I Need to Stop Apologizing

I’m tired of apologizing when I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m tired of apologizing as habit, as a social courtesy, as a societal expectation, as a knee-jerk reaction. I’ve been in the habit of doing so all my life, having grown up in a radically-conservative household where fostering feelings of guilt, insufficiency, and (for women) humility and meekness were closely-held principles. Well, I’ve made the decision to consciously work on not doing that anymore. Apologizing for things in which I have no fault doesn’t come from a good place. It comes from lack of self-esteem and misplaced feelings of inferiority. It can also potentially be a liability. In some instances, apologizing can be seen as admission of guilt. So let’s examine when I’m most likely to engage in this self-defeating behavior.

I do it when it’s a tense situation. The other party is unhappy with circumstances. Generally, they’ve been inconvenienced in some way. The tension becomes too much for me. I’m not able to offer them a solution to their problems (which don’t have anything to do with me in the first place), and so I seek to abate the situation by offering an apology.

I do it when I feel bad for the other party. The other party is in a tough situation. Perhaps they’re dealing with something traumatic like a terminally-ill loved one. I want to show empathy. I often do so by apologizing, because, again, I feel helpless to improve their circumstances. My apology is a concession.

I do it when I’m involved in any way, even when I did nothing wrong, couldn’t have changed the situation, and might even be a victim in the situation. For example, the other day, I wasn’t able to log into my computer system for work. There was a company-wide outage due to a recent computer update and most people were not able to gain access. I did not have the phone number of the manager I was helping that week so couldn’t inform him I wasn’t able to log in. I asked two other higher-ups (whose phone numbers I had, and who were in contact with him) to please reach out to him and let him know what was going on. When I was finally able to log in much later that day, he advised me no one had reached out to him. I apologized for the inconvenience. However, in reality, I had done nothing wrong and in fact did everything in my power to reach him. The others who never got a hold of him with my message should have been the ones apologizing.

I could be swallowed by a sinkhole while on someone else’s property doing community service, and I’d end up apologizing to the rescue personnel simply for having existed and taken up space as a form of matter that ended up in a sinkhole for them to have to recover. From today on, I will be much more stingy with my “I’m sorries”. Giving them out falsely makes me feel small, cheap, and belittling of myself. Does this resonate with anyone else?

You’re Not You (and Why This is Freeing)

An important concept to learn, understand, and remember is that you are not you. Knowing this can help you disconnect your self-worth from your thoughts, emotions, and tendencies. Your personality is largely made up of dynamics you don’t control, such as early childhood experiences, family culture, and genetics.

For example, I grew up in a very strict religious family with a diagnosed narcissist for a father. Individualism and critical thinking were not encouraged or tolerated. Religious, mental, and emotional abuse were the hallmarks of my childhood and teenage years. I grew up dreadfully insecure and fearful. As a teenager I developed OCD (never officially diagnosed, as my parents did not seek professional help for me), which included obsessive praying multiple times a day for God to forgive me, obsessive counting, and obsessive hand-washing.

Even at 36, I don’t know to what extent my personality has been shaped by the traumatic experiences of my youth. I very often have identity crises that most people past their teens or early twenties no longer experience. I constantly question what I want and if it’s not actually my trauma talking. I still feel that I don’t know who I am, what I should be doing, what kind of a life I want, or what I believe. It’s even hard to know how I’m feeling sometimes.

In his December 14, 2015 Bustle article entitled 7 Signs You Grew Up With a Toxic Parent and Didn’t Know It, JR Thorpe pulls from Dr. Susan Forward’s book Toxic Parents and says, “Many children of toxic parents find it exceptionally difficult to identify who they are once they grow up. Forward identities three areas in which their self-knowledge falls short: ‘who you are, what you feel, and what you want’…your sense of confusion and distance runs very deep indeed.”

Science tells us that your personality is pretty much set by six years old. It is largely an amalgam of your parents’/early caregivers’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Science also tells us that certain mental disorders have strong genetic links and that trauma can be passed down in the genes of families from generation to generation (epigenetics). But does this mean you can’t change? That you are bound by the mistakes of your parents and the generations before them for your emotions, feelings, reactions, and attachment styles? Thankfully, not. Recent science also emphasizes the neuroplasticity shown by the brain and its capability to create new neural pathways. By consciously making better, more self-caring choices, we can create new pathways in the brain and new defaults for our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Eventually, it becomes easier and more natural for us to act and think in ways that benefit us and allow us to take back control of our lives.

I take some comfort in the thought that I am not simply a summation of my personality, interests, and mental issues. My worth does not lie there and cannot be calculated by arbitrary factors such as these. I don’t have to allow these facets of myself to control my decisions, moods, or mindsets. I don’t have to follow my instincts and can instead choose to think and act in ways that are best for me, which will in turn make me feel my best.

Strength vs. Weakness

Something I’ve learned is that strength can appear weak and weakness can appear strong. It shows strength to hold your tongue and not react emotionally to another person who is pushing your buttons, even though it might feel like weakness at the time or be taken as weakness by others. On the other hand, it shows weakness to give in to an unnecessary squabble and allow yourself to become emotionally overwrought, even though it might feel like strength at the time or be taken as strength by others. This is something I struggle with a lot and constantly have to remind myself. Most situations aren’t worth getting involved in a dispute with someone and letting your inner peace be jeopardized. Although there are times when it’s necessary to speak up and it would even be immoral or dangerous not to do so, speaking up and giving one’s opinion usually comes from ego. And ironically, not letting other people outwardly ruffle you can show them you are strong enough to ignore the drama and encourage respect for you.

Intellectually, I know the more things I “let go”, the wiser and stronger I am. However, getting to the point where things “don’t bother you” (or at least bother you much less), takes a lot of practice, self-restraint, and taking the “high road”. Emotionally, it is not easy. Like a muscle, it must be used often to become strong and remain that way.

Here are some tips I’ve used to help me in this regard. First, realize that your own viewpoint differs from those of other people and colors the way you interpret something. You are probably looking at a situation with different experience, understanding, and knowledge than another person.

Second, understand that people don’t necessarily see you in the way you see yourself or the way you believe others see you. It is human nature to believe that other people think about you more than they really do or that they are more critical of you than they actually are. This often comes from low self-esteem and insecurity.

Third, decide not to take things personally. Because you cannot be sure of where someone else’s opinions, feelings, or attitudes come from, there’s no reason to assume they have ill intent or motives towards you. Even deciding to not take something personally that was in fact personal can help alleviate a lot of the anger, stress, and energy expenditure you’d experience by pursuing the issue.

Fourth, ignore everything that is possible to ignore (and that is most everything). By filling your life with positive people, activities, and work, it is easier to tune out negativity without feeling like you must react or “do something” about it. Also, I have personally experienced that being slighted stings less when I have other, better, more important things going on in my life. I also have less time to stew about them and for my anger to build. It’s when I am idle, perhaps unemployed, don’t really have any direction, have too much free time, that I am more likely to pursue every small perceived slight.

Fifth, feelings fluctuate constantly. You might be steaming mad over something you just found out about, especially if you were already in a down mood, even though the issue doesn’t justify extreme anger. Spend time on things you enjoy or that make you feel productive (like chores), and you might just realize your anger has reduced significantly or even disappeared.

I hope this post helped someone out there who struggles, as I do, with self-restraint and not letting emotions take control. I know I admire those who are always able to be “above it” all, and I view them as some of the strongest, most noble, and independent people I know. On the other hand, people I know who constantly require others to “walk on eggshells” around them seem small, fragile, and scared. I will continue to try to be a strong, noble, independent person instead of a small, fragile, scared person.