I was once asked the question “why do you apologise so much?” and I couldn’t answer it immediately. After a little while my response was simply “I’m sorry.”
It has taken me a long while to figure out how to write this blog, for a number of reasons. Some of which I will explain to you here. Some of which, I need to work on a little more before they can be spoken about. You will understand as you read on.
Why did I apologise after being asked that initial question? Well, the truth is I had no idea what else to say at the time. Saying sorry ended the conversation, it meant that I didn’t have to answer it anymore. It didn’t mean that I wouldn’t stop thinking about it though.
So, when I was recently asked a more specific question of
“Women who have been victims of domestic abuse apologise so much, you used to do that too. Why is that?”
I didn’t apologise (yay) but I wasn’t able to offer an answer. The response to this question I had, it was all in my head, but something was stopping me from speaking. However, I wanted to apologise (so so much) for not being able answer it, instead I managed to respond with;
“I’ll write about it.”
So that’s what I am doing.
I never really understood or recognised how often I apologised until I started to make an effort to stop. No one asked me to stop saying sorry, it did bug a few people, but no one ever made a big deal out of it. For me this was a good thing. I know not everyone is this lucky, and that can make it even harder to understand, because at the end of the day it is our natural instinct isn’t it, if someone is upset with us, we apologise. It is a vicious circle.
Let me start with why I am writing this, why was I the one being asked that question in the first place? One of the reasons of this is because (and admittedly for some of those reading this, it will be the first time they may see me ‘saying’ this) I can explain why victims of domestic abuse apologise an awful lot because I am one. I have lived that life, and those experiences. The feelings which boil up inside of you that can only be fixed by apologising can only be felt in those scary situations which not many people want to discuss.
What is it about the word sorry that provides someone like me with so much reassurance and safety? Well for starters it is just that. It is a safety word. In so many ways. The word sorry has provided a level of protection to me. In times of desperation, it has diffused arguments and ended conflict before it escalated. At the time I felt the need to apologise, it was my responsibility, and that there was no one else to blame. The only person who needed to say sorry was me, so I did. Before long I was apologising for everything. I was apologising to everyone. When I say everything and everyone, I mean it.
Stuck in traffic – I’m sorry. Even though there is nothing I can do about it, but I was sorry it was there.
Going on a break at work – I’m sorry. Despite the fact that this is a requirement, a necessity and no one else had a problem with it, I was still apologising for going.
Standing in front of someone else in a line – I’m sorry. It is a queue system, but I was still sorry that I was there first, and I would be served first despite the logic telling me otherwise.
I have many other examples which I am sure you have as well, these are just some of the simpler ones. It highlights the point though that after a while the need to apologise becomes so automated, that even when the logical part of your thinking is telling you there is no need for it, the emotional part of you takes over. It continues to tell you that you need to apologise, that you don’t deserve to have that break because it means other people have to cover you for the 30 minutes while you eat and pee. You are not entitled to be served first even if you did arrive earlier than others, and you caused that traffic because you didn’t really want to go to where you were heading anyway. This is what the abuse does to our brains, and it changes the way we think, the way we interpret our thoughts. Most of all it changes the way we feel.
You may be reading this and thinking ‘I don’t apologise that much’ but if you were to stop and think about it, and I mean really think hard, how often do you reckon you say the word sorry in a conversation? Or in a day? Before I wrote this, I had one conversation and it lasted 2 hours ok. I said sorry 8 times! That is an apology every 15 minutes! Apparently, I am not apologising as often as I used too, so I wonder how much I used to say it. I may quiz some of the people I speak with about this. Now this 8 times in 2 hours is 1.5 years after leaving the relationship I was in. I still hold onto my safety net now. I expect many others do as well.
When you have been made to feel like every wrongdoing in the world is your fault for any length of time, of course you are going to apologise. It is going to take time, sometimes before the word sorry comes out of my mouth I manage to ask myself what is it I am apologising for? That extra few seconds gives me the opportunity to decide is it in my control? Is it really something that I need to say sorry for? Did I cause that traffic jam? Did I make it rain on us on the school run? Do I really need to say, “sorry I am late”, or should I reword it to “thank you for waiting.” It isn’t always successful. It is a start, piece by piece my safety blanket will get smaller, and gradually that 8 times in 2 hours will become 6, then 4, then who knows.
Having a period of time when a different view on the world is forced upon you takes it toll. It can impact you in such a short space of time, yet the recovery from it can take much longer. That is ok, everyone is different, and their steps are different sizes and are taken at much different paces. If like me, you have learnt that saying sorry will give you time, and peace then that’s what you will remember. The trust needed to be able to retrain that thought has to be able to be built first, the feeling of stability and reliability to know that it is ok to not apologise.
Using the word sorry as a way of avoiding disappointment or criticism, then of course accepting praise, and compliments is going to be incredibly hard. Knowing that you don’t have to apologise before hand for ‘not being good enough’ when you really are much better than you realise will take time as well.
One of the hardest things to realise and understand to those that say sorry a lot, and those that hear it a lot from others is, do we really need to understand why it is that we apologise so much? No, not really because it isn’t going to change anything. We can’t stop it, there is no magic switch to turn off all those feelings and emotions. Do we need to be ‘fixed’? No, we are not broken, or damaged, so there is nothing there to fix. Have we recognised it within ourselves? Even if it’s just a small realisation then that is amazing.
We are all a work in progress.
The question we need to be asking ourselves is, how do we know we are progressing?