Some people have an inexplicable tendency to lie. Over and over again, for whatever reason, they feel the need to make up stories or throw out false statements as if they’re universal truths. It’s a strange and messy habit, but for a select few, the struggle is real. For me, an addiction of a different nature exists. I am a compulsive apologizer. And I’ve known it for years. I rely on one simple phrase to get me through the day.
When I’m happy for no good reason, I apologize. When my feelings are hurt, I apologize. In a talkative mood? Oops, I’ll shut up now. Or too quiet? My bad, I’m all up in my head. Feeling hyper? I really shouldn’t have had that extra cup of coffee. Or sleepy? I’m sorry, can we stop and get some coffee? I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
As if everything I do, everything I am, is a regrettable mistake. Every choice I make, a bothersome burden on others. I’m constantly apologizing for being real. For stating my opinion, for making a decision. For giving too much or not giving enough. Even, on occasion, for the way I look. For being myself.
It’s become an all too common reflex.
And the worst part is, I mean it. At least, at the time, I convince myself I do. What is so tremendously frustrating is my inability to figure out why exactly I do this. I don’t feel my sense of self-worth to be suffering or anything like that. In a room full of twenty-something year old women, I might not take the cake for possessing the most confidence, but I’d be willing to bet I’m not on the lower end of the spectrum either. I’m probably somewhere right in the middle of awkward and easygoing, near the general sphere of caring-enough-but-not-too-much. Regardless, I’d like to think I’m always being myself.
Throughout high school and college, I chalked my chronic apologizing up to being a Grade-A People Pleaser. Can you believe I would actually make lame excuses for my frequent usage of the S-word? “I’m just trying to make everyone around me feel as happy and comfortable as possible,” I’d exclaim when someone called me out on it. But taking a harder look at myself recently has revealed a different (less noble) truth.
I’m scared of negative reactions. Harsh judgments. Any kind of punishment.
So how do I cope? By hiding under an umbrella of apologies. I see my own traits, mannerisms, and habits through an overly-critical eye, aware of which ones might come off as offensive to some people. And I punish myself before anyone else gets the chance.
At best, this behavior is pitiful. At worst, it’s egotistical and self-absorbed. Do I honestly believe that people really care if I decide to go makeup-less one day or gluten-free the next? Do I think my little “flaws” and interesting habits — like rambling when I’m excited or taking photos of what I eat — is going to throw someone over the edge? No, because it’s not that big of a deal. Those tiny little Emily-isms aren’t affecting anyone, they’re just a part of who I am.
I don’t mind them, so why do I feign guilt?
Oh, wait. It’s because I fear the eye roll, the annoyed scowl, the biting comment. The words “I’m sorry” allow me to beat others to the chase in pointing out my idiosyncrasies. “I’m sorry” says, “I know I’m weird, I know I can be annoying, I know I deserve the worst reaction from you, but please be gentle.” It’s only okay for others to make fun of me if I make fun of myself first, right?
This coping mechanism usually backfires, though, because it gives the person on the receiving end of my apology a right to dwell on my “faults” as much as I am. Even if they’re simply not. worth. dwelling. on. Or acknowledging, for that matter.
See what I mean? The reflexive apology is self-obsessive. And a habit I need to kick. Because I’m not sorry for who I am, or what I believe, or how I do things. I’m not the least bit ashamed either. It’s about time I stop pretending to be.