From childhood, we start apologizing. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Teacher. Sorry, World. At some point though, boys get a pass and girls just get habituated.
This conspiracy is built on a lie. The lie is that staying small (apologizing, not taking up too much space) will keep girls safe. In reality, this makes girls less safe because they don’t learn how to fight for themselves without also taking steps to ensure everyone else has had their needs met. That everyone else stays happy. Their power is muted. They try to keep the peace and minimize the danger. Staying small and saying “sorry” becomes a dangerous habit.
I find the current idiom of “sorry, not sorry” a useful transition. The recipient is disarmed. On the other hand, passive aggressive isn’t the best coping skill. I’ve learned to use disengagement. In a few memorable instances, I’ve said, “I’d only have this argument if I cared about your (fill in the blank). And I don’t.”
When my marriage was ending, criticism and control was so common that I slipped back into the automatic “sorry” habit to avoid constant conflict. The incident that made me realize it was:
My spouse was on overnight duty one summer weekend. Our duplex had no air conditioning and retained heat. We used fans to create air currents by pulling from the coolest side. We commonly left windows and doors open with screens only. I left the front door open and double locked the security screen door. I went to bed.
I was awakened early the next morning by banging and shouting. He was waiting at the door with a bunch of military gear. He wasn’t happy. He wanted to know why I’d locked up when I knew he’d have all his stuff with him. Still groggy, I started with “sorry” and began to explain. Then I stopped myself and asked, “Would you want to sleep alone in a house way out here with unlocked doors?” I got only an,”Oh, yeah.” I realized I’d been making myself smaller and letting him take up more and more space.
Habits are hard to break, especially when they are being reinforced. Trying to replace them with something else, like a question, helps.