Over the years, I've had to put up with writing contest judges using put-downs to describe my work instead of constructive criticism, often without explanations behind their words. They often made incorrect assumptions about my books too, like thinking one of my books was about a teacher having a relationship with a school student (the hero in the book was a teacher, but the heroine was not a student; she was an adult). Sometimes they'd nit-pick tiny details about my books and majorly mark me down for them. I've had to put up with people praising and congratulating authors for doing the things I've been ripped apart for. Worst of all, this year, I entered my third book, A Thing Called Compassion, in a contest with the thought that anyone who hated a book that spoke out strongly about bullying and disability discrimination would be cold-hearted. Well, some judges did hate it, or so they said, along with their terrible marks, but they didn't give any explanation as to why they hated it. This is a red flag that they could possibly be real-life ableist bullies. And guess what? I've had to PAY for people to tear me down, as entering contests has a fee.
This has really fuelled the debilitating Imposter Syndrome that has affected me since childhood. This syndrome is largely caused by the discouragement, nit-picking and discrimination I've faced nearly my entire life because of a neurological condition I was born with. Imposter Syndrome is not an "all in your head" thing. It's a very real and serious issue that often can't be deterred by simply "thinking more positively". It creates a nasty internal voice that acts with a will of its own.
When I tried talking to the writing organisation that ran the contests, I was accused of being "rude and immature" and even unfairly suspended from their Facebook group. Needless to say, I have now left that group and organisation, but when I continued to stand up for myself and explain my past experiences, the president of that organisation apologised for the way I felt, not for what had happened. When I let her know that wasn't an acceptable way to apologise, what kind of response did I get? Crickets.
Which brings me to my main topic here - when you apologise to someone, you say sorry for what you did. If the situation doesn't involve something you did, it's OK to say, "I'm sorry about what's happened" or "I'm sorry you went through this." However, it's never OK to say, "I'm sorry you feel this way." You may think you're acknowledging their feelings, or trying to convince the other person you're acknowledging their feelings, but the reality is, you're implying that their emotions are childish. Also, you are trying to avoid accountability if it's something you've done.
What's more, it's not OK to say, "I'm sorry for what I did, but if you hadn't done X, I wouldn't have done Y," or "I'm sorry, but I wasn't expecting you to take any offence." The former shifts the blame completely on to the victim and the latter is similar to apologising for the way the victim reacted - implying they're childish for having feelings.
Mind your tone, too. Shouting "Sorry!", saying it in a sarcastic manner ("Sorry!") or using a singsong voice to say it, doesn't count as a real apology. In the case of sarcasm, I have the hero and heroine in my book Conducting Love call out this behaviour from a youth band musician towards a fellow musician. Another thing - when a victim, especially one from a marginalised or oppressed group of people, stands up for themselves or opens up about how they're feeling, they are not being rude or immature. They want to be heard, and have a right to be heard. I have covered this in my next book, A Passionate Voice (not yet published at the time of writing this).
Apologising sincerely shouldn't be an art, but considering the shocking number of people who find it unusually hard, it seems to have become an art. Joe Cocker and Elton John are right when they sing about sorry being the hardest word. Being angry and hurt at a certain situation is a very human reaction, so we need to stop judging, blaming or punishing people for being sensitive and try to be more understanding.