When apologizing is a sign of strength.

Person breaking free of handcuffs.
Breaking free of handcuffs. Image courtesy Pexels.com.

When I was a sophomore in college, I drove to Fort Lauderdale for spring break with my two roommates. It was my first time in Florida, first time on a road trip with friends, first time being threatened with arrest.

We were at a bar somewhere on the boardwalk. Most of the patrons—the guys, at least—sardined themselves into the back of the room around a low stage, whooping and hollering at a wet T-shirt contest. The air was a haze of cigarette smoke. The floor was sticky with beer, covered in peanut shells, and littered with empty plastic Solo cups.

When I finished my beer, I didn’t want to throw my cup on the floor. I didn’t see the big deal in throwing it in a trash can. Trouble was, I couldn’t find one. Wandering among the drunken hordes, avoiding the stage and the wet floor surrounding it, I searched for a place to deposit my empty cup.

When I got near the front entrance, I saw an overflowing receptacle just outside the door. Stepping out into the glaring light, I paused for a moment to reflect on the ribbon of people waiting to get inside. The line seemed endless. The bar must have been full to capacity, and a bouncer stood guard, waiting for people to leave before allowing new customers to enter.

I tossed my cup, then returned to the dungeon of debauchery.

After my second beer, I didn’t bother searching inside for a trash can. I knew right where to go. One step out, one step back in. Except this time, the bouncer stopped me.

“On no, you don’t,” he snarled at me, “you butted line once, you’re not doing it again.”

“But I was just …”

“I don’t wanna hear it. Go to the back of the line.”

“But I just …”

“Girlie, if you don’t move now, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested.”

I was stunned. The bouncer’s words stung like a slap to my face, and my face burned in response. My sense of injustice at being wrongly accused was crushing.

I’m trying to do the right thing, I wanted him to know. But my hands were effectively tied, and I knew I had to leave.

Shaking, heart pounding, gesturing wildly, I pleaded with the bouncer to let me back inside to retrieve my purse. He threatened to come in and find me if I wasn’t out in five minutes. I hurriedly found my purse, told my friends what happened, and waited for them outside. As soon as they joined me, I broke down, sobbing.

The fact that I remember this incident, and that I can still conjure the hurt, says a lot about the depth of that hurt.

It comes to mind today because I’m in the middle of a similar hurt.

It doesn’t involve beer or bars or garbage cans, and the only wet T-shirts are my husband’s in the washing machine.

But the hurt involves unwarranted accusations against my character. My attempts to defend myself are being ignored. My hands again are effectively tied.

This time, my accusers are people whose opinion of me I value. Hearing their condemnations is crushing.

The wound is still fresh. It’s so deep, I can’t imagine how it will heal. Writing about it, exploring my thoughts, sharing it here is part of my healing process.

In most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

I believe that in most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

In this recent conflict, I recognized my culpability, and apologized–in person, and via phone, text, email, and snail mail. None of the other parties has apologized yet. But I’m not responsible for them. I am only responsible for myself.

Undue apologizing–when you haven’t done anything wrong–is usually a people-pleasing, victim-y reaction borne of low self-esteem. Women fall into this trap more often than men. However, when an apology is justified, delivering that apology takes courage.

Apologizing, when justified, is courageous.

Even more courageous, requiring incredible restraint, is to apologize without requiring an apology in return, even when a return apology is warranted.

What strength it takes to say, “I’m sorry,” and to let that stand alone when an I’m sorry is due back to you.

I’ve learned that one of my super powers is to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, to apologize when necessary, and to let go of my expectations of other’s apologies or lack thereof.

Apologizing without requiring an apology in return is my superpower.

It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, right now, it sucks. But I’ll hold myself to a higher standard. That feels good. That will help me heal. No matter how much trash lays at my feet, I will always move toward the light.