I was wondering if anyone out there has the same reactions to the phrases, “I’m sorry” and “I’m proud of you”?
Maybe it’s just me but here’s what happens.
When something bad happens to someone I know like an illness or a death in the family, I will say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and the response I often get is “It’s not your fault, why did you say that?” That happens a lot. Then I always feel embarrassed like I’ve made a mistake. Then when I try to explain myself I just become annoying.
And then when I do something well, like after a speaking engagement or being recognized for something, people (even those I don’t know very well) will often say “I’m so proud of you.” And that comment makes me feel like a little kid and they’re my parent. Then I feel like I’m being arrogant like I don’t want to share the praise with people.
So, after a recent experience I decided to stop and think about it. I looked up some definitions and did a little internet research about the phenomenon. I even pressed past my guilt and read an article with the title, “Why You Should Never Tell Your Child You’re Proud of Them.”
That little bit of thinking and reading (that I have time for because I’m spending less time cleaning and decluttering because who would have had time before to research something as trivial as this??) I’ve come to peace with these two phrases. I’ll share it now, if you have time.
Number one: “I’m sorry” is a phrase that I’ve been using correctly, it’s just that the meaning has been overshadowed by a second definition. To be sorry means, “Feeling or expressing sympathy, pity, or regret.” So, while I am expressing sympathy to my friend who is having a hard time, they think I’m apologizing like I had something to do with their troubles.
Number two: “I’m proud of you” is a phrase someone says to someone who has accomplished something or been successful. The trouble with this phrase is that it puts the person who is saying it in a superior position than the person receiving the compliment. It also implies a close relationship and that the speaker has had a contribution in the other’s success. So, for a stranger to come up to me and say, “I’m so proud of you” is awkward because I don’t know the and they had nothing to do with my success. Some people advise parents not to say this phrase to your children because it somehow takes away from the child’s success and makes it the parent’s achievement. I can see that, however, I think it’s okay for a parent to acknowledge a shared success. And I think it would be healthy for a child to see that they could not have been successful without the help of others. Not to mention the parent is in the superior position to the child.
One thing that is implicit within both phrases is relationship. When my friend’s family member dies, I could say “I’d like to offer my condolence” but that seems a bit cold to me. To say, “I’m sorry” lets my friend know that I’m affected by their sadness. It says, “You’re not in this alone.” Maybe the next time I get the typical response I’ll say, “I’m not apologizing, I’m expressing my sympathy.” Not that they need a lesson right then, but at least I won’t be stumbling and fumbling and saying “I’m sorry” for saying “I’m sorry.”
When my child wins the Spelling Bee, I think I can say, “I’m proud of you” because I helped them study, I supported them through all the doubt and fear of failure. However, it might be better to say, “You should be so proud of yourself right now” or just a plain old, “Great job!” when my child is older and they accomplished something with their own talent or hard work and I was not a teacher or mentor. I think I will think twice now before telling a peer that I am proud of them unless, of course, we had the relationship where they confided in me about their doubts and struggles and looked to me as a mentor.
I didn’t write this to make you, dear reader, paranoid about what you say. I just find words interesting and I was continually confused about the responses I had to these two phrases.
Maybe it will help someone, maybe it’s just me.
Have a great Monday!