You Asshole!...Um, I'm sorry I called you an asshole.
February 26, 2011 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop apologizing for my own assertiveness.

I have a really bad habit -- every time I get justifiably mad at someone, and call them on it, within ten minutes I feel like I was the one being unfair and overreacting, and I come back to them to apologize "for being such a bitch." I still think what they did was wrong, and they also still agree what they did was wrong, but I feel like I should have either spoken more calmly (even if I DID speak calmly) or that I should have cut them some slack just one more time.

This is probably not healthy. Any advice to stop it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Human Relations (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give an example of something you called someone on but was "justifiable"?
posted by anniecat at 11:42 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Next time you feel the apology instinct, write out an apology in email, and save it as a draft. Don't send it, and don't say anything.

The next day, review it, and if you feel that that was something really needed an apology, send it, or call the person up and read it.
posted by ignignokt at 11:58 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are you in a supervisory position over someone at work, or are you talking about with friends and loved ones when you have a dispute?

I had to read the riot act to a couple of people at work recently. It had been building for a while because of their major slackitude, so I was justified in being assertively mad at them. I calmly laid out all the things that were wrong and told them explicitly and sternly what they needed to do to fix the situation.

Shortly afterward I felt incredibly guilty, because they looked so shocked and chastened (although it shouldn't have been a surprise to them). But it had to be done. I prefer an amiable atmosphere at work, but sometimes you have to get tough. I couldn't cut them any more slack than I already had done.

Please ignore this if you're talking about more interpersonal relationships. But you are not alone!
posted by vickyverky at 12:05 PM on February 26, 2011

If it makes both of you feel better, I don't really see what the problem is and it sounds like a good practice with people you want or have to continue to have good communication with. Anytime there's a tough conversation you have to have that first "but we're cool, right?" interaction before things return to normal, and addressing the unpleasant interaction (no matter how justified it was) seems the most honest way of going about that.
posted by moxiedoll at 12:29 PM on February 26, 2011

Like you, I to suffer from this. I will apologize to someone, even if they were the ones in the wrong. I'll apologize to someone breaking plans, even though it wasn't my place to apologize, just to keep peace. I'll apologize till I'm blue in the face, if it means keeping peace.

I think the reason for this, we are people pleasers. We hate to see others mad at us, even if we are justified in our anger. I guess all we can do is stick by our feelings or what we said and not feel bad about it. Easier said then done... I know. I think the confrontation has something to do with it also.

If you take back what you said (even if you shouldn't have), it avoids confrontation. Which is something I want to avoid at all costs. So the apology was issued, the "hurt" party was appeased and you can move on. Now you don't have to wait for them to say something, cause you took care of it. Confrontation + problem = solved.

The worst part of this awful people pleasing cycle? You may never ever get an apology back, a response to your apology, or anything of the sorts. So then, if you're like me, this will become a long term problem for you. It will fester in you and eventually turn into hatred (not healthy, I know, but hey it avoids confrontation!).

I'm sure this wasn't helpful at all, but I'm happy I'm not alone with this problem!
posted by Sweetmag at 12:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Funny timing; I experienced this last night, both the relating displeasure and that moment of wondering if I was overreacting (though in hindsight, I'm comfortable that I wasn't, that I kept it low-key, not personal).

Dunno if this is possible fer ya, but with the above experience, I was able to address it a little while after the heat of the moment appeared.

If I had dealt with it in that moment, I probably would have been more scathing, more likely to have said something for which an apology was appropriate, cast myself in a questionable light and not accomplish anything other than self-stroking my ego.

