I’m sorry. I’M SORRY! The words spill from my mouth before I am even aware that I had that thought. And once I start, I can’t stop. It is almost a need to apologize constantly. It’s like an OCD tick that I think of the world ending in fire and flame until I say the words. I want people to know that I am sorry. I am so very sorry.
What am I sorry about? Well, that is the million-dollar question. I used to think that I was apologizing for something that I had done wrong. But if that was true, I was doing life wrong.
I apologized one morning while watching the TODAY Show. I laughed out loud at their response to eating natto (one of my favorite Japanese foods). As soon as the sound exited my mouth, I apologized for it.
“It goes back to the first stage of being with an abuser when the abuser is doing everything he or she can to tear the person down and make them feel completely worthless…hearing verbal derogation day-in and day-out can cause you to internalize those messages. What carries over, even after leaving the abuser, is this feeling that you need to apologize for every little thing…”1
What Am I Apologizing For?
Was I apologizing for laughing? Was I apologizing for making a noise while my husband worked? I wasn’t apologizing for any of those things. I was apologizing for simply existing and making my existence known.
As a child, my existence was the bane of my mother’s world. As a victim of spousal rape and then giving birth to yours truly ten months later, I was a constant reminder of that violation. I grew up feeling that my existence was wrong. I was wrong. I constantly apologized for my wrongness.
When I apologized, even for things that had nothing to do with me, or actions outside of my control, it seemed to deescalate my mother a little bit. I learned early on that when you apologize; it seems to make things better.
It’s Not All Bad
Apologizing is not a bad thing. When done correctly and for the right reasons, an apology goes a long way. That is not the type of apologizing that I am referencing. The kind that I am referring to is my knee-jerk reaction to say, “I’m sorry,” for everything that I do. Whether or not that thing warrants an apology.
When a person apologizes as much as I do, it does several things. To other people, it makes the times when an apology is warranted seem disingenuous. Also, constant apologizing can be annoying. But for me, internally, as a child, the continuous apologizing created a feedback loop.
That feedback loop was that my mother gave me positive reinforcement when I apologized (no matter the infraction, if there was one). It may not have been that she accepted my apology; it didn’t cause further admonishment.
Constantly Apologizing Feedback Loop
The cease-fire of verbal tirade translated into my brain that I had done something right, which translated into being accepted. My mother acknowledged and accepted me! Wow! Those were moments for the history books.
My brain quickly realized that when I apologized, good things happened. Happy neurotransmitters went along their happy neural pathways to trigger more happy feelings. All was right in the world.
It may not have been that good things happened, but bad things did not. Although thinking back on that, I don’t think it mattered much what I did. I know it didn’t. I could breathe out of a stuffy nose once, and that was enough to draw the ire of my mother or father.
The continuous need to apologize is my way of seeking validation, knowing that I am still loved when I make mistakes. It was not the message that I received as a child.
“Depending on the purpose of the behavior and the context in which it is occurring, it could be conceptualized as a safety behavior, an overprotective behavior, or compensatory strategy. All of these are terms used to describe behaviors that are designed to protect an individual from aversive emotions or potential threat.”2 ~ Martin Antony, Director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Lab at Ryerson University
Constantly Apologizing Shield
Constantly apologizing all of the time was my shield or maybe a piece of my armor. Either way, it protected me for some time. My apologizing would deescalate the screaming and yelling, or at least turn the volume down.
For me, I think too, I had no control over, nor any way, that I could stop what was happening in front of me. The only thing that I felt I could control was me, and apologizing for myself seemed like something that would work. At least an action that I could take that didn’t seem to continue to poke the bear.
At the very core of the situation is that abusers barrage us, victims, with such loathsome words about ourselves. Those words become internalized so that we begin to believe those things. In the end, I did and still do, feel like I need to apologize for my existence constantly.
And apologize for my existence over and over again. Maybe someday I will know that my existence doesn’t need apologizing.
One of My Many Mantras
This is one of the mantras that I use. It isn’t unique to me, I came across it somewhere, I don’t recall where. I really like what it says and I added it to my repertoire of mantras that help me throughout the day.
One of My Many Mantras
This is another one of the mantras that I use. I have been using this one A LOT recently. I will often combine the one above with this one so it would read ‘I don’t have to apologize to deserve love.’ I modify it slightly to fit what I am needing at that moment. And you should too.
- Amanda Kippert. (October 14, 2016). You Can Stop Apologizing Now. What it means when you can’t stop staying ‘I’m sorry’ after escaping abuse. Domesticshelters.org. https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/after-abuse/you-can-stop-apologizing-now
- Troy Farrah. (November 14, 2017). Apologizing All of the Time Could Be a Sign of Anxiety – The urge is often involuntary and has little to do with remorse. Vice.com. https://www.vice.com/en/article/mb34ax/apologizing-anxiety