HOW THE POWER OF SEMANTICS SHAPES OUR WELL-BEING
I’ve always believed in the power of words. Words can shape how we present ourselves, and thus how we feel about ourselves. It can make us feel confident and happy. Or it can make us feel insecure and upset. There is one word in particular I am thinking about. How and when you choose to use it will have a profound effect on your wellbeing.
The word is SORRY.
You probably hear the word “sorry” everywhere. In the workplace, at the store, in a meeting. If you hadn’t noticed it before, I’m sure you will now. People (and especially women) use the word “sorry” in situations that don’t actually call for an apology. They say it when they need to interrupt somebody during a meeting, or when they do that awkward sidewalk dance, or when reaching for the same item as someone else at the grocery store. There’s a famous Pantene commercial that highlights this phenomenon very well.
Saying “sorry” like this is a pricy habit. It may seem like a harmless word used to convey politeness, but it actually has a powerful and potentially negative effect. The power of “sorry” needs to be wielded appropriately.
Studies have shown that women apologize more often than men. Women’s use of “sorry” has become a knee-jerk reaction to defuse an uncomfortable situation. But, when overused, what it actually does is reduce the confidence of a woman. When a woman says sorry, she’s not only shrinking herself, but she’s also bearing the blame for no good reason. Nobody likes to be “in the wrong”, so why put that label on yourself?
There is another negative consequence of misusing “sorry” too often. It starts to lose its deeper meaning for all the times when saying sorry is warranted. Apologies are incredibly important for maintaining and improving relationships. When you give and/or receive an apology like this, it can heal wounds that are otherwise devastating to a person’s wellbeing. That is why it is crucial to maintain the sanctity of the word “sorry.”
In my private practice, whenever one of my clients would say “sorry” for contradicting or interrupting me, I would smile, and challenge her to take a moment and reflect on her use of the word “sorry”. This would lead to a fun discussion of words she could use instead of “sorry”. For example, if she felt the need to interject, she could say: “Excuse the interruption.” If she wanted to contradict me or otherwise provide other input, she could say: “I understand…”, “I’d like to expand on that…”, or “yes, but unfortunately…”
You see? There are so many ways to convey your thoughts without bearing the negative side effects of “sorry.”
There’s another alternative to “sorry” that isn’t a word or phrase at all. Instead, it’s a smile. A smile can diffuse most uncomfortable situations. These situations are NOT the ones where the creepy guy on the sidewalk yells, “Hey, baby, give us a smile!” Rather, I’m referring to more cordial situations like at work or the grocery store. For example, say you end up in one of those awkward sidewalk dances. Giving the other person a smile or laughing out loud will let them know that you realize this is awkward, but you’re ready to move past it. You can simply smile and say, “I’ll go this way,” as you point in the direction you’ve chosen to go. Voila, collision avoided! Plus, your self-satisfaction remains high because you made an assertive choice without apologizing for it.
For so many years, women had to stay quiet. Their needs and opinions didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they fit into the submissive gender roles society demanded. I am so grateful for the women who fought for our right to have a voice. The women who empowered us to dream big. As we celebrate Women’s History this month, I think about my daughters, myself, and all the women out there who work hard every day to achieve their dreams and use their voice. By articulating their semantics, women can shed the remnants of an old-fashioned society that still lingers among us today.
It feels good to have the option to choose which words you put out there, without gender restrictions. These words can make all the difference for your self-worth and thus your happiness levels. Whether you assert yourself with a smile or a carefully chosen word, the goal is to leave the situation feeling good about how you express yourself. Saying sorry unnecessarily does the opposite of that. If you keep falling into this apologetic habit, the only one you’ll truly be sorry for is yourself.