Tag Archives: self-esteem

The Perils of Overapologizing

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Kimberly Johnson

Is it time to apologize? Maybe not.

For Depression Level(s): All.

It happened again.

My life and my depression collided in an awkward, unpleasant way last Saturday, and dang it, I’m mad about it! Not to mention embarrassed.

Here’s what happened: I’d been invited to attend a contra dance and potluck, an event that occurs the first Saturday of each month. I had known about this public event for years and had finally gotten up my courage to go, a decision in line with my commitment to participate more fully in life.

In a mood of pleasant anticipation, I made deviled eggs and got cleaned up, and off I went.

All seemed to go well at first. The eggs were a hit; people asked for seconds. The first dance was a circle dance, with everyone positioned in a big circle doing a few simple steps and exchanges. Although I’ve never had dance lessons and hadn’t danced in years, I caught on after a few rounds. As we whirled around in a big circle and I got handed back repeatedly to the man behind me, I found myself grinning and having fun.

The next dance I participated in seemed to be more of a square dance, with groups of four (two male-female couples each) interacting with each other and then with the other four-person squares down the line. I had observed the dance prior to this one with some trepidation; it looked very complicated. But I was willing to try. A nice gentleman asked me to be his partner; the other couple in our square consisted of the friends who had invited me.

Just a few maneuvers into the dance, everything seemed to close in on me. I felt as though the entire room was whirling around and that multiple people were grabbing at me. I had what I call a “PTSD moment”: The anxiety overwhelmed me and, for a brief moment, my mind shut down; I simply had to get the heck out of there. I shook off my partner’s hands, grabbed my things, and ran out of the building, crying.

I felt horribly embarrassed and angry that, once again, my depression had interfered with my ability to live my life the way I wanted. My depression brain started hurling invective at me: “Idiot! Can’t you even go to a simple dance, for crying out loud?” On top of all that, I left the three other people in my “square” in the lurch because a contra dance simply can’t be conducted with an odd number of people. I would have to apologize.

Perhaps you have experienced similar awkward, painful moments that were caused by your depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. The need to apologize afterward is almost as bad as the original incident.

I find myself apologizing a lot: Social gaffes, as in the incident at the dance. Being late because I overslept. Something that I was supposed to follow up on but didn’t, mostly because I misjudged the amount of time it would take or because it became too stressful. Forgetting someone’s name or where I met the person.

And those are just the things I probably “should” apologize for.

I also find myself apologizing to my cats when someone rings the doorbell and they become startled, for speaking when someone interrupts me, and for not sending a birthday card even though I had both called on the day and sent an electronic greeting. I even apologize to my friends when they say they have a headache or don’t feel well, as if I somehow caused it.

While apologizing has its place, it’s when it becomes a habitual refrain that it becomes a problem. Constant apologizing — particularly for things we have no control over or that are so insignificant, they do not need an apology — is a bit like having termites in the house: Every unnecessary apology gnaws at the underpinnings of our self-esteem and reinforces the feeling of inferiority that is part and parcel of having a brain disorder.

Maybe it's time to honor your worth, beauty, and strength instead.

How can we guard against over-apologizing? Here’s a three-step process to help you get a handle on this detrimental habit:

1.     Become aware: Start noticing how many times per day the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” leave your lips. Ask yourself: (a) “Am I actually at fault?” (b) “If I am, is it something that truly requires an apology?” To determine this, see if what you did — or didn’t do — violates your integrity and values. If yes, apologize; if not, don’t. (c) “If not, what else could I say instead?”

2.     Locate your need to apologize in your body: Where do you feel it? Ask yourself: (a) “How much of my tendency to apologize is an attempt to deflect another’s anger, whether real or assumed?” (b) “What situation does my fear of this person’s anger remind me of?” (c) “How can I feel safe without apologizing (provided an apology really isn’t needed)?” One possibility: “Beam” love to the needy or scared place in your body.

3.     Remind yourself of your inherent worth: Ask yourself: (a) “What good things have I done lately?” (b) What are some compliments I’ve received recently?” (c) “What are my gifts and talents?”

You do not need to apologize for your existence. You especially don’t need to apologize for having depression or any other brain disorder. Nor do you need to make yourself small to be safe. You have the power to keep yourself safe by taking care of yourself, building a support team, and remembering that you are good enough just as you are.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Facebook Depression

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz of Persia

It’s official: We, as a society, have now entered the Twilight Zone.

Or maybe we should call it the Depression Zone.

A new depressive disorder has developed due to a practice that scarcely existed a decade ago and which most people haven’t even known about until the last few years: Social networking.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study today that identifies a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression.” It is defined as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”

We can't escape Facebook, but we don't have to give our power to it.

Facebook and other social media sites can trigger depressive symptoms and even full-blown depressive episodes for a number of reasons. In addition to harassment, cyberbullying, and “sexting,” young people can feel as though their own lives are not as exciting as those of their “friends” on Facebook. When they see their online friends having relationships, participating in volunteer activities, winning games and awards, traveling, going to concerts and parties, or just having a good time, they can feel excluded, even isolated, or like “losers.”

It’s the 21st-century version of the “in crowd” vs. the “out crowd.”

When I was in high school, I was usually in the “out crowd” due to always being the new kid. I can remember sitting alone in the cafeteria, watching groups of girls sitting together and laughing, wondering if I would ever have any friends. They looked like they were having such a good time and as though they had known each other for ages. I assumed they had it made—a wonderful home life, boyfriends, and lots of fun things to do. I didn’t know anybody and felt unfettered, alien, and lonely. I learned to always carry a book with me so that I looked as though I were too busy to be bothered with anyone else; that way, no one would know what a loser I was.

In 12-Step programs, they call this “comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.” I call it the “I’m-not-good-enough syndrome.” In a nutshell: “You look as though you have it all together. I know I don’t have it all together; in fact, my life is a train wreck. Therefore, I must be inferior to you.” Whether you’re 16 or 60, this kind of distorted thinking can trigger a depressive episode in no time flat.

For this reason, it is essential to catch yourself whenever “I’m not good enough” thoughts dance across your brain and put a stop to them. Whether you are comparing yourself to a relative or close friend, a coworker, a neighbor, someone you’ve met through a professional organization, or an online acquaintance, do yourself a favor and recognize these four maxims:

1)    Nobody is better than anybody else, no matter how good-looking, rich, or successful they are or how happy they appear to be. We are all equal in God’s eyes. The sooner you accept this, the more peace you will have.

2)    Nobody is worse than anybody else. See #1.

3)    All people have difficult times in their lives. The successful-looking businesswoman you met at a professional conference may have lost a child, be on her third marriage, or have at one time been a single mother on welfare. Don’t make assumptions.

4)    It is self-indulgent to insist that you are not as good as others. You are, in essence, giving yourself an “out” to not live up to your potential. Make it your mission to do whatever it takes to improve your self-esteem. The more you value yourself, the more others will value you and be attracted to you.

In comparing ourselves to others, we give away our power to those we assume are better than we are and set ourselves up for depression. Take your power back by taking the DARE TO NOT COMPARE PLEDGE. Say aloud in front of a witness:

I, [your name here], from this day forward pledge to no longer compare myself to others. I no longer assume that anyone else is better than I or that I am worse than anyone else. I choose to believe the essential truth that my worth is intrinsic and my gifts are valuable. I will do whatever it takes to bust old beliefs and patterns of thought, and to improve my self-esteem. So help me God.

If you’ve decided to take the pledge, please leave a comment below. And share this opportunity with others, particularly young people who might be suffering from “Facebook depression.” Together, we can create a world free of depression!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Filed under Getting Your Bearings