To the extent that it's doable, can you take a bit of time, to breathe and digest, between being mad at someone and sharing your thoughts, to at least boost your confidence that you're doing the right thing?
posted by ambient2 at 12:42 PM on February 26, 2011

I suggest you read "Your Perfect Right" on assertiveness. You have to pick your times. You have to be very careful about emotion, tone of voice and body language. It may be that you are being aggressive and that is what triggers the apology. I find that a lot of people mistake the two things. While being aggressive may harness your anger and help you stand up for yourself, it is not as effective as being assertive. The book covers the difference and has lots of suggestions and ideas. If, as VickyVerky suggests, other people end up shocked and abashed, you probably were being aggressive and the apology likely was warranted.
posted by PickeringPete at 1:43 PM on February 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

yeah i think more info is required regarding what exactly you're saying to these people and why. the headline of this ask says "you asshole . . . i'm sorry i called you an asshole." i think you just used that metaphorically and are not actually calling people assholes, right?
posted by GastrocNemesis at 1:56 PM on February 26, 2011

I agree with PickeringPete--calling people names is aggressive, not assertive. Effective anger management means not doing anything you'll have to apologize for later. This doesn't mean you have to bite your tongue and not do anything, it just means that you need to be more constructive with how you deal with your anger. No name calling, eye-rolling, sarcasm, cursing, or other acts of contempt. Be civil and avoid overly critical and judgmental language. Don't be afraid to take a timeout and revisit the issue after you calm down. Often, the first thing we need to do when we are angry is to shut up. It's a good idea IF you can remember to resume the conversation when you are calm and ready.

Here are some basic steps to making your anger constructive and not destructive:

1. Decide how you'd like to feel after you get angry--what is the positive outcome you are looking for from this situation?

2. Acknowledge your anger and let the other person know your feelings in a calm, responsive manner.

3. Focus on the problem, not the person. Don't personalize things by saying, "You made me angry!" Focus on the WHAT, not the WHO. What did this person do or say to set you off?

4. Identify the source of the problem. Most of the time, it is you, meaning that your beliefs are being violated in some way. You can either a) change your belief if it's irrational, or b) clarify your beliefs or expectations to the person that is not meeting them.

5. Accept that the problem can be solved--stay open-minded and involve the other person in thinking about new solutions. Share the responsibility of resolving the problem.

6. Try to see things from the other person's perspective. Give them the chance to let you know where they're coming from, don't guess at it if they can tell you themselves.

7. Make it a two-way conversation and allow the other person to have their turn. Do not interrupt or engage in contempt behaviors. Listen to them and they will listen to you in turn.

8. Even if this doesn't solve the problem 100%, you're probably made some progress with the situation if you've made it through all these steps. Acknowledge that you've gotten somewhere and you're ahead of where you were before. As they say in AA, it's about progress, not perfection.

Get used to applying these steps to the situations where you are lashing out, and soon you just might find that you have fewer things to lash out about.
posted by Fuego at 2:48 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

To clarify:

Actually, it's across the board whether it's work or interpersonal related. I've got examples of both:

1. When I was a stage manager, sometimes some of the actors did dumb things -- running late and consistently failing to call and let me know, playing with the prop gun when they weren't supposed to -- and I had to call them on it ("listen, we really got worried when you didn't show up at the half-hour, and we've asked you about calling if you're running late; you gotta do that"). But then I would get the guilts for thinking I had a nastier-than-necessary tone to my voice and would apologize for that. Most times the actor would take what I said to heart, and think it was sweet I was apologize for the tone (one actress actually said "I'm not going to accept that apology because you didn't need to give it in the first place", which I also found sweet).

2. I just had an incident last night with a friend that I've spoken to once about having a bad habit of not responding to email invitations; I've told him that I need to hear from him because my timing and planning events gets affected. he promised to do better. But then last night I'd asked a bunch of people to join me at a bar while an out--of-town friend was around, and didn't hear from him about whether he was coming - so I called him and read him the riot act. Then later I found out that he HAD emailed me, and it got caught in my spam trap. (However, his email was a ridiculously vague "I'll try to stop by maybe".) I sent him an email explaining why this was an especial sensitive spot for me (I've had quite a few friends "break up with me" by doing exactly this kind of slow-fade ignoring my calls), and admitting I was too harsh on him in this particular instance and asking if we could talk tonight so I can apologize for that part of things.

