Apologies

As a child, it was often up to me to take on the responsibility of the destructive play of my siblings… if something got damaged while the four of us were playing, the others decided that, because I was the favourite, the father would be less angry if I took the blame.  This sort of blame game became so advanced, that I would often come home from school to find myself responsible for another broken vase, letting the chooks out, etc.  Because I was so much younger than the others, I took on the responsibility that the others gave me without question – I had little choice.

This scenario set me up for taking punishments which weren’t mine to take.  It also meant that when I really did something wrong, I thought the world was going to end, because I’d been punished for things I didn’t do, so how bad was the punishment going to be for the things that I did do?  I tried in very childish ways to cover up for any of my mistakes, and tried so very hard not to make any to begin with.  But, mistakes were inevitable.  My father is narcissistic, so often the mistakes were beyond my comprehension… spending too long with a friends family (“Do you like them more than your own family?”), reading too many books (“So you think you’re better than the rest of us, do you?”), and so on.

It seemed as if the goal posts which determined my mistakes, and what I was responsible for, kept changing.

This has lead to what has been described as one of my more annoying traits… the tendency to apologise for everything and anything.  I apologise like it’s my responsibility that someone else is having a bad day, and taking it out on you; when someone else makes a bad decision; that you got an B instead of an A for that assignment… you get the idea.  I realise that this is my co-dependency issues coming to the surface again… I’ll do anything to placate someone and ease a tense situation.  I don’t intellectually believe that I am responsible for these problems; but I believe emotionally that if I don’t apologise, something bad will happen.  The more I care about you, or the more I’m scared of you, the more I will apologise.

I’m not sure if it is associated with this trait, but I often don’t remember apologies from others.  I can be sure that someone else hasn’t apologised, to then find an email where they clearly state they’re sorry for a misunderstanding.  As I write this, I wonder if I don’t remember others apologies, because I don’t want to be in the role of a person doling out the punishment for the wrongs others have done.  I vividly remember my father saying that he didn’t want to punish me, but he had to because it was the only way that I’d learn.  I could be saying sorry, but it didn’t matter, the punishment had to be done.  So now, it’s almost as if I’m scared that by accepting an apology, I’ll be responsible for that person being hurt in some way, just as my father was “forced” to punish when he didn’t want to… so I block out the apology to avoid the consequences.

I often block out the misunderstanding as well, but not always.  This can create a situation where parts of me are feeling (rightly) agrieved about a situation; and while an apology has been forthcoming from the other person involved, other parts of the system have blocked the apology as an old self protection coping mechanism.  The knowledge that I can block out an apology leads to a situation where I doubt my own experiences and feelings.  I’m never sure whether I have a right to be upset about something, or whether it was sorted through at the time of the incident.  As a result, I tend to stamp down my feelings and keep on going.

As I heal, I’m finding that the stamping down isn’t as effective.  There is more tension around the issue of being hurt by others and apologies in general.  I get confused about when I should be offended, and when I deserve an apology.  It’s a whole other kettle of fish actually acting on any of those feelings…  I often miss the mark, and ask about a situation which I don’t fully remember, and has been worked through.  I’d like to think that it’s progress that I took the risk of asking… but in reality it makes me feel like a failure for not having the full picture.  I’ve learned to only do this with people that I trust, and are the least likely to be offended if I don’t remember the whole incident… like learning all things new, I’ve still got my training wheels on, and one of them is a bit loose.  Until I can fix the training wheel and get more confidence about what apologies mean to me, I’ll keep on apologising at the drop of a hat, and question those that let me land on a soft cushion when I get it wrong.

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19 thoughts on “Apologies

  1. I completely relate to apologising for everything; I’ve even caught myself apologising for ridiculous things like the weather! Confusion abounds in therapy where I’m constantly faced with the idea that my abuse wasn’t my fault, and that I owe no one an apology for it.

    I’m new here but am embarking on reading your archives and look forward to reading future posts 🙂

    Take care, and thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Pandora,

      Well you can stop apologising for the weather, as that is clearly my fault 🙂 I actually did have a line in the post about apologising for the rain, but took it out. Considering I live in a place, where if it doesn’t rain every day during winter, it considered a drought, I apologise an awful lot!

