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?

Reacting Vs. Responding

I often struggle with responding instead of reacting. Responding, in my own definition, is a thought-out, unemotional reply, whereas reacting is a knee-jerk, fear-and-ego-filled reply. Responding shows strength, control, and confidence, while reacting shows weakness and insecurity. Responding often doesn’t happen right away, allowing a break to gather and sort thoughts before formulating a reply. Reacting happens almost immediately, ensuring the first thing said also happens to be the first thing thought, without a chance for censoring or wisdom to influence the reply.

My body feels very different when I react vs. when I respond. When I react, my heart is usually hammering, I feel short of breath, I’m usually raising my voice, and I don’t feel good. When I respond, my heartbeat and pulse are normal, my tone of voice is centered, and I feel good.

I am proud of myself when I respond vs. when I react, especially in an emotionally-charged situation. On the other hand, when I react, I am usually disappointed in myself for letting the situation get the better of me. Do you find yourself more often responding or reacting? How do you feel when you do the one as opposed to the other? What have you learned from responding and from reacting?

Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Fear

I have come to realize, deep down, the only thing holding me back is fear. Not my past, not a lack of funds, or a luck of ability, or anything else. It is hard to admit I am scared. It’s much easier to claim guilt and anger, especially righteous anger, which is so useful for virtue-signaling. It’s much easier to claim sadness and disappointment, which are natural reactions to unpleasant circumstances or situations and which so often generate understanding and compassion from others. It’s easier to admit to frustration, which is typically a more surface and temporary emotion. It’s easier to admit to grief, which is usually a reaction to having lost something dear and which also usually results in pity and understanding from others. It is much harder to admit to fear. It feels like admitting to cowardice, impotence, and weakness. But freedom and power result when fear is acknowledged, confronted, and moved past.

So here goes:

I fear success.

I fear failure.

I fear my past.

I fear my future.

I fear what other people will think of me.

What do you fear?

How to Remain Present

Concentrating on the present, as opposed to regretting the past or worrying about the future, is important for mental health. But it can be incredibly difficult to remain in the present without allowing your thoughts to slip backwards or forwards. I have found some ways of remaining in the present that are very helpful for me.

First, I think about what I’m grateful for. This helps me realize that as negative as my past and as scary as my future might seem, I am not destined to only have bad in my life. I am lucky to have the present situation I’m in and I should not take it for granted or waste it.

Second, I move my body/get out into nature. It is harder not to be present when my five senses are stimulated. And getting out into nature grounds and calms me in a way nothing else can. I pay attention to my breath/body. How do they feel? Is there pain or tension anywhere? Is my breathing deep and even or shallow and quick? Massages and baths/showers are other sensory experiences that connects me more deeply with my physical body, leading my mind to stay in the present, as well.

Third, I spend time with uplifting people. This is extremely encouraging and enjoying the camaraderie makes falling into patterns of depressive/anxious thinking less tempting and therefore less likely to happen. I’ll admit that even before the pandemic my social life was greatly lacking. Improvement in this area of my life will have positive effects on my mental health.

Fourth, I make a list/stay busy. Concentrating on improving my present circumstances by checking items off either a literal or mental “to do” list is uplifting and makes it less likely I’ll feel the need to “disappear” into the past or future.

Fifth, I write down my current thoughts and feelings. I write what I am currently struggling with. I check in with myself at this present moment.

These are my favorite ways of staying present. You might have other ways that work for you. It is important to prioritize our mental well-being by staying present and not allowing ourselves to get stuck in the continuous and addictive loop of rehashing the past or mentally constructing our futures.

When Your Goals Sabotage You

Do you allow your goals to sabotage you? I do often. Have you ever written a list of your goals, some easier, some much harder? I have. As you tick off the list, you notice that one or two of your goals are never any closer to being achieved because you are focusing on the easier goals? Once again, same here. And it’s usually the harder goals that are the most important? For me, always. It’s easy to rationalize and make yourself feel better when you’re reaching some goals, even if they’re the far-less-important ones. For instance, you might be putting off starting an exercise regimen. You’re currently a couch potato and know it’s imperative for your health that you exercise every day. You haven’t even started. You’re no closer to starting a daily exercise regimen than when you decided to start one. However, you assuage your guilt by telling yourself you got all those piles of laundry done today. The lesson is not to allow smaller, less important goals to sideline you from working on the more important ones. This is something I struggle with constantly and am struggling with right now. The ego boost from achieving small goals can honestly carry me for long enough to put off the bigger, more important goal for the rest of the day. How do other people deal with this? I’d appreciate some pointers!

