How often do you say you are sorry for things you shouldn’t be apologizing for? Things like the way you talk, how you dress, your opinions, your sense of humor, the things that make you, well you. Chances are, too often. If not you, then most likely someone you know. The first installment in this miniseries will be taking you on a trip down memory lane with me. You can’t correct these self-destructive behaviors if you don’t understand what led you to develop them in the first place.
In recent months, I came to the realization that I have a habit of over-apologizing. I would, and still do far more often than I should, say “sorry” for things I didn’t need to be apologizing for in the first place. I was caught in a figurative cyclone of self-criticism, outward validation, anxiety, and disappointment that had started years earlier. Compounded by the idea that it was my job to make sure everything met everyone else’s expectations. Essentially I was setting myself up for failure.
The thing is, I that isn’t the person I was growing up. In middle school I was the weird girl who loved to read, hung out with both the honor roll kids and the misfits, enjoyed watching both NASCAR and the history channel, whose clothing style was a mix of goth and skater chick, wrote poetry, would listen to anything from Mozart to Eminem, and I was happier working on cars with my oldest brother than hanging out with my friends most days… and I didn’t give a rats ass what anyone thought about any of that. I was comfortable in my own skin, and comfortable with who I was.
The summer between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school shook my world up. My dad was diagnosed with cirrhosis, and we began the months long journey of watching him die. The younger of my two older brothers had a psychotic episode, and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while he was home on leave from the Marine Corps. During that time, the boy I had been dating dropped off the face of the earth, and I found out later he had moved away and didn’t bother to tell me.
At the beginning of my freshman year, I found myself at a private Christian boarding school about an hour away from home. Their dress code prohibited most of my favorite clothes, no jewelry was allowed, no painted nails or unnatural hair color, and any makeup needed to look relatively natural. While that may not seem like a big deal to you, for me, they were taking away my comfort zone, and in a way, part of my identity. Every time I turned around there was someone willing to “help” and let me know what I was doing “wrong,” with everything from how I did my makeup to the clothes I wore to church. There was always an opinion from someone who thought they knew how God wanted me to look, dress, talk, act, feel, or even what I should or shouldn’t like. I was already starting to lose who I was when my dad died, but being bombarded with all of that bullshit while I was grieving, well that’s the point I gave up and decided to drink the Kool-Aid. They took a girl who knew exactly who she was and who was able to love herself, and broke her. I got so caught up trying to be a “good Christian” by other people’s standards, that I lost the amazing girl God had created me to be in the first place.
I was convinced that I was nothing more than a screw up. That I wasn’t good, strong, capable, pretty, or even smart enough to accomplish anything. That no one would ever be capable of loving the waste of space I believed I was.
Looking back, I suppose it’s not really a surprise that I ended up married to someone who was emotionally abusive. When I started dating my ex-husband, I had already lost so much of my self-worth and self confidence that I couldn’t see all the warning signs for what they were. I would just take and tolerate the hyper-criticism, him flirting with other girls, constant put-downs, sarcastic digs and jokes made at my expense, the guilt trips, and manipulation. If I happened to call him out on something, he would twist it around, and I would end up the one who was apologizing. Eventually he no longer had to even tell me it was my fault, I just assumed it was. Even when he had an affair, I blamed myself. I wasn’t a good enough wife, I did this, that, and the other thing wrong, and if I had been better, he wouldn’t have been pushed to the point that he cheated in the first place.
Somewhere along the line I started to say “I’m sorry” as my standard response to pretty much everything. I would apologize for how I felt, my opinions, the way I laughed, how loud I talked, the clothes I wore… I would pretty much just apologize for being alive in the first place. If I thought something was an inconvenience, like the weather interrupting plans, dinner being a few minutes late, too much traffic, getting a crappy waitress, calling someone at a bad time, or the store being out of milk, I would apologize, even those things were outside of my control.
I finally realized that I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and in reality, I had spent years stifling the person I actually am. After leaving my ex, I started the long road of healing, and discovering the person I was always supposed to be. The more I accepted who I am, the more I learned to love myself, the less I apologized for simply being who I am. I know I still have a long way to go, I never want to stop growing and evolving along the way, but hopefully, one day, I will be able to fully shed this particular habit and simply be, without feeling the urge to apologize.