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.