Be Selfish, Be Free

One important way to free yourself is to be selfish. As an INFJ personality type, I constantly have a strong impulse to help others, even after they have made it clear they don’t want the help. It is so hard for me to accept that situation and to turn away when I know someone is headed in a self-destructive direction and I feel that I have the solution to their problems or know how they could have a higher quality of life. I have had to learn (still learning, actually) that it’s imperative to focus on yourself and what you have in your control. By focusing on improving your own life, you free yourself. And your own self-improvement can inspire others to want the same for themselves.

Has anybody else had to learn to be self-focused when their repeated offers of help to others have been turned away? It can hurt and make you feel powerless, especially when it’s people close to you like family and friends. What have you done about the situation, and has it freed you to focus more on yourself?

Starting Therapy Can Be Scary

You might know you need to start therapy. You might have a lot of mental health issues you’ve been struggling with for a very long time. You know the sooner you start going, the sooner you will gain a new understanding of the underlying causes of your problems and receive the help you need in confronting them. You know it would be invaluable to gain insight from an unbiased party that doesn’t know you personally, who has had extensive education in the mental health field, who can help you get on the right track to living a satisfying life. However, there are several things holding you back.

You’re scared of being judged. You are incredibly hard on yourself and feel like you aren’t deserving of understanding and empathy from your therapist. While you know from an academic standpoint that therapists are supposed to show unconditional regard towards their clients/patients, you are still worried you will be judged, even if silently. It’s easy to believe that your issues are unique, that nobody could possibly have gone through similar circumstances or feel similar emotions, but all human beings struggle with the same issues at their core. Therapists have almost certainly heard worse, more shocking stories than yours.

You’re scared of giving up control. By expressing your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, you feel you will be making yourself irreparably vulnerable. You’re scared of saying something you can’t take back. You’re not used to opening up to anyone. Perhaps even those closest to you don’t really know you. This can be terrifying and definitely takes courage. However, it’s the release of control that can bring about beautiful forward movement in your life and allow you to see the possibilities of how wonderful your life could be. Also, modern therapists are taught client-centric, client-empowering modalities so that the client is always the one in charge during sessions.

You’re scared of being institutionalized against your will. Although you may not be suicidal or violent, you fear that you will seem so crazy to your therapist that they will have you locked away, anyway. In reality, laws are very strict regarding putting someone away against their will. And thoughts of suicide from time to time are actually pretty common, even in those who do not suffer from mental illness. What alerts therapists is if you have a plan such as, “On Saturday afternoon when my family is gone, I’m going to shoot myself”. Likewise, angry, even violent feelings and thoughts towards others are normal, and therapists understand this. I myself have had them from time to time but have never acted in a violent manner. Again, a detailed plan is what would alert a therapist.

You’re scared of affecting other people, perhaps in unforeseen ways. You know that by telling your story, you will inevitably be telling other people’s stories along the way. That makes you feel uncomfortable. You don’t want this to have unintended consequences for anyone else. A therapist is required to keep confidentiality at all times except in very narrow cases — those being if they have reason to believe you or another person is in imminent danger or if they are given a court order (and even those can be fought). Also, it’s important to realize that your story and the stories of others in your life are intertwined. People who have wronged you are especially not owed your silence if it means jeopardizing your own well-being and stopping you from telling your own story. What you tell your therapist stays between you and your therapist. And there are stiff penalties for any therapist who abuses your trust.

You’re scared of the energy it will take to tell your stories and unearth your trauma. It is overwhelmingly emotionally taxing to think about, let alone talk about. You constantly question whether your memories are accurate. You worry you have a martyr’s complex and that you’re simply overreacting. You engage in mental gymnastics to excuse others’ behavior because you don’t want to believe bad of those closest to you. You fear how talking about the sorrowful experiences may bring them to life in a scary way. You don’t want to intentionally trigger yourself. Talking with a therapist (especially a trauma-informed one) is a good way to process repressed thoughts and emotions so that you’re not kept paralyzed and unable to move forward. A therapist’s job is not only to empathize, but also to challenge you. If certain unproductive thought patterns reveal themselves, your therapist will broach them as a topic of discussion to ensure you’re being honest with yourself.

You’re scared of change, even positive change. You have been stuck in the same thought patterns for so long, what opportunities would present themselves if you were well? The possibilities take your breath away. You would have nothing holding you back, and it’s overwhelming to think about. The enormity of it is terrifying. It excites you to think of the limitless possibilities of what you could achieve, how happy you could be, how at peace…but it also kind of feels like the descent on a super-tall, super-steep rollercoaster. Change is definitely scary. Even positive change such as getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job can be stress-inducing. However, with change comes new opportunities and revelations about yourself. Adeptly dealing with change results in a stronger person who more easily adapts to unforeseen circumstances and is able to thrive even amid the chaos often present in the world.

