Today in Montessori class we were doing a floor activity and I was rolling out the floor rug. I was doing it totally in the Montessori style and the teacher (who I love) called me a ‘Type A Child’. I thought this meant I had done something wrong and immediately apologised to which she replied “There’s no need to say sorry right now, in this class there’s no need to apologise”. Montessori philosophy states that there is no wrong way to do things, you are taught to treat other people around you with grace and courtesy so conflicts in the classroom (or in life if you’re an adult) are less of a thing, and whilst you are told stop or no once in a while if you’re really doing something unsafe there’s really no need to say sorry.
Today I have apologised for eating tuna in class, sending a very good friend of mine texts about Montessori activities, not being around to reply to an email because I was in classes even though I replied 10 minutes after it was sent, for rolling a floor mat correctly and for using the sensorial materials creatively even though that was something I was meant to be doing. None of this needed an apology. None of it.
I say sorry a lot, and recently I’ve been way more aware of it. It’s not because I’m being insincere, a lot of the things I apologise for are things that I worry might be wrong or things that I think I have done. I think the apologising is a side effect of my anxiety. Anxiety feeds that voice in my head that makes me think people are upset with me, that I’ve done something wrong, that I’m being awkward and that voice makes me feel like I need to apologise. It’s not an excuse for the over-apologising at all, it’s just I know concretely what causes it. If I can apologise before the thing in my head happens perhaps we can avoid the thing in my head altogether. I’m actually doing really well anxiety wise at the moment, the lingering, tiny, annoying voice of self doubt and paranoia is always there at the back of my head when things get to quiet though, telling me I’ve upset someone close to me, that people are probably talking about me and that voice makes me apologise.
From what I read socially two characteristics should sum up why I apologise a lot firstly I’m English and we are apparently notoriously polite, and secondly I’m a woman, and for some reason women seem to apologise a lot. I read something on Jezebel (I have a love-hate relationship with this site) that said “ I think it’s that women are expected to be exceptionally grateful for the crumbs tossed our way—and so we show our gratitude by cushioning our wants with a series of, “I know this is asking a lot, but…”, “I hate to ask, but could you…” and “I might sound like an idiot for wondering, but…”-isms.” and then thought about how much I apologise or play down when I ask things. I’ll ask my roommate something but start the question with ‘I know this is stupid but….” or I’ll always apologise when asking for help. I don’t know how much my gender plays a role in this, though I know I’ve apologised for being PMS-y before, which is definitely not a thing I have a handle on.
Avoiding confrontation, trying to be not a burden and apologising when there’s not need is also a stereotypically English thing to do. “For many British people, apologizing is a default reaction to life’s little irritants. If someone barges into you, treads on your toes or spills your drink, it is considered quite normal for the victim to mutter ‘sorry’. This is clearly illogical, but for many British people it is an ingrained response.” I didn’t even realise just how much I do this till I moved here. Someone would walk into me and I would apologise, someone would ask me if I have a light and I would apologise for not smoking. I do sometimes shake my head and wonder why on Earth I’m apologising but it’s just a hard habit to shake.
This is all part of rebuilding myself I guess. Self confidence leads to less worrying leads to more control leads to less apologising. I always feel that once I recognise a problem I’m having I then start to work out ways to make myself stop doing it. It’s not always easy and I don’t always have answers but I try and analyse why I’m doing things. I don’t say sorry for the verification from another person that I’m actually okay, I think that might be the default view of why a person over apologises. I’m not looking for that soothing, re-affirmation that I’ve not done something wrong. It’s also not because I don’t mean it, if we take today’s examples in my head the tuna was something that could make other people in the room uncomfortable, texting someone too much can be annoying especially when I’m over excited and I should have replied to that email quicker because there was a mistake that needed fixing. My head rationalises my apology, when really it should just not be seeing these things as events to be sorry for.
The worry is that because I over apologise it makes my properly heartfelt apologies less meaningful. When you throw a word around for every little thing it doesn’t have the same impact, which is something we learn in Montessori. We don’t say stop unless something serious is happening because telling a child to stop again and again causes the word to become nothing. If you only use it when necessary it has power. I want my apologies to have power, I mean I want to never have to make mistakes so bad that I need to say sorry, I’m a person who loves the people around her and wants to help everyone as much as I can and that side of me never wants to make mistakes. I think in the long term apologising too much devalues people’s perception of you.
So how do we fix this? Universally I can’t tell you. Personally? I need to work on my self-confidence and that happens in a number of ways. Going back to school has calmed me down a lot, and a calmer Maryam is a happier Maryam who is a less anxious Maryam. Not everything goes away when I’m calm, but I’m far more rational. Learning to trust people is another thing, I make a very big effort to surround myself with people I know are brutally honest. The reason is that if I do something wrong or they have issues with me I know they will come and tell me about those issues first, instead of going around talking to other people. This makes me feel far more secure, and feeling secure makes me say sorry less. If there was something to say sorry for I would know. Communication is also key, if I can talk to people clearly then issues get resolved before anyone has to apologise.
I feel like my life for the last 6 months has been a journey of self discovery. It’s not always been positive, for the last three months it was pretty dark at points, but it’s getting through that and I think is becoming productive. I’ve stopped wallowing in a lot of negativity that I’d clung on to and doing that has done wonders for me. It’s not easy, but I’m thankful for the people I have in my life and the support that I get from all around. Feel free to call me out if I apologise in the future and it’s not needed (Chel already does this, big up Chel) because it’s a really good way to help me stop.
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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