The more important someone is to me, also, the less I'm willing to rock the boat -- my out-of-town friend had a problem with a clerk at my local bank, and I stopped in today after she went home and talked to a manager about speaking with the clerk in question. I had no problem doing that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:43 PM on February 26, 2011

Oh, in addition -- no, no name-calling in any instance. I only used the "You asshole!" phrasing in the title because I thought it would a brief way of demonstrating my turn-on-a-dime shift.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:46 PM on February 26, 2011

OK, so your first example, it doesn't sound like you have a problem, you're just being a thoughtful person who is mindful of their tone. And in the second, you do ultimately handle it well by calling your friend to talk. However, in both examples, you're too late with the proper solution. Be mindful of your tone as you are letting someone know you're angry or upset, not after. Calling your friend to have a rational conversation should have been your first action, not the one after you'd already read him the riot act. That really doesn't sound much like a step above namecalling to me, so my original advice still stands. The "turn-on-a-dime shift" is a characteristic of destructive anger that you are not in control of. Knowing how to make your anger constructive will help prevent you from defaulting to raising your voice or going off on someone, and makes sure that you don't have anything to apologize for later on because you've involved the other person in the process of working through your problem.

Also, I found it interesting that you've had a few friend "break-ups" and that is dictating your actions now. First, you need to deal with that old anger, because you should not be punishing your current friends for what your former friends did, and second, you need to examine the possibility that your first instinct of lashing out is the reason why they might not be your friends anymore.
posted by Fuego at 4:38 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can't favorite PickeringPete enough. Getting angry is what happens when you miss the opportunity to be assertive. You won't have to read someone the riot act if you just call and ask them whether they are coming or not.
posted by gjc at 7:24 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fuck 'em.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 8:09 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You won't have to read someone the riot act if you just call and ask them whether they are coming or not.

Well, this is getting too much into the specifics of this case, but -- yeah, I did call, and got the voicemail and left a message. Then three hours later when I'd got no word and we were trying to figure out whether anyone else was showing up or whether we could call it a night, I called again, got the voicemail, and left a message. Nah, this guy has just had a bad habit of not responding, and I was pissed off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 PM on February 26, 2011

and I just hit "post" too soon, so that should continue:

this guy has had a bad habit of not responding, and I was pissed off. And then after the fact I learned he had responded after all, and I realized, '....oh."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 PM on February 26, 2011

A couple thoughts:
1. You don't have to get "justifiably angry" in order to stand up for your rights or correct someone whose behavior is causing a problem. In fact, speaking up before you get angry makes it easier to handle it well.

2. It sounds like sometimes you do get angry and it shows (maybe too much) and sometimes you are just calmly addressing a problem behavior. If I understand you right, even in the second case (when you handled everything calmly and appropriately) you still have an urge to apologize.

One way to deal with this is to check with someone who was there or even, with the person you were talking to. Second, you can practice with friend - either as a role play, or even better, that you work out a deal that every time (for say a week) this friend does something that bothers you, even a little, you practice bringing it up in friendly, appropriate way. Since the friend agreed ahead of time, he or she can let you know if it sounded the way it was intended. Doing it right on purpose and then getting the feedback that it was OK will help build your confidence in your own assessment of the situation. Finally, this probably has something to do with the way anger was expressed (or not) in your family growing up. It might be useful to think about how childhood patterns (yours and your parents) might be affecting you now. Once you see the pattern, it is easier to make a choice about whether it works for you still or you want to do things differently.
posted by metahawk at 11:27 PM on February 26, 2011

OK, so your first example, it doesn't sound like you have a problem, you're just being a thoughtful person who is mindful of their tone.

Missed this -- that's just it, though, there IS no "tone" I need to apologize for in the work incident. I FEEL like I have a "tone", but I don't. I'm interpreting "I'm being assertive" as "I have a tone".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:16 AM on February 27, 2011

I'm interpreting "I'm being assertive" as "I have a tone".

I think in the second example you may be interpreting "I have a tone" as "I'm being assertive." Obviously you were angry, and as you said, it only partly had to do with the situation actually at hand. At least you've shown your friend what this is really about; hopefully going forward he will consider that in how he handles things.