You’re not sure how to choose a therapist. You know it’s important to pick the right one for you, as the therapeutic relationship is the basis for success in therapy. There are a lot of factors to consider. Licensed therapists have at least a masters in mental health or a related field and have gone through internships and supervised practice before sitting for their licensing exams. They commit themselves to a certain code of ethics and are perhaps held more accountable than their non-licensed counterparts. They also use only evidence-based modalities in their practice. But that doesn’t mean competent non-licensed therapists don’t exist. Older therapists might have more experience than younger ones. Certain practitioners have taken additional training in niche areas such as addictions or trauma to work with individuals suffering from those specific issues. If race, religion, or gender is an important part of your identity, it might be wise to find a therapist who shares that same trait. Also, there are many different theoretical orientations which include different therapeutic interventions. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, and family systems therapy. Lastly, therapists come from different educational backgrounds and worldviews. A social worker will often prioritize the broader, social dynamic of a person’s life; a psychiatrist the biological; and a mental health counselor the personal, emotional.

Is anyone reading this struggling with starting therapy? Or has anybody experienced these concerns only to start therapy and realize it’s what was missing all along? I’d love to hear from you!

Reading Fiction

Anyone else having a hard time nowadays reading fiction? I used to love it and read nothing else. The past few years, I have gotten much more into reading non-fiction. I think for me it’s everything going on in this world and the fact that there’s so much to learn. It feels like wasting time to read fiction when there is so much more I need to learn to live a fulfilling, responsible, and informed life. Fiction simply doesn’t offer the same level of satisfaction it used to. I believe a lot of it has to do with depression. I have a hard time, in general, feeling pleasure anymore. Most things I used to enjoy now feel like a chore. Just wanted to check in to see if anyone else is experiencing the same thing.

Don’t Dilute Your “No”

I have learned a lot about setting and enforcing boundaries with people. I believe that it’s much like a muscle — the more you practice it, the stronger you will become. And the more confident and comfortable you will be while doing it. One way to enforce strong boundaries is not to dilute your “no”. If you say you will not do something, stick to it. For example, I worked with a woman once (Kim) who claimed she does not work Tuesdays because that is the only day she had to spend with her son. He was a college student with a very busy class schedule who was also interning. Another coworker asked her to switch shifts and work Tuesday so that she could celebrate her wedding anniversary with her husband. Kim asked me for advice about whether she should make an exception just this once. I told her, if you agree to this, expect to be asked again. You will have diluted your “no” and shown that, despite your claims, you are in fact willing to work Tuesdays. After saying “yes” once, that boundary will be compromised and weakened, and it will be easier for others to ask you a second time. This principle can be applied to many situations, with coworkers, friends, and family. On the contrary, sticking to what you say and refusing to compromise that stance even once will more than likely result in your never being asked again. Saying “no” the first time will be uncomfortable and feel adversarial, but it will be much, much harder to say “no” after having already said “ yes”. Saying “no” the first time leads to less wiggle room for arguments. If you have said “yes” before, it will be much harder to justify saying “no” the second time you are asked. Also, if you never budge your boundaries and always stand by what you’ve said and don’t make exceptions, there is less chance of others getting their feelings hurt over perceived unfairness. Ultimately, you want your words to be taken seriously and at face-value by others. This will lead to a greater level of respect and understanding.

Don’t Continue Down the Wrong Road

Many times I have been tempted to continue down the wrong path just because I had been on it so long and already committed to it so deeply that even the thought of leaving it was painful. Whenever I have given into this feeling, I have only ended up worse off than before. I did this with a masters program that I didn’t end up finishing. I now have massive amounts of federal student loans and will probably end up starting all over again in a new program. I did this with gym memberships. I had a year-long gym membership to one gym which I never used. I wrongly thought if I signed up and toured the gym, it would motivate me to actually use it. That wasn’t realistic, of course, and I ended up wasting a lot of money. Then a few years later, I made the exact same mistake and signed up at another gym. One year and hundreds of dollars later proved to be an exact repeat of the first time.

The lesson to be learned here is not to continue doing the same things you’ve always done if they don’t work for you — even if it means starting over or quitting something you’ve been working at a long time. Better to be a quitter at something that isn’t right for you so you can succeed at what is right for you. I’m not a gym person. I find them dirty and gross. I find them too loud, too bright, and intimidating. I don’t like working out in front of other people. These characteristics are not likely to change. Instead of continuing to try the gym route, I should find other ways of working on my physical fitness. And there are other ways — many of them.

Not everything is meant for you, and there is often more than one right way to achieve your desired outcome, whether it’s a career, weight loss, or any other goal you’ve set for yourself. Instead of making yourself miserable trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, be true to and gentle with yourself and find a strategy that works well for you. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way of admitting you were wrong and need to change something. And don’t allow other people’s opinions that you are “confused”, “don’t know what you want”, “flaky”, etc. to scare you away from starting something new. Fight the urge to give in to inertia. Realize that you’re worth the time and effort it will take to strike out in a new direction.