I'm Sorry If I _______

I spend a great deal of time thinking about why we are who we are. Some of us question everything we say, agonize over something that could have been misinterpreted, and worry that our words might have unintentionally offended or hurt someone. Others bumble through life completely oblivious that their words or behavior might make someone feel bad. And still others, when alerted that they hurt or offended someone scoff that the person was too sensitive, claim their words or actions were misinterpreted, or worse turn the situation around and blame the victim.

Some people pride themselves on speaking their mind, having no filter. That's fine, live and let live. I believe that meme* that says how people treat others says more about who they are than who I am. I strive to speak kindly to everyone, but often that is easier outside of my home than inside.

Once, a friend at church said, "How do you always have it so together?" I love her. She is a gem. But, I love her too much to let her believe that I have anything together. So I told her ten minutes earlier I was screaming and swearing and threatening my children's lives if they didn't get their teeth brushed as my husband calmly tried to hustle everyone out the door. He has it pretty well together, thank goodness.

But even if he didn't, he wouldn't spend hours analyzing his behavior. He rolls through life without the burden of analyzing what people say to him or what he says to them. He does not give a second thought about who said what to whom or what so-and-so might have meant when she said such-and-such. Lots of people can do this. I don't think it's a male-female thing because I know super-aware men and completely oblivious women.

So what is it that makes some of us able to let stuff go while others are compelled to ruminate? While I haven't found an answer, extensive research (and tons of overthinking) has lead me to the following principles that I try to follow:

  1. Surround yourself with genuine people. Then you don't have to worry about passive-aggressiveness and ulterior motives. I promise you I never wonder what any of my friends meant by what they said because they meant exactly what they said.
  2. Think before you speak. If you have to preface something with, "I don't mean this to be offensive," it's probably offensive, so just don't say it. I practice this with my mom all the time: She says, "I don't mean for you to take this the wrong way," and I say, "If you are concerned about my taking it wrong, you probably shouldn't say it." She always says it anyway.
  3. Apologize freely. Not in a submissive or "giving away your power" way, but in an honest-to-goodness you mean something to me and it hurts me that I inadvertently hurt you. I mostly apologize to my kids and my husband as they bear the brunt of my bad behavior. But now, instead of wondering if I've offended someone, if I think I did, I apologize.
  4. Stand up for yourself. You don't have to be confrontational to tell someone that their words or actions upset you. I'm not a super-huge Dr. Phil fan, but this line of his always sticks with me: We teach people how to treat us. Sometimes we need to remind them what is and isn't okay.
  5. Don't offer unsolicited advice and opinions. They are rarely helpful and nearly always taken the wrong way; refer to #2. (I'm already thinking that you might be thinking this list is unsolicited advice. Touche. This is just what I do though, I'm not telling you what to do.)
I still overthink a lot of what I say and do, but I don't read as much into others' behaviors. This frees up an enormous amount of time and energy to criticize myself. Kidding. Mostly. What works for you?

* I wanted to insert an image, but I couldn't find a grammatically correct one. I can't support that.


  1. I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I think you mean "already" in #5's parenthetical.


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