the very real expectation to be receptive; to absorb discord; to offer sweet honey instead of vinegar to disagreeable people. And I usually do this graciously. But, at what cost to myself– especially over years of being the primary peacemaker?
Meanwhile, the Media in all of its platforms shows us that a growing number of people appear to be acting on impulse, irrespective of others’ needs and feelings, without ever apologizing. It’s clear that more men than women are doing so. Ironically , we’re also exposed to an increase in outraged voices and very ‘public’ demands for Apology, Our current Cancel Culture. Thanks to instantaneous feeds, public shaming falls like a hammer when/if an apology is not forthcoming. It’s as if our collective, internal perceptions or definitions of What I Believe I Did, versus What You Seem to Think I Did, and What I Really Did have become irreparably distorted and opaque. Are we doing this intentionally (avoiding taking responsibility), or are we really no longer sure of the standards of behavior in our personal lives, nor of the parameters or decorum in our social groups?
I know one thing for sure. I’m going to keep ‘doing my own laundry’ (back to my metaphor) and self-checking ,when an Apology doesn’t feel like mine to make. And I’m going to be totally un-apologetic about that.