“Thank You” is the new “I’m Sorry.”
This article was originally published for The Odyssey on April 4, 2017.
When I was younger, I was a sounding board for many of my friends who felt they didn’t have anyone else to talk to. I heard stories of depression, anxiety, suicide and anything else you can imagine teenagers between the ages of fourteen and sixteen have to say. It was a really demanding and heavy job; I often felt that I had no where to release my own feelings and began to absorb others’ on top of my own. Soon, I found myself in a toxic environment where I was doing everything wrong and so I began apologizing for everything, even when there was nothing to apologize for.
Being in a toxic environment is like suffocating; being surrounded by several toxic people at once is like drowning. It’s heavy, it’s debilitating and you always feel guilty and shameful. Toxic relationships have a way of bringing you down, as if you were shackled to a wall inside a tornado. Manipulative people take your fears and insecurities and their own insecurities and demons, and your life becomes a whirlwind of darkness. You feel as if everything is your fault, because they make it seem like you’re to blame. You’re not, and sometimes you know you’re not, and that’s what makes everything harder.
Leaving a toxic relationship of any kind is stressful and scary; you’re never quite sure if you’ll make it out alive. The first few steps of freedom are light and airy, and you wish you had done it earlier, if only you had known you were being manipulated. The bad times don’t stop there though. After leaving a relationship like that, sometimes you take those habits with you long after the fact.
Always feeling as though things are your fault is a common habit that follows you and weaves its way into your other relationships. The roots a toxic person digs into you are so deep, even when you thought you had severed the last of them, there are still seeds hiding underneath your memories.
Often, people don’t know how to tell you things aren’t your fault. They don’t understand where the toxic roots come from, and they don’t understand how to comfort you when you feel the way that you do. They often say something like, “Oh my god! Stop apologizing!” or “It’s not your fault.” Well, we all know it’s not your fault, but it’s become a habit to feel like it’s your fault, so you speak that feeling.
The best way for both parties to decrease the amount of apologizing and animosity toward the constant apologizing is this: simply replace the word ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’.
When someone is speaking to you about something that is bothering them, do not apologize. Instead try saying, “Thank you for confiding in me.” When someone is apologizing for something that isn’t their fault, try saying, “Thank you for listening to me.” or “Thank you for your concern.”
The thank-you-replacement can go for other situations, too.
Instead of apologizing for being late, try saying, “Thank you for waiting for me.” Instead of apologizing for speaking your mind, or expressing your feelings, try, “Thank you for understanding and comforting me.”
Stop apologizing for everything. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s pretty simple to replace an apology with an expression of gratitude. You will begin to feel less heavy with guilt, and the roots of that toxic relationship will eventually dissolve as you become more thankful for your surroundings.
When I was a junior in high school, and I found myself surrounded by toxicity, I found the clearest way out of the situation and rode the solo wave for a while. It was difficult to repel the signs of red flags I saw in other people; I was always on my guard so that I wouldn’t be in a similar situation again. I was so scared of being sucked back into the darkness that I didn’t know how to immerse myself in meaningful relationships again.
When I began replacing my apologies with gratitude, it was like I had opened an entirely new door to my future. There is so much beauty in the world, and we take advantage of it every day. Expressing gratitude for my friendships, my family and myself became something I would try to build on in the future, and attempt to gain more of as I grew older. The remnants of guilt and heaviness from my previous toxic experiences soon faded away and dissolved into my past.
I am still triggered by some things relating to those relationships today, but I no longer let them weight me down long term. I remember to thank my lucky stars for what I have in present time, and what those toxic relationships have provided me with since. Gratitude in place of apology has opened my eyes up to the little things, the little bits of beauty we forget to remember.
I am thankful for the light I have discovered outside of the toxic relationships I once had. There was a time when I thought I’d never see the beauty I have. Getting away from toxicity is difficult, but it is not impossible. Know that gratitude will always be waiting for you to embrace it, even when you think there is nothing to be thankful for. There will always be something to be grateful for, and unlike guilt, gratitude is never apologetic.