Over the years I developed a habit of saying sorry for every little thing. I became very aware of this habit, sensing that it is not that innocent as it seems to be. In certain contexts I don’t even assign meaning to the word any more, yet, it exposes a feeling I consciously or unconsciously have in the moment. The word is a spell to reduce the chance for a conflict situation. A little gap that I create to secure a way out in case something bad is going to happen.
I was growing up in a very protected and comfortable environment. I never had to say sorry for being who I was. When I was a teenager I was given enough of space to dive in wild explorations. From early age I was curious about the world around, trying to find the group I belong to. I always was hanging out with different subcultures. I oscillated between punks, hippies, skaters, rappers while at the same time was the president of the school parliament. The spectrum of my interests was undefined, I was curious about all those expressions but never really felt I was belonging to any of them. My parents where liberal, busy with their work, making sure my brother and I have a good future ahead of us. What has happened is that by this uninvolved presence, they knowingly or unknowingly supported my self-exploratory journey, there was no judgement. At least no open conversation about it. Only a few times when my experiments went out of hand they addressed my behaviour but most of the time I could get away with anything I was doing.
Obviously being a teenager I couldn’t make up my own mind about what was right and wrong and I lacked authority and the involvement of my parents in my formational processes. I grew up open and curious about everything but undefined about my own position. The solidity of the notions of good and bad where not explicitly discussed, conflicts and heavy existential conversations never happened. So rejection of any kind was absent. I didn’t experience a strong need for belonging as I never had its lack.
All sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The trade-off for my curious openness and fearlessness is that I didn’t develop the ability to take part in conflicts. Now, when I am in a situation where potential disagreement can arise, I tend to escape by any means possible. When I feel the tension builds up, my own opinion gets shaky and I start bouncing like a scared mice changing my position, following somebody else’s. I lose my balance as I get stressed and threatened. As a coping mechanism, saying sorry became a reliable partner in such situations to reduce anxiety.
We say sorry if we don’t know what is the right thing to do. We either don’t know it or we are afraid to make our own clear statement. Such a small and seemingly harmless gesture can point out multiple ruptures in the architecture of a relationship. The “I” which was forming while I was a kid, every statement I made, was accepted by my close surrounding. I never had to fight to convince anyone and it wasn’t questioned. This shaped my expectations towards the environment and experience shows that living the expectations is a thankless task. I am still learning how to stay in a conflict with the door closed, cultivating strength without the safety of the sorry mode. Sorry is a comfortable disclaimer. But I must admit that it isn’t the easy one for me. It is a symptom of lack of trust in myself and in the environment, fear of being either hurt or punished for being myself.