However, some people are just a little flaky and it has nothing to do with you personally. That might be a dealbreaker for you because of how you've been treated in the past, or maybe you will just adjust and only invite this person to certain open-ended things.
posted by hermitosis at 8:36 AM on February 27, 2011

It sounds as if you were totally in the right to be assertive about communications at work. You're not completely comfortable with that role, but it doesn't seem like a crippling problem in your work life; it sounds as if your relationships with your actors are generally good.

But the situation with your friend last night sounds very different. Last night, you were wrong. Not sorta-wrong, either. Totally wrong. Apology necessary.

These situations are not alike. It might be comforting to think of them as if they were alike, since assertiveness is generally considered a positive thing, but reading a friend the riot act is not assertiveness, even when you're right.

Which you weren't.
posted by jon1270 at 2:27 PM on February 27, 2011

Well, if you're feeling bad about something, then apologize for it. Be really careful about deciding what is is you're feeling bad about, though, and don't apologize for saying what you meant. Apologize for your tone of voice, your over-enthusiastic delivery, your assumption that you had all the information, etc. In your examples, it sounds like you're not apologizing for your anger/frustration or for making a request - and that's a very good thing.

Are you wanting to learn how to (a) present your requests/frustrations in a way that you won't feel bad about in the morning, or (b) accept that you get growly sometimes and there's no need to apologize when you're in the right?
posted by aimedwander at 8:14 AM on February 28, 2011

Are you wanting to learn how to (a) present your requests/frustrations in a way that you won't feel bad about in the morning, or (b) accept that you get growly sometimes and there's no need to apologize when you're in the right?

A mix of both: I'd like to be better able to assess when I really go too far with the heat, instead of always thinking I've gone too far with the heat and apologizing as a result.

In other words, right now I always think that I was too hard on someone -- even though nine times out of ten I haven't been too hard at all, and the people I speak to even say so. In fact, I'm actually more like "calm but firm", but in my head that translates to 'screaming harpy' for some reason, and that's what make me go apologize.

I just want to reset my own assessment, so I can realize either that "you were firm, but you didn't scream or anything, and what you said had to be said so you're good" or "you did get shouty, but they really pissed you off -- and maybe you could apologize for the tone later, but you don't need to flagellate yourself over it either".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2011

I keep cutting myself off midthought -- what my current mindset is "WHOASHIT I TOTALLY OVERREACTED AND THEY DIDN'T DESERVE THAT AND THAT WAS AWFUL OF ME AND THAT'S BAD OMIGOD THEY'RE GOING TO HATE ME NOW", no matter what it is I actually do say and no matter what they've done to precipitate my speaking out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2011

Would you say that you always, or almost always, actually do apologize for being assertive? Or is it that you want to apologize, but usually don't? If you are regularly giving in to this urge to apologize then you are depriving yourself of opportunities to recalibrate the sensors that tell you where the line is. By preemptively apologizing you put your thumb on the scale and cause it to read the way you want it to. It almost sounds as if apologizing might be a sort of soothing addiction, like overeating -- i.e. I am anxious so I'll apologize and then other people will reassure me that I'm okay. Lather, rinse...

You might try simply buckling down and not initiating any such apology for some set period of time -- a month, maybe? -- no matter how uncomfortable it makes you do do this. Wait and see what other people's actual reactions to you are instead of imagining nasty thoughts for them.
posted by jon1270 at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2011

This question could have been written by me. Check out "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty"; it really helped me put things in perspective.
posted by lovableiago at 10:55 AM on February 28, 2011

I used to feel this way. To the point where people would bump in to me and I'd apologize. I was standing still, they were moving, I would apologize.

One day I realized how crazy I felt - and looked. I started saying 'I don't care' to myself whenever I could catch the reflex to apologize. I do care how I present myself and I'm not going to try to change that. That just happened to be the first phrase I thought of and it worked. I just needed something to interrupt the urge. I feel the need to apologize far less often and the reflex seems far more controllable.

I'm pretty sure this is akin to some CBT technique that I can't name.
posted by at 7:52 PM on September 8, 2011

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