Tag Archives: social gaffe

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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