      I hear what you’re saying about apologising for the abuse. I think it’s another way in which we try to rationalise and make sense of the senseless. It wasn’t our fault, yet if we believe it was, then we can try to take control of what happened and understand it. Thing is, it was the depraved needs of others that caused the abuse. Nothing we did. We were children. We should have been able to be anywhere, dressed in anything, smiled at anyone, and been kept safe.

      It wasn’t our fault. We have nothing to apologise for. We were in survival mode.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

      Take care,
      CG

  2. hi castor 🙂 i can relate to what you’ve written here so much. in terms of having had a tendency to apologize all the time and to feel like i’m constantly doing that. often i am taking responsibility for too much and feeling guilty when there is no need, or when i’m not the one who should be apologizing. sometimes just when things get tense, like you say…i just want to something to resolve the tension. i’ve tried to get better about this. and try to recognize when i’m truly sorry, and if i feel i actually should apologize, then i do. i can say that coming from being overly-apologetic, and trying now to be less so, it’s amazing how much guilt and shame i was carrying around, that now i’m feeling a bit more free of. i knew i carried a lot. and am not completely free. but i am hopeful and feel better than before.

    one of the things i thought of when reading what you wrote about your upbringing, is that if you were constantly taking the blame, and punishment, for things you didn’t do…then another issue i think would have come up with that is that from an early age, some primary people in your life didn’t know the true you. they had a distorted image of you. perhaps saw you as more clumsy, more of a troublemaker, etc. so there’s another layer of being overly apologetic i think, is that we have this persona we project that we’re a worse person than we really are. don’t know if that’s how it feels for you, or if that has been an issue for you. just a thought.

    as for how your system works and how confusing and complicated it can be trying to figure out if you’re upset with someone or whether or not they apologized and how you feel about apologies in general, i think that even with people who do remember everything, sometimes we still need to process hurt feelings even when an apology HAS taken place. i think some people like to believe that an apology should be a cure-all. but the reality is, sometimes it doesn’t fix anything. and i think it’s perfectly ok to tell someone that you still need to talk about an issue, whether or not they have apologized.

    wishing you well always~ glad to see you on here.

    • Hi katie,

      I had a feeling you might relate to the issues in this post, and I was hoping you’d stop by, if you had the chance.

      I hadn’t linked the apologising to guilt and shame, but you’re right, they are a huge component of the need to apologise. It’s like I need to apologise for taking up space and causing others so much discomfort by my presence. I realise that these are the old messages I learned during my childhood, and they’re just part of the equation… but it is one that keeps on tripping me up. I get so confused as to what I should both apologise for, and receive and apology for. Possibly because I’m still so detached from my emotions and that sense of self that comes from feeling as if I belong on this planet.

      I think the distorted image that people had of me was to suit thier own needs. Saying that, I remember describing myself as clumsy to a school counsellor once; when she asked what I meant, I couldn’t describe it, it’s just what people called me. So there is an element of that there, possibly more than I realise.

      I understand what you’re saying about needing to work through hurt feelings, I wish I could “do” that. I wish I had the confidence and self worth that would enable me to say to someone that they’ve hurt my feelings. I tried it with Allison, and it was a disaster. But then, baby steps 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by, and please take care
      CG

  3. Yep, yep, yep… I relate as well. I have got to a point now where I can stop myself before the apology leaks out… the realisation that I don’t need to apologise for anything – even for existing – is really quite nice. I hope you’ll find this place one day, too.

  4. maybe you did do some of the things you were blamed for but were not aware of having done them – not all of them but maybe some of them. this still happens to me – a lot. so i still apologise for everything just in case !

    • Hi G&A,

      Because of the dissociation and memory gaps, I know that odds are I did do some of the things that I was punished for. But there were also others where I was used as a scapegoat. We’re not responsible for everything bad that happens… you all certainly aren’t. I know it takes huge amounts of strength to even think of not apologising when it’s become such a habit, and when we feel so worthless that it feels as if everything is our fault. So I get that you apologise, just in case – I do that as well. There isn’t an easy solution, I do think it’s another area where we need to heal – not only our self-worth, but the memory gaps. Because as long as there’s any doubt as to who is to blame, I will keep on apologising.

      Sending positive thoughts your way,
      Sophie 🙂

  5. This is a great post CG. Apologizing is a HUGE deal for me. I also have a really big tendency to assume that people are mad at me for one reason or another. This is actually a good example because I’ll read a post and assume that someone is talking about me like I did something wrong. It almost sounds narcissistic doesn’t it, for me to feel like everyone’s mad at me, like it’s all about me? Oh, well. I think it’s great that you want to change this because you deserve so much better and I’m so sorry that you were used like that when you were young.

    • Hi tai,

      It’s good to see you 🙂

      I get what you mean about the need to apologise feeling narcissistic, but I think the motivations are different. When you look at our motivation, it’s about feeling worthless and as if everything is our fault, that is more of an abuse/developmental issue. If you are hurt when you’re young, you don’t learn some of those key things about there being things beyond our power to control. We don’t learn that people can safely protect us consistently, so we look for that safety and control ourselves. Sorry, this is becoming a bit of a lesson in childhood development. If you’re interested, I’d recommend reading some child development texts, they can be a good way to find out about what developmental aspects have been influenced by the abuse. But, as always, talk to your therapist about it first – I say that as something that can be good for some, is harmful for others, and sometimes we need an outside perspective before exposing ourselves to something that could be upsetting. Reading the texts made me realise how much I’d missed out on within some of the key developmental aspects.

      Please take care of yourself…
      Take care,
      CG

        • Hi tai,

          Sorry about the delay…

          Here’s a couple that I’d recommend from an academic perspective:

          Claiborne & Drewery (2009). Human development: Family, place, culture. McGraw-Hill Education.
          This is a New Zealand based text and really excellent, but you’re unlikely to get hold of it in the States.

          Santrock, J. (2010). Child development. McGraw-Hill Education.
          Santrock produces a new text of his books every year or so, and there is often little difference between them, so you could safely get an earlier edition without finding too much difference – don’t go back past 2005 though. He also does Life-span development, Childhood and Adolescence books, all of which are good. They’ll be available in most public libraries, even though they are introductory academic texts.

          Other good authors are Diane Papalia, Kathleen Berger and Carol Sigelman.

          As for non-academic texts, the works of Alice Miller are really interesting.

          If your library uses Dewey, go to 155 for the human development books and 305.231 for the child development books. If you use LoC, try BF713 and HQ772. Those numbers might vary depending on the focus of the collection 🙂

          As a warning, reading the academic texts can get you caught up in the intellectual… I found them useful, but there was a tension when I could find reasons for my behaviours and sort of tick them off intellectually without realising the emotional impact of what I was reading. That’s where Alice Miller’s work is meant to be good – her book The drama of the gifted child is in my pile of books to read. I had to read the academic texts as part of my work, so that’s why I know more about them.

          Feel free to ask questions, and please check with your therapist about reading something like this. It’s not dangerous, learning is good, but sometimes it has to be done gently.

          Take care,
          CG

  6. I love breaking the stereotypes about librarians. My first job working the reference area here totally blew away my ideas about librarians. They were supposed to all quite and mousy and of course shush everyone. These ladies had the raunchiest language I had ever heard! So weird and so funny at the same time. They actually needed to be shushed lol! I loved them to pieces. 🙂

    • I’ve walked into library’s as part of a job interview, and immediately known that I wouldn’t fit in. I don’t do the raunchy language, but I like to joke and talk. Some librarians take themselves a little too seriously 🙂

  7. I somehow just saw this post. I don’t know what to say about it really. I apologize a lot to people. Mostly it’s casual. It’s more me not saying *I* am sorry for anything. More me saying I am sorry someone else feels this way or that way, even if it’s minor, that is in any way some result from something that had to do with me. It’s generally used to put people more at ease.

    Of course there are times when I apologize and it’s truly heartfelt.

    I guess apologies are overused for me.

    • That sort of apologies can be good for validating the pain of others.

      I agree, apologies can be overused. But, I remember my husband deciding that apologies were overused, so therefore he wasn’t going to apologise for anything. Apparently he was sick of saying sorry to me. Thing is, I don’t remember him ever saying sorry. He obviously must have though.

      Apologies can be an emotive topic. I hate people being fake, but sometimes hearing a genuine apology helps.

      Take care,
      CG

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